D-backs have Giants' 'number' in recent outings
PHOENIX -- Every baseball season is different in its texture and results. And so, it was strangely compelling that the first weekend of the newest campaign played out for the Giants and D-backs exactly the way the last one ended."Right now, they have our number," Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt said Sunday after Arizona's three-game sweep of San Francisco was in the books. "It can go the other way, too. It's a long season. This weekend was just a little hiccup, but we're going to be very competitive." The series of hiccups ended with a 7-6 D-backs victory at Chase Field, giving them a trio of one-run wins here this weekend and a club-record eight-game winning streak over the Giants dating back to Sept. 3. The Giants hadn't opened a season 0-3 since 1984 and hadn't opened 0-4 since 1950. The D-backs haven't opened 3-0 since 2000. "I don't get caught up in those kinds of numbers," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. Perhaps he should. Last year, the Giants finished eight games behind the division-winning D-backs in the National League West and are now three games in arrears of the Snakes as the season heads out of the gate in earnest this week. The Giants head to Colorado, where the Rockies play their home opener Monday, while the D-backs open a three-game series in San Diego against the Padres on Tuesday night. The Giants, of course, already have what this particular edition of the D-backs really wants. They won the World Series in 2010 and, since then, have had a very difficult time trying to replicate all that magic. The D-backs snuck under the radar last year after losing 97 games the previous season. But their 94-win surprise ended with a five-game loss to the Brewers in an NL Division Series that came down to the final play. This is not to say that the Giants don't want to get to the promised land again, but the D-backs right now look like a team that's on a serious mission. "It's a different year, but we're still playing with the same intensity," D-backs catcher Miguel Montero said after the game. "We're still grinding, still hungry. There's good chemistry going on around here." Last year, the D-backs had a Major League-leading 48 come-from-behind wins and they did it again Sunday, roaring back from an early 6-0 deficit against Matt Cain, the Giants right-hander who just signed a five-year contract extension worth $112.5 million. The entire D-backs payroll for this season is only about $80 million. During the first two games of the season, the D-backs jumped out early against Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner and held on as the back end of their bullpen -- J.J. Putz and David Hernandez -- shut down the Giants in the final innings for 5-4 wins. Even though it was only the third game, D-backs manager Kirk Gibson elected to not even have that stellar pair of right-handers warm up in the 'pen. Instead, he turned to Bryan Shaw, a middle-inning guy, for the ninth. After Shaw recorded two easy outs, Melky Cabrera singled and Pablo Sandoval walked. For the second time in the series, Buster Posey came up with a chance to tie the score. On Friday, Putz induced him to bounce a cutter to short. On Sunday, Shaw struck Posey out swinging on three pitches. It was the first save of Shaw's professional career. For Gibson, that took a lot of nerve, but that's why he was named the NL's Manager of the Year for 2011. Always expect the unorthodox from Gibson. "We didn't want to use them, but we would've had to if the game had gone into extra innings," Gibson explained about the move. "We used everybody else before them. Those guys are going to pitch a lot as the weeks go on." To be sure, this run of good luck for the D-backs over the Giants could turn on a dime. Last season, the Giants won nine of the first 11 games between the two teams before falling on these hard times. They haven't defeated Arizona since Sept. 2, 2011. Of course, this is a much different D-backs team now than it was during the first half of last season. The D-backs didn't have Lyle Overbay, Jason Kubel, John McDonald, Aaron Hill, Trevor Cahill, Brad Ziegler or Paul Goldschmidt, for that matter, when the Giants were roughing them up. Goldschmidt came up from Double-A last Aug. 1 and since then is 6-for-11 with three homers and five RBIs against Lincecum. Only Ryan Howard and Seth Smith have hit as many homers off the two-time NL Cy Young Award winner as Goldschmidt. That alone is a big change in the equation. But other influences come into play. Just when it seemed like the Giants might capitalize on Arizona's five errors Sunday, they came apart themselves in the seventh inning, when shortstop Brandon Crawford bobbled a routine grounder and Posey pulled his foot off the plate too early on a throw home with the bases loaded to allow what turned out to be the winning run. It was the capper to a weekend of disaster. "We didn't play that well," said Bochy, who was ejected arguing the play at the plate. "We beat ourselves. Any time you have a six-run lead it's tough. They just chipped away. In the one inning, what could go wrong went wrong. This was a tough weekend. But we still have a lot of baseball. We've got to find a way to get back on track here." The Giants don't play the D-backs again until another three-game series at Chase Field on May 11-13. That should give them plenty of time.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.