That's not to say that the Giants should shrug off squandering a 9 1/2-game lead from June 9-29. After watching his ballclub post a 4-15 record following its 31-11 surge from April 23 through June 8, general manager Brian Sabean doubtlessly is prepared to engineer a deal or two by the July 31 Trade Deadline to bolster the roster. Sabean has made this practically an annual ritual. Cody Ross and Marco Scutaro, the Most Valuable Player Awards winners of the 2010 and '12 NL Championship Series, respectively, were second-half acquisitions. So was right fielder Hunter Pence in 2012.
Though the Giants no longer are a lock to reach the postseason, many insiders believe that Sabean will keep a possible World Series date in mind and seek significant personnel upgrades, not incremental ones. Speculation regarding the Giants' interest in Cubs right-hander Jeff Samardzija or Rays left-hander David Price isn't far-fetched. The Giants might be able to crawl into the postseason as a Wild Card qualifier with their existing roster. But their rough June demonstrated that they'll need a boost to have a chance of winning their third Series in five years.
San Francisco may have to part with top pitching prospect Kyle Crick in any major trade. While that may prompt unpleasant flashbacks to the 2011 Carlos Beltran /Zack Wheeler deal, the Giants might have to take that sort of risk again to improve their postseason chances.
Some cures for the Giants' ills won't require a trade. Here are five keys to a San Francisco turnaround:
REINFORCE THE ROTATION
As mentioned, the Giants might be able to reach the postseason with their current collection of starting pitchers. Whether they can advance through October is another matter. Though each starter has distinguished himself to some degree, only Madison Bumgarner and Tim Hudson have maintained genuine consistency. By several measures, Giants starters are statistically no better than average among their NL counterparts. They entered Monday with the league's sixth-best ERA (3.46), but that obscured their 4.31 ERA for June, the league's worst except for Colorado's 6.43. San Francisco ranks eighth in quality starts (43) and ninth in opponents' slugging percentage (.373). Hence the need to consider Samardzija or Price.
SHORE UP SECOND
The Giants must abandon their succession of stopgaps at the infield's keystone position. Brandon Hicks had his chance. Joaquin Arias and Ehire Adrianza won't receive theirs. Joe Panik has promise, but the Giants probably lack the patience to allow him to develop while they're arm wrestling the Dodgers in the standings. The Giants must hope that Scutaro's back suddenly stops aching enough to allow him to play a majority of the schedule. If that doesn't happen, they could explore the trade market, where the Rays' Ben Zobrist and the Mets' Daniel Murphy appear to be valued commodities.
KEEP ANGEL ACTIVE
Simple numbers summarize Pagan's value. When he starts, the Giants are 36-21. When he doesn't, they're 10-15. Obviously, the Giants hope he can stay on the field when he returns from a back injury, perhaps as early as Tuesday. Buster Posey's hitting prowess and catching acumen might make him the Giants' most valuable player, but Pagan's ability to galvanize the offense makes him the club's most indispensable performer. Remember how the Giants floundered without him last season after his injured left hamstring sidelined him. "He's a great tablesetter, not just in the sense that he gets on base and can steal bases, but he has enough power from both sides of the plate to hit you out of the ballpark or for extra bases," Cincinnati manager Bryan Price said. "And he plays a great defensive center field. Any team would miss his speed element, the fact that he's a .300-plus hitter and that he's a guy who's comfortable hitting leadoff. Some guys don't like to be in that environment."
BRING BACK BELT
The Giants reveled in what they called the "length" of their lineup as the season opened. Then Belt fractured his left thumb on May 9, and the lineup suddenly became a lot shorter. The Giants kept winning, but true form emerges during a 162-game regular season. Though Michael Morse filled in admirably at first base, Belt's absence wasn't sustainable. One critical hit seemed to be the difference in several Giants defeats. At least occasionally, Belt would have contributed that hit or set up a teammate for that big knock. "He's a middle-of-the-lineup guy," shortstop Brandon Crawford said. Referring to a home run Belt hit as he began his Minor League injury rehabilitation stint, Crawford added, "We need some of those right now."
HAVE FUN AGAIN
This might be the toughest void to fill. It's an intangible, which can be as elusive as a knuckleball. It also raises a classic chicken-or-egg conundrum: Does a team thrive because it possesses a great attitude, or does the attitude stem from winning? Success breeds confidence and confidence breeds success, but it's anybody's guess which comes first. Yet as they were sweeping the Giants over the weekend, the Reds emerged from their clubhouse for pregame stretching, hooting and hollering as if they all were enjoying the same joke. And that was noticeable as the series began, when the Reds were one game above .500. The current Giants aren't the same guys who brought goofy masks to the clubhouse and cute home run celebrations to the dugout. They're performing as if they're wearing gray flannel suits. It's time for the Giants to remember Hall of Famer Willie Stargell's timeless observation: "The umpire says 'Play ball,' not 'Work ball.' "