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Youngsters keep Giants in postseason race

This season’s San Francisco Giants are a rare case. Having endured a litany of injuries to significant characters, the Giants have yet to see what the conclusion of the 2015 script has in store, despite a supporting cast of understudies.

The path of a Major League Baseball season normally carries one of two dynamics for a given franchise.

Either it is a postseason contender playing meaningful games come fall, or it is labeled “rebuilding” and gets extended looks at up-and-coming minor league talent.

Despite having nine players go down from whom they expected substantial contributions, the Giants head into the regular season’s penultimate series with their postseason aspirations very much intact.

The series — a four-gamer against the rival Los Angeles Dodgers — will take place at AT&T Park in front of what should be large and raucous crowds. Any chance at continued playoff dreams will require a clean sweep by the home team.

Of his team’s ability to play through adversity, manager Bruce Bochy said:

“With all we’ve gone through, we’re still hanging in there. I’m proud of these guys.”

Callups the likes of infielder Kelby Tomlinson, reliever Josh Osich and outfielder Jarrett Parker embodied the “next man up” mentality. With production from rookies infielder Matt Duffy and starter Chris Heston that could garner some NL Rookie of the Year votes, the Giants have performed well beyond the summation of their parts.

Heading into Spring Training, the Giants anticipated a normal, productive season from right fielder Hunter Pence, who last September saw his league-high 331 consecutive games played streak end in order to get rest heading into the postseason.

After being hit by a pitch in a March 5 Cactus League game, the three-time All-Star missed the first two months of the season with a fracture in his arm. Even after his return, the 32-year-old never got on track, suffering injuries to his wrist and oblique. The Texan was limited to just 52 games played.

In losing Pence, the Giants lost not just their emotional leader but also a .284/.337/.472 slash along with 25 home runs, 93 RBI and 14 stolen bases projected over Pence’s usual 162 games.

For much of the season Pence was replaced by Justin Maxwell. But his .209 average, seven homers and 26 RBIs were a far cry from what Pence would have been expected to produce.

Now, as the season winds toward a close, 26-year-old former second-round pick Jarrett Parker has gotten his audition. And he has impressed.

In 14 games (six starts) Parker has posted a .370/.414/1.074 slash with six bombs and 12 RBIs. Of course those numbers are bolstered by his five-hit, three-homer, eight-RBI outburst over the past three games in Oakland.

After Parker collected a pair of singles in the series finale, Bochy joked:

“Parker, he had an off day I guess, with a couple hits and a walk.”

Along with Pence, left fielder Nori Aoki (.287/.353/.380), who was off to thunderous start, missed several months after suffering a concussion due to being struck in the dead by a pitch, then a leg fracture resulting from another hit by pitch. Outfielder Gregor Blanco has been sidelined with a hip injury and a concussion.

First baseman Brandon Belt (.280/.356/.478), who was in the process of salvaging a year that took a horrid start, was forced to the disabled list (DL) with a groin injury, as well as a concussion.

Second baseman Joe Panik (.312/.378/.455), selected to his first All-Star team in his first full season, has missed much of the second half with lower back inflammation.

Two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum (7-4, 4.13 ERA) got off to his best start since 2011 before taking a line drive off his pitching forearm. He has not seen the mound since the injury on June 28.

Matt Cain (2-4, 6.31 ERA), coming off of arm surgery, has not yet got his season going. For the former ace, it has been back-to-back lost seasons since choosing to repair bone spurs in his right (pitching) elbow.

The straw that stirs the Giants’ drink, catcher Buster Posey, has been one of the few to not have the letters D and L next on his name on the roster this season this year. Given his bat’s prominence in the team’s success, however, Posey was behind the plate in only 104 of his 148 games played, highlighting the importance of a backup catcher.

Coming into the season, that duty was expected to be filled by the duo of Hector Sanchez (.179/.207/.304) and Andrew Susac (.218/.297/.368), both of whom have missed extensive time. Since the two reserve backstops departed for rehab in Arizona, Jackson Williams (.000/.286/.286) and Trevor Brown (.273/.320/.684) have been cast in their roles.

Yet, through all the injuries, the Giants come into the regular season’s final seven games still in the hunt.

After collecting a victory against the Oakland Athletics on Sunday, Heston spoke to the play of the San Francisco youngsters:

“It’s a credit to our farm system. We’ve got a bunch of guys we can call on and that can produce at this level, so I think it’s been great to see everyone doing well. It’s been a lot of fun to watch.”

Even with half of their perspective starting eight in Monday’s do-or-die game one against the Dodgers showing an R in the MLB experience column of their baseball cards, the Giants are going to fight come game time.

And Bochy expects nothing less:

“We are in a tough position here, we know it, but we’re going to go out there and try to win every game… We’ll come out fighting. … It’s going to be a good series. A lot of history to this series. We’ll see what happens.”

With production beyond expectations from Tomlinson (.295/.352/.728) and Osich (2-0, 1.75 ERA), along with the others, the Black and Orange have continued to fight.

And as the 2015 MLB season enters its final act, the reigning champs will continue to rely on fill-ins making their pending elimination nothing more than an elaborate red herring.

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