ST. LOUIS -- The San Francisco Giants are treating the St. Louis Cardinals as though the Cardinals were the Chicago Cubs.
When the Giants wrapped up their recent homestand with consecutive shutouts against the Cubs, it was just the way of the world. The Cubs are rebuilding -- again, once more, still -- and the Giants have the best record in baseball.
Then the Giants set out on the road to play the Cardinals. Like the Cubs, the Redbirds inhabit the National League Central and play baseball with male bipeds. But there is no further similarity between these two franchises.
The Cardinals are, after all, the defending National League champions. They won the World Series as recently as 2011. The Cubs won the World Series as recently as 1908.
In the opener of a four-game series Thursday night, the Giants prevailed, 6-5, in a suitably rigorous competition. But Friday night at Busch Stadium, the Giants brushed the Cardinals aside as a matter of routine. In fact, the Giants cuffed around Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright in a manner that normally would have seemed impossible, unthinkable, beyond the bounds of any reasonable expectation.
The Giants won, 9-4. In the process, Wainwright, who has been nothing less than brilliant this season, was severely pounded. The Giants scored seven earned runs against Wainwright, in 4 1/3 innings.
Keep in mind that Wainwright came to this moment leading the Majors with a 1.67 ERA over 11 starts this season. Not only that, he was working on a 20-inning scoreless streak and had been named as the National League's co-Player of the Week for his two scoreless starts that included 21 strikeouts over 17 innings. This was, in other words, a terrific pitcher on a major roll.
But the Giants aren't exactly slump-ridden themselves. They have baseball's best record at 36-19. But recently they have been even better than that. Since April 22, the Giants are 25-9.
On the other side of the argument, Giants lefty Madison Bumgarner pitched superbly. If you looked at the pitching matchup for this game, your first thought would have been "pitchers' duel."
"We all thought this would be a low-scoring game," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "But that's why you play the games."
Bumgarner said he was "geared up for a 1-0 game." It must be said that Bumgarner held up his end of the bargain, limiting the Redbirds to nearly nothing.
In seven shutout innings, Bumgarner surrendered only three hits and one walk, while striking out 10. And again, this is, on paper at least, a very difficult St. Louis lineup, which led the NL in runs scored last season and has not changed dramatically in terms of personnel.
The Cardinals scored their consolation runs only after Bumgarner departed. These four runs supported the Cardinals' "we don't know how to quit" self-image. But they didn't make the outcome any less certain.
This was, in some ways, an overpowering display by the Giants. The 2013 Cardinals specialized in hitting with runners in scoring position. Friday night, the Giants were semi-unstoppable in the clutch. They scored their first seven runs on two-out hits.
"Playing the Cardinals, they were the pennant winners last season, you know how good they are, you know you have to play your best ball to beat them," Bochy said. "We try to play the game right, just go out there and give it all we have. And that's what the guys did."
Plus, the Giants still have at least a small chip on their shoulders. Referring to the two World Series championship seasons, Bumgarner said:
"It seems like 2010, 2012, both years we didn't get any credit. We're fine with that, we don't need any credit. We know what kind of team we are. We're not playing to get credit; we're playing to win and playing to win championships."
Even if you don't agree that the 2010 and 2012 Giants were shut out in the credit department, you can still agree with the underlying sentiment expressed by Bumgarner. The Giants aren't about creating favorable preseason impressions. They're about winning.
Friday night, on the road, the Giants were facing the best opposition the National League could produce in 2013. And they were facing one of the very best pitchers in the game. Still, the Giants dominated the game in every conceivable way.
You could imagine them doing that against the Cubs. But St. Louis is a club at the other end of the competitive spectrum. When a team is playing as well as the Giants have played over the last five weeks, the tendency is to make any opponent appear to be more beatable than anything else.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.