CINCINNATI -- There were many stops on the road to rock bottom last season, but one city in particular stuck with the Giants front office.
"We kept thinking about what happened in Cincinnati," a team executive said this spring, sadly shaking his head.
Specifically, management thought of what didn't happen for the Giants at the plate. They had seven hits and two homers in three games last year at the little bandbox alongside the Ohio River, getting no-hit on their second night in town. So the Giants went in search of power, and encouraged the big bats already in the fold to let it rip.
In three games here this week, including Thursday's 6-1 win, the Giants had five homers that accounted for nine of their 12 runs. Michael Morse had a two-run homer Thursday, his 13th of the season, and Brandon Crawford broke open the game with a three-run shot in the top of the fourth.
"We're pretty consistent, and we feel it doesn't matter where we hit right now -- we'll hit homers and drive in runs," Crawford said. "Even at home."
Their pitcher's park is where the Giants play 20 of the next 25, and while players and coaches were hesitant to admit it, the scheduling quirk sets them up to pull away in what was supposed to be a competitive National League West. After going 5-2 on a trip through St. Louis and Cincinnati, the Giants have an 81/2 game lead on the second-place Dodgers, who are more free-falling than free-spending these days.
After Wednesday's loss in Los Angeles, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly used an expletive while describing his team's play, saying, "We're just not that good." The quote raised a few eyebrows in the Giants clubhouse, where chemistry is cited as the main ingredient in a 39-21 start. But the Giants aren't ready to admit that they're sitting pretty.
"We're not talking about anything like that," manager Bruce Bochy said. "There's so much baseball left. We're in early June here. There's no point in talking about where you're at now at this stage of the game."
To a man, players lined up behind their manager.
"I don't look at that stuff anyway," Morse said. "I couldn't even tell you what I'm hitting right now. You play with blinders on, like you're a horse. You keep going forward."
If Morse sneaked a peek, he would see All-Star numbers: a .340 on-base percentage, 30 extra-base hits and 41 RBIs. The left fielder turned first baseman has been a godsend for a lineup that would go through prolonged dry spells a year ago, including that trip through Cincinnati. The Giants had 43 homers as of June 5 last year. When Crawford crushed a Mike Leake curveball in the fourth inning, the Giants had their 68th homer of the season.
Madison Bumgarner picked up his eighth win and credited the position players for allowing him to settle in, and not just because of what they did at the plate. Thursday's game was one of the best of the season defensively. It started with Hunter Pence's diving catch of a liner from Billy Hamilton in the first that looked like a leadoff triple, and maybe more. Crawford was spectacular at shortstop throughout, and Pablo Sandoval made a diving stop of Hamilton's sharp grounder down the third-base line in the sixth and popped up with a rocket throw to first that beat the fastest player in the game.
"The defense was phenomenal," Bumgarner said. "It was fun to watch."
He didn't need much help. The Reds came out aggressively and scored in the first, but Bumgarner and catcher Buster Posey made the adjustment, working to the corners more and throwing more quality strikes early in the count.
Bumgarner made it through eight innings, allowing just one base runner after Brandon Phillips' one-out single in the first. The reigning National League pitcher of the month retired the final 16 batters he faced in his first start of June.
"He was pitching like it was still May," Crawford said.
The Giants went 19-9 in May and now have taken their first series of June. They haven't dropped a series since May 5-7 in Pittsburgh. Still, Bumgarner said nobody is focused on the standings. What are they thinking about then?
"We're having fun doing what we're doing," he said.
"He's someone who, I hate to set timetables on, has a chance of moving quickly," Giants assistant general manager John Barr said.
Beede was a first-round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays three years ago who instead went to Vanderbilt. He was Southeastern Conference pitcher of the year as sophomore, going 14-1 with a 2.32 ERA. Beede is 8-7 this year with a 3.20 ERA.
Beede's fastball reaches 97 mph, but he has struggled with control. He walked 5.6 batters per nine innings during that standout sophomore season. Those numbers have improved this season, with him at 3.3 walks per nine innings.
Staff writer Jimmy Durkin contributed to this report.
(Jonathon Niese 3-3) at Giants (Matt Cain 1-3), 7:15 p.m. NBC Bay Area