San Francisco Giants’ slow start still offers slim signs of hope

Look up the word “sputtering” in the dictionary, and you’ll find a team picture of the 2011 Giants.

Over the first 24 games of .500 baseball, the Giants scored two runs or less eight times, and lost all eight games.

Runs have not been easy to come by, even by last year’s standard of torture.

Two dozen games into 2011, the Giants ranked among the bottom four teams in runs scored — along with Washington, Pittsburgh and San Diego, a trio of teams no franchise expecting to contend wants to be associated with.

Maybe even more surprising is the Giants’ ranking in ERA, as they are stuck in NL’s middle third (seventh), which is not where they expect to finish the season.

That stat may be a bit deceiving because the starters had one horrendous trip through Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum. The trio combined to give up 14 runs in 13²?³ innings (9.22 ERA) as the Giants piled up a four-game losing streak. That’s not going to happen very often.

Still, you get the feeling the Giants’ pitching staff is struggling to find its 2011 groove. The best news for the group this week had to be the back-to-back performances by Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong.

Bumgarner didn’t win in Pittsburgh, but at least he resembled the phenom that had everybody swooning over his potential last postseason. He fell to 0-4 on the season, but those six strong innings could be a turning point.

Vogelsong fits the typical Brian Sabean offseason pickup — a former major leaguer who may have some gas in the tank. His 5²?³ innings that earned him the victory against the Pirates on Thursday were just what Giants needed before leaving the most empty stadium in Major League Baseball.

Remember, Vogelsong signed a minor league deal with the Giants having not pitched in a major league game since 2006. His 10-22 lifetime record, not to mention his 5.86 lifetime ERA, did not offer much to get excited about — no matter how good he looked in Japan.

Vogelsong was a longshot to help the Giants. But he has.

Offensively, I know it is early, but Aubrey Huff looks like a shell of his 2010 self. After opening the season with a 7-for-20 stint with seven RBIs, Huff put together a 17-game stretch batting below .200, and, trust me, he didn’t look that productive.

With Pablo Sandoval showing more and more of his 2009 sweet-swinging self, and Buster Posey hitting OK, Huff becomes the key ingredient to a productive middle of the Giants’ order. If Huff continues to struggle, the Giants will continue to sputter.

Tim Liotta is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner. Email him at tliotta@sfexaminer.com.

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