The reigning National League champion San Francisco Giants have overcome a dramatic offseason overhaul to establish themselves as legitimate contenders for their second straight pennant.
Leaders of the NL West since opening day, the Giants look to continue their run when they meet the Colorado Rockies in the opener of a four-game series at Pacific Bell Park.
San Francisco sneaked into the playoffs last season as the NL wild card winner, advancing to the World Series before losing in seven games to the Anaheim Angels.
This season, the Giants have a five-game lead over the second-place Arizona Diamondbacks, the two-time defending division champs, despite undergoing vast changes in the offseason.
Dusty Baker left to manager the Chicago Cubs, 2001 MVP Jeff Kent signed as a free agent with Houston, and starter Russ Ortiz was traded to Atlanta. Starter Livan Hernandez, and key contributors David Bell, Reggie Sanders and Kenny Lofton were also sent packing.
Yet, the Giants have the league’s second-best record, after the Braves.
“They think they can beat anybody right now,” manager Felipe Alou said. “It has been better than I thought, because there is always opportunity for disaster on any ballclub. Injury, slumps, losing streaks, bad decisions by the manager—there’s a cloud of opportunity that hasn’t happened.”
Reigning MVP Barry Bonds leads the majors with 30 homers, and had hit one in five straight games before finishing 0-for-2 in Sunday’s 7-4 loss to the Diamondbacks. He is just 17 homers shy of tying his godfather, Willie Mays, for third on the all-time list with 660.
After that, only Babe Ruth (714) and Bonds’ hero, Hank Aaron (755), have hit more.
The Rockies won four straight before Sunday’s 9-3 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Todd Helton, who homered in Tuesday’s All-Star game, was 2-for-4 with a homer, extending his hitting streak to 10 games.
Helton, who has four homers in his last three games, is hitting .486 (18-for-37) with seven homers and 14 RBIs during the hitting streak.
STANDINGS: Rockies - 4th place, 8 1/2 GB, NL West. Giants - 1st place, NL West.
ROCKIES PROBABLE STARTER: Jason Jennings (9-6, 4.56 ERA). Jennings is 2-0 with a 3.96 ERA over his last three starts. The right-hander, who turns 25 Thursday, allowed two runs and five hits in 6 1-3 innings during Saturday’s 5-3 win over Los Angeles. Jennings is 4-3 with a 5.36 ERA in nine career starts against San Francisco.
GIANTS PROBABLE STARTER: Damian Moss (7-6, 5.06 ERA). Moss is 0-2 with an 8.11 ERA over his last three starts and hasn’t won since beating Kansas City 7-4 on June 14. The 26-year-old left-hander allowed two runs and three hits in 4 2-3 innings of San Francisco’s 3-2 win over San Diego on July 6. He was then relegated to the bullpen and made just one relief appearance, in which he allowed three runs and three hits in 1 2-3 innings of the Giants’ 11-3 loss to the Rockies last Thursday. Moss is 0-1 with 9.00 ERA in three career appearances against Colorado, including two starts.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Rockies - Helton, .349 avg. and 87 runs; Preston Wilson, 23 HRs and 91 RBIs; Wilson and Larry Walker, 6 SBs. Giants - Bonds, .316 avg., 30 HRs, 63 RBIs and 68 runs; Bonds, Marquis Grissom and Ray Durham, 7 SBs.
SEASON SERIES: Rockies, 6-4.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Rockies - Helton’s three-game homer streak is the seventh of his career, most recently last July 24-27. … Colorado begins the second half of the season with a winning record for just the third time in its history. The Rockies were 45-40 in 2000 and 39-30 in 1995. … The Rockies have played more games than any team in the majors before the All-Star break. Giants - San Francisco’s 57 wins are its most at the All-Star break since the 1993 club went 59-30. … OF Bonds needs only two more homers to tie Willie McCovey with 469 in a San Francisco uniform. … RHP Felix Rodriguez hasn’t allowed a run in 19 of his last 22 relief appearances, going 4-0 with a 1.36 ERA and one save during the stretch.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Rockies - 15-31 on the road; Giants - 27-15 at home.
INJURIES: Rockies - RHP Shawn Chacon (elbow), 15-day DL; RHP Nelson Cruz (shoulder), 15-day DL; OF Chris Richard (shoulder), 60-day DL. Giants - OF Marvin Benard (knee), 15-day DL; RHP Kurt Ainsworth (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Robb Nen (shoulder), 15-day DL; LHP Kirk Rueter (shoulder), 15-day DL.