PITTSBURGH -- Part of me wonders if it's even worth getting into a deep discussion about the Giants. It's June, after all, and we should know by now that the Giants make their magic not in June, but in the games that purportedly matter most.
That said, the Giants have provided more than the expected amount of anxiety over their ability to get to the games that matter most, if only because their vaunted rotation has been, well, not much to vaunt about, and their injuries are piling up.
The rotation has been a little bit better lately. Quality starts in four of San Francisco's past seven games is viewed as organizational progress, even if Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum still tend to be bit by the big inning, and Madison Bumgarner's incredible April hasn't really held up, and Ryan Vogelsong is hurt, and Barry Zito tends to get roughed-up on the road.
Not long ago, it would have been odd, but now it seems obvious to suggest that the Giants need to be aggressive in their pursuit of starting help this summer. And all indications are that they plan to be.
For now, the guys inside the clubhouse are so accustomed to having an elite starting five that they can't help but expect these decidedly non-elite numbers -- a staff ERA that ranks 20th among the 30 teams and 19 games in which San Francisco's starter has given up five earned runs or more -- to dissipate in time.
"Over the past week to 10 days, our starters have been going deeper into the game for us," catcher Buster Posey said. "I don't think there was anybody in here who didn't feel that was going to happen eventually."
Still, the Giants are a long way from escaping a situation that has been akin to an out-of-body experience for them. They've been living largely on the might of their bats. And while their propensity for last-at-bat wins (they have nine of them) is befitting a club that's thrived within the heightened pulse of the postseason, the overall reliance on the offense is a foreign feeling.
It's also a potentially hazardous path, given the recent losses of Pablo Sandoval (left foot) and Angel Pagan (left hamstring), and now the news that Marco Scutaro could be out for an extended period after taking a fastball to the left hand Tuesday night. Already, San Francisco is averaging just 2.85 runs per game this month after averaging 4.5 in April and May, and this injury assault isn't helping matters.
This brings us back to the need for run prevention from the rotation, and the truth is that the Giants don't have a great deal of depth in this area.
If the cost of two World Series titles in three years is a staff of gassed arms, well, by all means send the Giants the bill. But pardon their greedy desire to go for a third. And by the graces of the undoubtedly odd and unpredictable National League West -- a division in which even the disappointing Dodgers still have a pulse -- they certainly have a shot. For all their hiccups in the rotation, the Giants trail the first-place D-backs by just one game in the loss column.
"We're not where we want to be," manager Bruce Bochy said. "But for us to be in this situation, we do have to consider ourselves somewhat fortunate in that we haven't played our best ball.
"To be where we're at says a lot about these guys. It's a tough group that has found a way to win ballgames and made some nice comebacks. We're not playing the style of game we're accustomed to -- and that's a lot of quality starts and try to find a way to win those games. We've had to try to slug it out with other clubs, and the guys have done a good job of coming back. But we've been down more than we're used to."
So if there's a name in the rumor mill, you might as well attach San Francsico to it. What the Giants might lack in trade chips at the Minor League level, they may be able to account for with cold, hard cash -- the ability to take on another club's financial burden.
At this, thoughts will naturally turn to Cliff Lee, though color me doubtful -- not only that the Giants would pony up that kind of money but also that the Phillies will ship him off, even if last summer's waiver claim by the Dodgers had to be at least a little bit tempting. The Phils remain in contention, and Lee remains a big reason why. But even if things go south, simply unloading Lee and the more than $70 million he's guaranteed through 2015 would be a difficult message for Ruben Amaro Jr. to sell to a strong Philly fan base.
The more natural names to attach to the Giants right now are the ones obviously soon to be available to all clubs -- Ricky Nolasco, Bud Norris and Matt Garza. While a Marlins-like dumpoff is not expected from the Blue Jays, there is plenty of reason to expect them to field offers for Josh Johnson, a pending free agent, if they don't turn their season around in a hurry. When healthy, Johnson could do wonders for a playoff-ready club like San Francisco. Alas, health is not his strong suit, and Brian Sabean might have trouble stomaching the risk.
Anyway, the specific trade picture will continue to develop in the coming weeks. All we know for now is that the Giants are all but certain to be a part of that picture, because they can't keep asking so much of their offense and relying on that late-inning magic.
They need to do everything in their power on the trade front to get to October, where they work their real magic.