DENVER — A Giants team led by a left-handed hitting slugger is setting records and charging toward the postseason.
The Barry Bonds era ended long ago, but first baseman Brandon Belt is doing his best impression of the power-hitter that anchored a 103-win 1993 club, a 235-homer 2001 team and a 100-win squad in 2003.
The Giants aren’t chasing regular season accomplishments, but they’ve stockpiled them anyway en route to winning their 101st game of the year on Saturday with a 7-2 victory over the Colorado Rockies.
A dramatic race for the National League West title between the Giants (101-54) and the Dodgers (99-56) took a significant turn in San Francisco’s favor as Los Angeles lost 7-2 to the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Saturday’s results gave Gabe Kapler’s club a 2.0-game lead in the division and reduced the Giants’ magic number to clinch their first NL West crown since 2012 to six with seven games left to play.
Belt, who has taken to referring to himself as “The Captain,” crushed a pair of homers off Rockies starter Jon Gray including a go-ahead three-run shot in the fifth inning that marked the Giants’ 236th home run of the season, surpassing the previous single-season franchise record set in 2001 when Bonds carved out another place in the history books with 73 homers.
“It means a lot,” Belt said of the record. “It’s pretty cool obviously, but it says a lot about our approach and making sure we get our pitch and that’s what leads to those homers for us. We don’t chase out of the zone a lot.”
Right-hander Anthony DeSclafani gave up two runs in the first inning and became the fifth consecutive Giants starter to fail to complete five innings as he was pulled after four innings and 77 pitches. A bullpen that did excellent work behind Alex Wood in Friday’s series opener picked up the slack yet again, but the spotlight from Saturday’s game once again shined on the team’s leading hitter.
Belt’s first-inning homer off Gray tied the team’s single-season franchise record and gave him 28 for the season, breaking a tie with Hunter Pence (2013) for the most home runs hit by a Giant since Bonds last played for the club in 2007.
“I’d say he’s given the entire offense a boost of confidence and the way he’s carrying himself right now, he knows he’s a dangerous hitter at the plate,” Kapler said.
The Giants didn’t score in any of their next three innings against Gray, but after Steven Duggar singled in the fifth and pinch-hitter Donovan Solano reached on a hit by pitch, Belt left no doubt when he launched the Giants’ record-setting homer 421 feet for his 29th of the year.
The 29 homers are the highest single-season total for a Giants player since Bonds hit 45 in 2004 and have come in a season when Belt has missed nearly two full months of games due to injuries.
The Giants added three more runs in the eighth inning as Duggar blooped a RBI single into left field before Mike Yastrzemski emerged from the bench as a pinch-hitter and capped a nine-pitch at-bat with a two-run single into right field.
Saturday’s game marked the 16th time in the last 19 games the Giants have scored at least six runs.
Since the Giants hired Kapler and brought three new hitting coaches –Donnie Ecker, Justin Viele and Dustin Lind– into the fold, Belt has been one of the most productive hitters in the majors. Of players with at least 500 combined plate appearances over the last two seasons, Belt’s 158 weighted runs created plus (wRC+), a stat that measures runs created and adjusts for external factors such as ballpark, is tied for third in the majors with Padres’ shortstop Fernando Tatís Jr. and ranks behind only superstar outfielders Juan Soto of the Nationals and Bryce Harper of the Phillies.
“The lower half is really firing right now,” Kapler said of Belt. “He’s on time and that’s allowing him to make really good decisions. The bat is whistling through the zone, he’s turning up underneath it well and instead of smothering it, he’s getting the sweet spot to just underneath the baseball. He’s hitting the ball as hard as he can with the right angles.”
Those three players, Tatís, Soto and Harper, are widely considered to be the top three finishers in 2021 National League MVP voting.
Entering this season, Belt’s previous career-high in home runs was 18, a total he eclipsed this year with a multi-homer game on August 20. Remarkably, 18 of Belt’s 29 homers this season have come since he returned from a six-week stint on the injured list on August 5.
“I feel really good right now, I might feel better than most just because I’ve had some time off this season,” Belt said. “My legs feel great. The one thing that was good about the six weeks I had off was I really got to focus on my lower half.”