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The lineup stays hot as Giants get their first 3-game series sweep of the year

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The Giants didn’t need 10 runs to win or even make themselves feel good.

San Francisco Giants v San Diego Padres Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

When this run of twenty consecutive games began, the Giants were 28-38 and had won just six series all season, none of which were a three-game sweep. They were averaging 3.79 runs per game. Pablo Sandoval was far and away their best hitter.

It’s not only a different story twenty days later, it’s a different feeling versus the one we’ve felt for this team since, I don’t know, the second half of 2016 — dread — and it’s a feeling most of us probably thought wouldn’t be one we’d dust off until Johnny Cueto returned: joy. That feeling has come on suddenly, but it’s because the Giants are peaking at sort of the right time and sort of in the most dramatic way possible.

They’ve averaged 5.3 runs per game over their last 20. Gone 11-9. Fanned a faint ember of playoff hope for no reason. And all because they — wow — just because they added Alex Dickerson and started playing Donovan Solano more often?

Looks like it.

The Giants have found some platoons that have really started working for them. Brandon Crawford’s injury has meant more of Solano, too, giving the Giants some healthy talent up the middle at the plate. The starting pitching has been, you know, adequate, which is a far cry from its unwatchable status in June.

But this isn’t going to be a review of the past twenty games. The Giants swept the Padres in a three-game series — their first three-game series sweep since they took down the Phillies in San Francisco last June — outscoring what was supposed to be the obviously better lineup 30-11 (7-5 tonight). They managed to do it because {stage whipser} THE PADRES’ PITCHING IS BAD.

It’s the simplest answer that happens to fit the facts. Their starting rotation has been solid through the first two months of the season, but their rotation is made up mostly of rookies — that’s going to mean wild swings of performance. It stands to reason that veteran teams — even teams as bad as the Giants — were going to outsmart the inexperienced kids. And then it’s just a matter of sitting back and watching major league hitters hit when they’re hot.

Evan Longoria fixed his swing at the perfect time. He crushed a lot of mistake pitches, including one for a long — loooooong — looooooongoooooria — home run. Alex Dickerson let out some shaft on a straight fastball just slightly off the middle of the plate right after; meanwhile, the Padres finally figured out that they should stop throwing Kevin Pillar fastballs, and although they were able to keep him from smacking the ball all over the yard, he at least managed to have somewhat decent at bats. He’s seeing the ball well.

Austin Slater’s augmented swing seems to not have disrupted his generally solid plate discipline. Brandon Belt’s plate discipline has either jumped to another level this year or else he’s just healthy enough to maintain it night after night. He drew a league-leading 24 walks last month and in the leadoff spot tonight again, he went 3-for-4 with another one. Leading off isn’t all about drawing walks, of course, but it’s about selectivity and working the pitcher, if possible. He’s not a natural for that spot, but on the other hand, he’s an ideal leadoff hitter for this Giants’ lineup.

That’s been the key over these past twenty games: finding the ideal roles for what’s already on the roster. For the past week or so, the Giants seemed to have found the right mix. Maybe it all falls apart come next week, but for now, seeing this broken Giants machine actually firing on all cylinders and humming like a fine-tuned machine has just been joy.

Here was the key play of the game:

The Giants were trailing 4-3 in the top of the sixth and while it didn’t feel like the game was out of reach (as it might’ve 20 games ago), it certainly felt like the offensive juggernaut of the past two nights wasn’t going to show up. Alex Dickerson grounded into a crucial double play with the bases loaded in the previous inning, which compelled me to utter aloud in an empty apartment, “Annnnnnd we’re back.” But not so!

Kevin Pillar called for time, didn’t get it, and got hit by a half-thrown pitch by a confused Luis Perdomo. Perdomo thought Pillar had been granted time out. He was wrong. That didn’t mean the Padres were totally boned. Perdomo was the one who got Dickerson to hit into that double play the previous inning and all he had to do was get Joe Panik to do the same to get out of this situation. Panik managed to stay out of a double play and hit a fly ball for an out.

Two outs and the right-handed Donovan Solano at the plate was a situation that still favored the Padres. But it didn’t work out for San Diego:

I .gif’d this one because the at bat tickled me. That’s not a great pitch by Perdomo. It cuts right back into the strike zone at the belt. It was a perfect pitch for a man of Solano’s height, though. If Perdomo throws that same type of pitch to a taller batter, he probably gets the ground ball he was looking for, or at least some kind of weird pop up.

Instead, it went right into a diminutive hot zone and gave Solano his only hit of the night. That’s what happens when you’re going good, though. You tend not to miss mistakes.

Need to highlight one more thing before I wrap this up. Here’s Alex Dickerson’s strikeout in the top of the seventh inning:

Front door sinker. Brutal. Maybe a ball, but Austin Hedges framed it well. I’m pointing this out because the next batter, Stephen Vogt, clearly watched this at bat and knew what to expect if he got to two strikes:

Craig Stammen throws that to almost the exact same spot. Vogt did pretty much the only thing he could do with a pitch that far down and in. He spoiled the pitch more than anything, and fouled off two more pitches before flying out.

I’m spotlighting this because this was a lengthy at bat by Stephen Vogt. It was a concerted effort despite a 3-run lead. It was smart hitting, too. Stephen Vogt always has an idea of what he’s going to do at the plate. At the very least, he’s average in every tool.

Shaun Anderson was not great tonight, catching too much of the zone and throwing too many meatballs to the aggressive power hitters in the Padres’ lineup, but the rest of the roster picked up the slack. For the moment, the Giants have cobbled together something resembling a league average team. That could very well mean that until this thing’s blown up for prospects at the deadline, they’re going to be susceptible to and beneficiaries of all the typical fortunes that befall an average team over the course of a season and not just totally bad stuff all the time. I feel... joy.