Riddle me this, baseball Batman:
How does a team that rolls out a lineup with Mac Williamson at the 3 hole, Trevor Brown in the 5 hole, a left side of the infield of Conor Gillaspie and Ramiro Pena, all featuring Albert Suarez on the hill — your basic Scottsdale split-squad special — skate out of Pittsburgh on getaway day with a 5-3 win?
Welcome to the 2016 Giants, where the whole is so laughably bigger than the sum of its parts, you can pretty much plug in any part you want these days.
More head-scratching facts about these Giants, who seem addicted to winning: The only game they lost on a seven-game road trip to Tampa and Pittsburgh was a game Madison Bumgarner started and gave up one run.
And one of the games they did win was a game in which Jeff Samardzija tied the shortest outing of his career with a three-inning stint, handing a 6-1 deficit to a maligned bullpen.
The Bruce Bochy Giants. Yaneverknow.
So what we have here is an antidote to our Warriors blues, a team that broke spring training with thoughts of an NL West title and something north of 90 wins. That, of course, was because they had a healthy Hunter Pence in right field, a motivated Angel Pagan in a contract year and a revitalized Matt Cain in the rotation.
Now the Giants come home to start a homestand vs. the Phillies and A’s tied with the Cubs for the most wins in the National League (47), when all three of those pieces are either currently missing significant time, or have already missed significant time. Pence is seventh on the team in plate appearances, and sinking; Pagan is ninth. Cain’s 57 innings are easily the least of the starting five.
Let’s add the fact that Matt Duffy is now on the shelf with an Achilles strain, and you have one-third of Bochy’s Opening Day lineup throwing him on-again, off-again knuckleballs of health.
What in the name of Cory Gearrin is going on here? How in the name of Jarrett Parker are the Giants on a 102-win pace?
The obvious answer is the Bumgarner/Johnny Cueto thing, wherein the Giants are a combined 24-6 when those two start a game. That’ll serve as a mighty concrete foundation for building a mansion of victories.
But the Giants are still over .500 (23-21) when Bumgarner and Cueto do not start, which is a testament to Samardzija’s hot April/May (the Giants won seven of his first 10 starts) and Jake Peavy’s hot June (the Giants have won four of his last five starts).
The rest of the answers? Some are more plain to see. Brandon Belt is probably an All-Star, leading all NL first basemen in batting average (.302) and is third in OPS behind Anthony Rizzo and Paul Goldschmidt. Joe Panik caught fire on the trip, knocking go-ahead RBIs from the sixth inning on in three of the games, and throwing in a go-ahead three-run triple in the fourth inning of Thursday’s win.
Some answers are less obvious, like the slow jelling of the bullpen. Derek Law threw two shutout innings in Pittsburgh to earn a win in his hometown. Gearrin has begun to make the eighth inning his home, and has allowed only one earned run in his last 14 innings. And good ole Santiago Casilla, everyone’s favorite Armando Benitez voodoo doll, has locked down his last four save opportunities.
The Giants have always been PhD’s at exploring the margins for quiet utility players who can contribute, with Pena and Gillaspie’s starts on Thursday a prime example. Gillaspie will have a chance to play while Duffy is out, and revive that bat that hit .282 for the White Sox in 2014.
Put it all together, and the lads emerge from the dugout Friday against the Phillies with a familiar sheen in the Bochy Era. They’re winning again, and it’s all so spread out over the 25-man roster, with a favorable schedule looming, you don’t get the feeling it will end anytime soon.