Grindin’ with The Champs: What to expect?

It was a forgettable opening for the defending champion San Francisco Giants, dropping three of their first four games to the Dodgers in Los Angeles. Sloppy play in the field — this for the NL’s best defensive team in 2010 — led to two close losses. Coming home after splitting two games in San Diego, the team righted the ship with back-to-back come from behind wins against the Cardinals. Back-to-back, come-from-behind wins against the Dodgers to close out the home stand showed the team at its best, with clutch hitting and shut down pitching. Closer Brian Wilson called the team’s final effort a “grind.” Last season it was “torture.” Giants fans should expect more of the same this season: lots of close, hard-fought games. A resurgent Pablo Sandoval (.910 OPS) and surprising Aaron Rowand (.967) have stepped up for the struggling Aubrey Huff (.626) and slow-starting Buster Posey (.732).

The 6-6 Giants hit the road for 16 of the next 19 games. Matt Cain opens a three-game set in Arizona on Friday night, followed by Barry Zito on Saturday and Madison Bumgarner on Sunday. Cain has been the very picture of steadiness in 2011, throwing six scoreless innings in a win against LA and yielding two in seven innings (ND in a win) against St. Louis. The two lefties have struggled, however, with 15 runs allowed between them in 19.1 IP. Tim Lincecum opens the next series against West leaders Colorado on Monday, followed by Jonathan Sanchez, with Cain closing it out on Wednesday.

Sanchez has 24 strikeouts in his three starts, ahead of Lincecum’s 22. The Freak has led the league in K’s the last three seasons. After a travel day, the Giants return home on the 22nd for a rematch with NLDS foes Atlanta.

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