SAN FRANCISCO -- The baseball season? A marathon, a mauler, a meandering mega-challenge for mind and body.

The Giants' past 17 games? Basically the leg-killing conclusion to Stage 1, all set up to stagger the Giants if they weren't ready and willing to fight through it.

That's why there was such a palpable sigh of relief -- and exhaustion -- coming from the Giants clubhouse after their 4-1 victory over Miami at AT&T Park on Sunday.

They've climbed the first big hill, and from here, after more than a quarter of the season, the view is pretty nice.

"I think, all in all, everybody is feeling good," catcher Buster Posey said Sunday afternoon. "I think our starting pitching's been pretty good, swinging the bats OK.

"I don't think we're clicking on all cylinders, which is kind of a good feeling knowing there's room to improve.

"But, yeah, overall I think we're on the right track."

The Giants took some injury hits in this stretch of 17 games in 17 days and four cities, but they did more than survive it.

The Giants went 11-6 during this grueling early-season test, increased their N.L. West lead from one to three games and currently own the best record in the National League at 28-17.

And now they get their first day off since May 1 before starting a three-game series at second-place Colorado on Tuesday.

This obviously is just the start of things for the Giants -- there is more than two-thirds of a baseball marathon left for them to run, and all sorts of things might go wrong from here.


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But the Giants could've hit the wall already, after traveling to Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles and then playing the Braves and Marlins at AT&T, all without a break.

The Giants could've dug a hole -- or allowed the schedule to dig a hole for them.

And they didn't; in fact, the Giants did the opposite and gained ground through the crucible.

Which led to the team-wide sigh of relief and general sense of accomplishment Sunday.

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong (32) throws against the Miami Marlins in the first inning at AT&T Park in San Francisco, Calif. on
San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong (32) throws against the Miami Marlins in the first inning at AT&T Park in San Francisco, Calif. on Sunday, May 18, 2014. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group) ( Nhat V. Meyer )

"I think we're in a good place," manager Bruce Bochy said. "I like the way the guys handled the stretch.

"Some of them were out there almost every day -- (Brandon) Crawford, (Hunter) Pence. And they kept getting after it."

Just for example: Over this same period, the Rockies went 8-7, and the third-place Dodgers went 6-10.

Milwaukee, which had the best record in the N.L. on May 1, has gone 7-9 since then.

"I think we're in a good place," Posey said. "Playing with some confidence."

During this stretch, the Giants lost Brandon Belt for two months after breaking his thumb, and now they're waiting to see how Angel Pagan's shoulder reacts after a hard crash sprained his AC joint Saturday.

But the Giants' pitching has held up, which was underlined by Ryan Vogelsong's seven shutout innings Sunday.

After putting up a grisly 5.40 ERA in five April starts, Vogelsong has a 2.05 May ERA, and the Giants are 3-1 in his starts this month.

"What I liked about Vogey is the stuff -- it's the same stuff he had in 2012," Bochy said. "I thought he had a little zip on his fastball that he normally has when he's going well.

"You look at his last few starts, they've been impressive."

And, as Posey pointed out, there is plenty of room for improvement by the Giants offense, though Pablo Sandoval could do that almost all by himself.

Sandoval hit a solo home run Sunday -- his first homer since April 13 and his third of the season -- and his batting average is up to .220 after entering May at .177.

Which, Posey said, everybody in the Giants clubhouse knew was coming.

"Oh sure, definitely -- I mean, he's been so good for a while now that you figure it's only a matter of time," Posey said.

Now the Giants can exhale, at least for a day, before the grind continues again.

They won't have another stretch like this until late August into early September, when they play on 16 consecutive days in four cities (at the Cubs and Nationals, home against the Rockies and Brewers and then at Colorado).

But the Giants know they can survive these kinds of tests and look great doing it -- and the rest of the league knows it, too -- because they just did.

Read Tim Kawakami's Talking Points blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/kawakami. Contact him at tkawakami@mercurynews.com.