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Murph: MLB-best Giants still have unanswered questions



Cain and bochy

Why, hello first-place San Francisco Giants.

Apologies for the absence in contact. We here at KNBR have been away; swept up in a tsunami of 73 wins, 3 games to 1 comebacks, 3 games to 1 collapses and a trip to the Hamptons to see a guy named Kevin Durant.

Feels like the start of the second half for the Giants is a time to reconnect with Bruce Bochy’s marauders.

The Giants’ 57-33 start, while acknowledged on the ‘Murph and Mac’ show and touched on daily in our chats with Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper, has effectively been lost in the Golden State Warriors’ domination of the news cycle the past three months.

No longer!

With keen focus, we turn to the final 72 games and address our burning questions in the quest for a fourth parade down Market Street since 2010. (Which, by the way, sounds intergalactically insane, if you still bear the wind-whipped scars of Candlestick Park.)

Can the Giants’ starting pitching hold up?

In a word, yes. Madison Bumgarner is Clayton Kershaw North, and is on pace to clear 200 innings for the sixth consecutive year. Johnny Cueto, All-Star Game be damned, has cleared 230 innings in both 2014 and 2015, so his production is far from a fluke.

But yes, there are concerns. Primary: How will Matt Cain’s return — scheduled for Wednesday at Fenway Park, against a bopping Red Sox lineup —go? I’ve long maintained Cain would be the ‘X’ factor for the 2016 Giants, and he still carries that status.

If Cain comes back as an effective arm for his final 14 starts, the Giants have struck gold. The question is, which Cain will take the mound for the second half? The Cain of April who went 0-3 with a 7.00 ERA? Or the Cain of May who strung together three straight starts against Toronto/Arizona/Chicago and only allowed four runs in 21 innings?

The Giants are 4-7 in Cain’s 11 starts this year. For a team that’s 57-33, you can do the math. A Cain start has been a drag on momentum. By contrast, the Giants went 3-3 in replacement Albert Suarez’s six starts, more in line with what a No. 5 pitcher should give you.

Matt Cain, the moment is yours.

Same would be true for Jeff Samardzija, who is looking to be more May Shark (2.83 ERA) than June Shark (6.83 ERA). The Giants are 11-7 in his starts, and if Samardzija can produce that late movement on his fastball so common to his earlier starts and less of that egregious location bugaboo of his later starts, he’d be a monster down the stretch.

Can the Giants offense produce in the second half?

In a word, yes.

This is an offense that ranks fourth in the National League in runs scored, and is third in the NL in on-base percentage, showing that their second-to-last NL home run production is something that can be overcome. The Giants move the line. They don’t need to sit back and rely on — or pray for — the long ball.

I’m a fan of the OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) to determine a player’s productivity, with anything north of .750 indicating a pretty good season. Line up Brandon Belt (.928), Buster Posey (.843), Brandon Crawford (.800) and even Angel Pagan (.752) and you have a productive nucleus of veterans, nothing unreliable about it.

Did we mention Hunter Pence and Joe Panik are due back soon? With Matt Duffy not far behind?

LISTEN: Giants GM Bobby Evans lays out rehab plan for Pence, Panik

The Giants’ offense is one of their least pressing concerns, with only Denard Span (on-base percentage .328) in need of drastic improvement. As nice as the idea of adding Josh Reddick or Jay Bruce to the lineup is, I’d look elsewhere on the trade front first, like our next topic.

Is the Giants’ bullpen the most dire area on the team?

In a word, yes. Or perhaps you forgot over the All Star Break that the Giants’ 17 blown saves as a team are tied for worst in MLB.

General manager Bobby Evans came on our show this week to say that, yes, the bullpen is the number one priority, but also that the Giants feel like they’re getting a trade pickup in the return of Sergio Romo.

He has a point. Romo in the eighth removes the promising-but-uncertain idea of Cory Gearrin/Derek Law/Hunter Strickland/Josh Osich tasked with getting big league hitters out in the eighth inning. We’d all feel better with those guys getting outs in the sixth and seventh.

That leaves the ninth, and the teetering uncertainty of a Santiago Casilla.

Casilla’s 21 saves are tied for 7th in the NL, but there are warning signs — a 1.24 WHIP, a 3.12 walk-per-nine ratio that does compare favorably to his peers, over 17 pitches per inning, again higher than the elite

Can the Giants win the West with Casilla as their closer?

In more than a word, I’m not so sure about that.

There are many, many favorable aspects of the 2016 Giants. The skipper tops the list. The fan base will pack the joint and energize the crew. The Dodgers are 6 1/2 back, a nice cushion for what feels like what will be a frantic finish, right down to LA’s visit to China Basin the final weekend of the year.

I’m just glad to reacquaint myself with the gosh darn team. They do still wear orange and black, right? Play ball, boys. We’re watching.