Newly muscled Giants power past Padres

Steve Henson

SAN DIEGO – When the Padres look in their rearview mirror, objects aren't just larger than they appear. They are Giants.

The National League West race has made like an action movie car chase for quite a while. The San Diego Padres spent the longest time laughing at everyone sucking their fumes, then hit a 10-loss roadblock that put them in the headlights of not only the San Francisco Giants, but the Colorado Rockies as well.

The Padres gunned their engine in the nick of time and the Giants fell back for a few days, but San Francisco shifted into overdrive Thursday night with a 7-3 victory behind four home runs, and could pull alongside their elusive adversary with another win Friday. That's how the West is one. Meanwhile, the Rockies have roared to relevance with seven wins in a row and trail by 3½ games.

Suddenly, all that made the Padres a tick better than every other team in the division, if not the entire NL, has shifted direction. Jon Garland(notes) hadn't allowed more than three earned runs in any of his last eight starts, but he gave up home runs to Aubrey Huff(notes), Juan Uribe(notes) and Buster Posey(notes) while taking the loss. Starters Wade LeBlanc(notes) and Kevin Correia(notes), who gave up the final homer in relief, to Pat Burrell(notes), are faltering. Luke Gregerson(notes), once a stalwart setup reliever, has allowed eight runs in his last 2 2/3 innings.

And the offense is, well, no different than it's been all year, scoring two, three, maybe four runs a game. Enough when the pitching is great, anemic when it's not.

''We're the same pitchers, the same guys,'' Garland said. ''It's just been a tough stretch.''

The Padres looked a lot more like the Padres who dropped 10 in a row from Aug. 26 to Sept. 5 than the Padres who swept the Los Angeles Dodgers earlier this week. The Dodgers made like Florence Nightingale, comforting the Padres in their time of need. But the Giants and Rockies – San Diego's opponents for the next six games – are a double dose of Nurse Ratched.

One of the first indications the Padres were better than preseason pundits predicted was their seven wins in a row against the Giants in April and May. San Francisco didn't score more than two runs in any of those losses. But these Giants aren't those Giants.

April 21 Sept. 9
C Bengie Molina(notes) < Buster Posey
1B Aubrey Huff = Aubrey Huff
2B Mark DeRosa(notes) < Freddy Sanchez(notes)
3B Pablo Sandoval(notes) = Pablo Sandoval
SS Juan Uribe = Juan Uribe
LF John Bowker(notes) < Pat Burrell
CF Eugenio Velez < Andres Torres(notes)
RF Nate Schierholtz(notes) < Jose Guillen(notes)

Garland posted his first win of the season April 21 against a Giants' lineup that paled in comparison to the one that tattooed him Thursday. Huff, Uribe and Pablo Sandoval are the only holdovers. The Giants have improved everywhere else.

''Every team's lineup changes from April to September,'' Giants general manager Brian Sabean said. ''Offense is always a work in progress. We're still station-to-station and we hit into too many double plays. We don't walk and we don't steal bases. We live and die on big hits and big innings. But we've improved.''

Everybody in the lineup except Sanchez has more than 10 home runs, so maybe the gang of four goners at spacious Petco Park shouldn't have been a huge surprise. The Giants had 13 hits in all.

''It's a whole new lineup,'' Huff said. ''It's a new feeling, too. We feel like we can score runs and that we can come back when we need to.''

Only a few weeks ago concern centered around the Giants' starting pitching. Two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum(notes) had been horrendous. Barry Zito(notes) couldn't buy a win. Now Lincecum is coming off two straight solid outings. Zito still can't buy a win. But Matt Cain(notes) – the winner Thursday – Jonathan Sanchez(notes) and rookie Madison Bumgarner(notes) are pitching well.

All of a sudden the Giants appear to match up well against the Padres' vaunted rotation. On Friday, Sanchez, who has allowed one run in his last 15 innings, faces Clayton Richard(notes), who also has pitched well of late. Bumgarner should hold an edge over journeyman Tim Stauffer(notes) on Saturday. The marquee matchup is Sunday, when Lincecum faces Padres ace Mat Latos(notes).

''Every game is important this time of year,'' Padres outfielder Ryan Ludwick(notes) said. ''There are a lot of games left. Our eyes are on the road.''

Better there than the rearview mirror.