Weak division keeping slumping Giants in the hunt 

Bruce Bochy should be writing thank-you notes to the rest of the teams in the NL West right now.

His bats are cold, his bullpen is a mess and the injuries continue to pile up; still the Giants are only three games out of first place heading into the dog days of summer.

With 75 games in the books, the Giants are splashing around frantically, their heads barely above water with a 38-37 record as they embark on a 10-game road trip to Los Angeles, Colorado and Cincinnati.

Three weeks ago, the problem was the rotation: Matt Cain appeared to be tipping his pitches, Tim Lincecum continued to be hit or miss and Madison Bumgarner was struggling through the worst stretch of his career (1-4, 6.03 ERA in six outings). Now, the starters are hitting their marks (2.49 ERA over 11 starts), but the lineup isn't producing and the bullpen can't keep the crooked numbers off the board.

The Giants' offense scored a total of eight runs while losing three of four games to the team with the worst record in baseball, the Miami Marlins (25-50), and, of course, it doesn't help that the top of the order has been hurt by Pablo Sandoval's and Angel Pagan's trips the disabled list.

But the Giants can't blame all their hitting woes on injuries. Gregor Blanco was the team's most reliable bat during this homestand, going 14-of-28 out of the leadoff position as Pagan's replacement. The problem, right now, is lack of power (one home run in 93 innings) and clutch hitting (they've hit .217 with runner's in scoring position in their last seven games).

Every team is going to run into dry spells over the course of a 162-game season, and fortunately for Bochy, the order will get a boost at Chavez Ravine starting today when Sandoval returns to the field.

"He certainly should do something for the club," Bochy said. "We need a lift right now."

But Panda's bat isn't going to fix the bullpen. The Giants relievers gave up another four earned runs in three innings on Sunday, pushing their ERA to 4.26 for the month of June. Right now, the right-handers are stretched thin with Santiago Casilla on the disabled list, Chad Gaudin filling in for Ryan Vogelsong in the rotation and George Kontos down in Fresno. Throw in Jeremy Affeldt's struggles from the left side (4.66 ERA this month) and you have a tempest brewing at China Basin.

This issue probably isn't going be resolved in the next two weeks, but you should expect to see a move before the trade deadline. If the Giants don't pull the trigger for a reliever, they could make a deal for a starting pitcher, allowing for Gaudin's return to long relief or Lincecum's move to the bullpen.

But right now, the Giants are unsure whether Gaudin will be able to make his start on Tuesday, which could throw the rotation back into question.

Yes, nothing seems to be going right for the club this year. They can't stay healthy or get the rotation, the bats and the bullpen to fire in unison. Amazingly, they are still within arms reach of first place approaching the season's midway point, which is why Bochy must be grateful to be playing NL West this year.

Paul Gackle is a columnist for The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at pgackle@sfexaminer.com and followed on Twitter @GackleReport.

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