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June report card

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The Giants just had their best month since May 2016.

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Arizona Diamondbacks Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Somehow, this team managed to hang tight after a rough May (11-16) and put themselves back in contention. Their 18-10 June is the team’s best month since May 2016, when they went 21-8.

The month split up neatly into two 7-2 runs on either side of a 10-day stretch where they faced those horrible, obnoxious, painful Marlins twice (with a series loss to the Dodgers in between the two series). They even beat the Marlins in that second series, but those games were such a slog that it’s just better to forget that 10-day stretch ever happened.

Otherwise, the Giants are rolling.

How was the hitting?

Surprisingly worse than May! That could have a lot to do with the Marlins, who mess up everything the Giants try to do, but without knowing a specific cause, the team’s .288 BAbip pales in comparison to May’s .357, which helps explain the team’s 93 wRC+ (19th in MLB), down from 114 in May. The Giants walk rate went up 0.4% and their strikeout rate dropped from 24.5% to 21.5% (11th best).

We wrote articles about Joe Panik and Austin Jackson, whose Statcast data indicated that they were still hitting the ball hard, they just weren’t seeing their usual results. The easier answer, however, is that they played 16 of 28 games at home, and that’s very likely the difference. AT&T Park hates fun.

Mac Williamson’s struggles, however, were clear from both the Statcast data and the eye test, so the decision to send him down was necessary. Left field has been a trouble spot all season, but between the Alen Hanson Project and Austin Slater’s quick emergence as a pure contact hitter, they might have figured out a way to patch over that issue temporarily.

How was the pitching?

The Giants ended the month with a team ERA of 2.70 after a 7-0 shutout of the Diamondbacks, second only to the Yankees’ 2.62 ERA.

Andrew Suarez and Dereck Rodriguez put together such strong runs that it caused fandom to raise the question, “Does Jeff Samardzija even need to come back?” An absurd question to be sure, but understandable, given what they showed.

And, of course, Madison Bumgarner returned.

Who’s the best hitter on the team?

Brandon Crawford rolled the best month of his career over into a dominant June, posting a 168 wRC+ in 106 plate appearances. He just beat out Andrew McCutchen, who’s 140 wRC+ June featured 6 home runs to Crawford’s 4. Crawford missed a few games on account of the birth of his latest child, otherwise he might’ve had more hits than McCutchen for the month as well.

Crawford also held onto the top spot for NL All-Star shortstop thanks to his continuing performance. Did you see his home run off of Shelby Miller this past Saturday night?

And two nights earlier, he hit a walk-off home run to clinch a 1-0 win. Yes, he’s been spectacular.

Who’s the best pitcher on the team?

Madison Bumgarner.

Okay. I’ll say more.

Bumgarner finally returned from the disabled list on June 5th, and in his five June starts, he posted a 2.51 ERA in 32.1 innings. That includes 25 strikeouts and 9 walks. He looked a little shaky early on as he built up his game strength, but in his last 2 starts of the month, he posted two of the best starts in his career (regular) season, with 16 strikeouts, 4 walks, 5 hits, and 0 runs in 15 innings. He also pitched the 1,500th strikeout of his career, becoming the 4th-fastest left-handed pitcher to reach that milestone in the Live Ball era.

He’s back.

What’s sustainable?

Madison Bumgarner.

What’s unsustainable?

The bullpen usage is starting to get a little sweaty. Tony Watson has appeared in 38 of 85 games (career high: 78 back in 2014), Sam Dyson has come into 41 of 85 (career high: 75 in 2015), Will Smith came off the disabled list May 1st and has appeared in 26 of the 55 the Giants have played since then (career high: 78 in 2014; he’s also coming off Tommy John surgery).

On top of that, even if Hunter Strickland has figured out a way to manage his emotional demon(s) this season, it’s unsustainable over the long haul. He’s bound to lose control again.

Where can they improve?

After Bumgarner, the quality and consistency of the starting rotation drops off dramatically. While Andrew Suarez and Dereck Rodriguez have shown flashes of future veteran major league pitchers, they’re still rookies, and so you have to use the entire history of the sport to call into question their consistency. Derek Holland and Chris Stratton have been inconsistent and their quality has always been a question in addition to being inconsistent.

So, it comes down to Johnny Cueto’s health. If his elbow can hold up, he doesn’t need to be the ridiculous ace he was in April (0.84 ERA in 32 innings pitched over 5 starts), he can just be the above average starter he’s always been in his career. That means the Giants will need to find 2-3 consistent arms in the pile of Jeff Samardzija, Chris Stratton, Dereck Rodriguez, and Andrew Suarez. Not impossible, but a potential work in progress.

Progress report grade: B+

The Giants ended the month 44-40. At no point in 2017 was the team over .500. They’re 2.5 games out of first place in the NL West and 1.5 games out of the 2nd Wild Card spot. They just got their ace back, and they’re due to get back their 2nd ace very soon. Young arms have emerged to solidify the rotation and the bullpen has held the line. If the rotation can pitch deeper into games, the ‘pen just might hold up over the rest of the season.