Best in NL West, Giants could use more offense

Best in NL West, Giants could use more offense

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants would make a good carnival act.

Come see the team that combines great pitching and poor hitting more effectively than any other club! Feel the thrill of another low-scoring, one-run game! Behold the reigning World Series champions, who cling to first place in the National League West despite having just one position player -- Pablo Sandoval -- who could start for the other 29 teams!

The rest of the season will test the Giants' ability to maintain their delicate imbalance. Common sense suggests that it's impossible, or at least unlikely, that they'll keep pitching effectively enough to overcome an offense that has ranked at or near the bottom in most major offensive categories all year.

AT THE BREAK
First-half awards
  1. MVP: Pablo Sandoval -- The Giants had winning record when he was sidelined, but the offense is much better with him.
  2. Cy Young: Matt Cain -- Anchored the staff by leading in quality starts and propelled team into National League West lead with big June.
  3. Rookie: Brandon Crawford -- He was rushed to the big leagues and struggled offensively but has played superb defense.
  4. Top reliever: Brian Wilson -- It is impossible to argue with his impressive save-conversion ratio.
Players to watch in the second half
  1. Tim Lincecum: He is still striving for consistency after a subpar performance through most of June.
  2. Brandon Belt: There will be plenty of time and opportunity for him to make an impact.
  3. Wilson: Walks are up, strikeouts are down -- usually danger signs for a closer.
Then again, they succeeded with this approach a year ago. They have the rings and landfills packed with disposed parade confetti to prove it.

"I don't have a lot to say to those people who are going to doubt us," right-hander Tim Lincecum said. "It's hard to hear people say we can't do this or we can't do that. But that's what people said last year and we won the World Series. When a team has that kind of experience and know-how, you just do what you have to do, I guess. We'll use that negative as a motivation for us to show them wrong."

Though general manager Brian Sabean rarely lets a July 31 Trade Deadline pass without making a significant deal, he's unlikely to obtain a high-impact performer such as Mets shortstop Jose Reyes. That would require mortgaging much of the club's future by parting with top prospects such as first baseman-outfielder Brandon Belt and right-hander Zach Wheeler and young, established big leaguers of left-hander Madison Bumgarner's ilk.

So as the end of the month approaches, Sabean probably will focus on making incremental improvements, as he did last year when he engineered second-half deals for relievers Ramon Ramirez and Javier Lopez, outfielders Cody Ross and Jose Guillen, and infielder Mike Fontenot. Catcher and middle infield are perceived to be San Francisco's most critical areas of need.

Regardless of what happens, the "delicious torture" -- to combine watchwords popularized by Wilson and broadcaster Duane Kuiper -- is bound to continue.

Asked what the Giants must to do return to the postseason, manager Bruce Bochy said, "Keep doing what we're doing. Sure, we'd like to have the offense get a little more consistent. Hopefully the pitching keeps doing what it's doing and we'll take our chances."

Club breakdowns
Video recaps

Those chances seem tenuous each game, though the Giants have led the NL West for much of the season. Bochy repeatedly has admitted that his club has little margin for error, due to its paucity of offense.

"If we can find a way to score three runs, our record's pretty good," left fielder Pat Burrell said with a straight face.

By any measure -- batting average, power, hitting with runners in scoring position -- the Giants' performance has fallen far below average. Consider the old-school statistic known as runs scored, an obvious yet oft-overlooked number which remains among the most important in the game.

At the current rate, Aubrey Huff would finish with the lowest team-leading total in franchise history since George "Heinie" Smith had 48 in 1902. That's nineteen-oh-two. As of now, Huff or any Giant will be hard-pressed to exceed Jack Clark's team-high total of 60 in 1981, when the Giants played only 111 games due to the players' strike.

In fairness, injuries have muted the Giants' production. Catcher Buster Posey, the reigning NL Rookie of the Year, is sidelined for the season. Second baseman Freddy Sanchez's dislocated right shoulder would have to mend at a remarkable rate for him to return before the season ends. Key performers such as Sandoval, Fontenot, Ross, Belt, utility man Mark DeRosa and outfielder Andres Torres have been sidelined for significant stretches, further hampering the offense.

Injuries and ineffectiveness have affected -- or afflicted -- the Giants to such a degree that only two position players -- Huff and Miguel Tejada -- have accumulated enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. Of course, neither has hit well enough to approach even the periphery of the leaders in any category.

Having earned praise for playing hunches and hot hands when concocting each day's lineup, Bochy will continue to strive for a combination that can provide a semblance of consistency. That's stating the obvious, but it's worth pointing out that after last year's All-Star break, six players recorded 246 plate appearances or more: Huff, Posey, Sanchez, Sandoval, Torres and Juan Uribe. The distribution was more widespread in the first half, when 10 Giants amassed at least 149 plate appearances.

San Francisco would benefit hugely if just a couple of hitters could simultaneously find a groove. That would provide sufficient offense, assuming the pitching continues to thrive. This happened last July, when Torres, Huff and Posey excelled to lead the Giants' ascent from fourth place back into contention.

Aside from their pitching, the Giants' biggest asset remains their attitude. It's intangible yet solid, fortified by last year's experiences and the chemistry players share.

"We believe in ourselves. I think that's a big part of it," Burrell said.

This outlook should prevent the Giants from imploding and give them an edge against their less-tested division foes. Yet it also makes them aware that they've accomplished far from enough.

"You don't settle," right-hander Matt Cain said. "You just keep trying to get better."

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.