How the Giants morphed into the team no one wants to play right now

SAN FRANCISCO — The San Francisco Giants, a team that spent more than two full months of the season in last place, have emerged as a dark horse playoff contender.

Yes, the club that was 12 games under .500 and trailing nine different teams in the National League Wild Card standings on June 29 is suddenly the group that no one wants to play.

In a matter of three weeks, the Giants have turned around their season and shifted the narratives regarding how the team will approach the July 31 trade deadline.

Will ace Madison Bumgarner, closer Will Smith and top relievers like Sam Dyson and Tony Watson be pitching elsewhere come August 1? It’s not out of the question, but the flurry of trades the Giants were expected to make this summer are no longer a foregone conclusion.

After falling behind 2-1 on a solo home run from top NL Rookie of the Year candidate Pete Alonso in the top of the 16th inning on Thursday, the Giants rallied for two runs in the bottom of the frame to extend their win streak to a season-high six games.

If it wasn’t clear with a hot streak heading into the All-Star break, the team’s 7-1 start following the Midsummer Classic has given the Giants every reason to embrace the role of the underdog.

“This team is deep, this team is really good and we’re having fun,” catcher Stephen Vogt said Wednesday.

Six weeks after it appeared the roster was destined to be sold for parts, the Giants are now displaying all the signs of a team that can match up with anyone over the final two months of the season.

San Francisco owns the league’s top offense in July, but in their last 10 games, the Giants have picked up victories in games with scores of 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2. The Giants’ pitching staff has posted one of the 10 best team earned runs averages since June 1, but on a few challenging days, a high-powered lineup has allowed the club to overcome struggles and win games its pitchers allowed seven or eight runs.

“We’re never out of it,” rookie Shaun Anderson said after a rough start on Wednesday. “Whether I give up some runs, they bounce back and we score more runs. It gives you confidence knowing that your team’s got your back.”

Every year, surprise contenders emerge due to the efforts of players enjoying the best seasons of their career. The Giants have gone 26-15 since June 1, but it’s not just the improved play of veterans like Brandon Crawford, Buster Posey and Brandon Belt that’s lifted them out of a rut.

Mid-June acquisition Alex Dickerson is a legitimate force in the cleanup spot and bumped his average up to .356 with a three-hit performance on Thursday. Utility infielder Donovan Solano hadn’t played in the majors since 2016, but he delivered his second career walk-off hit and first since 2012 with a single through the right side in the bottom of the 16th inning against the Mets.

On the mound, veteran starter Jeff Samardzija has strung together three of his best starts as a Giant to kick off the month while rookie Tyler Beede has established himself as a dependable asset over the last month.

With a bullpen that’s among the best in the league and a bench that finds critical ways to contribute in nearly every game, every member of the clubhouse feels like they’re making a positive impact for a team that never lost hope.

“There’s a really good chemistry going on,” reliever Derek Holland said. “It’s been that way since day one. It may not have been going the way we wanted to, but the clubhouse has stayed the same. And when you’re winning, it gets even better.”

The Giants (48-49) have pulled within a game of .500 and begin the day on July 18 trailing the Milwaukee Brewers for the second Wild Card spot by 2.5 games. They’re still behind four teams in the chase for a Wild Card berth, but they have passed five others in the last two weeks.

Multiple reports indicated several scouts from contending clubs were in attendance to watch Bumgarner face the Mets, and the left-hander delivered his finest outing of the year by tossing nine innings of one-run ball. It doesn’t take a trained eye to see how Bumgarner could aid a playoff team, but there’s an increasing belief from within the clubhouse that with Bumgarner leading the staff, the Giants are the team he can help the most.

President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said before the All-Star break that it’s a good sign when other teams want players that belong to you. That’s especially true in the case of Bumgarner, a grizzled postseason veteran with a proven track record, but it’s increasingly true about a much larger percentage of the Giants roster.

When that’s the case, you just might have a playoff contender on your hands.

After weeks of speculation surrounding the club’s immediate future, the sample size of the team’s recent success is simply too small to ignore. With the third-best winning percentage in the NL since June 1, the Giants can legitimately claim they’re one of the scariest teams in baseball at the moment.

Whether that’s true tomorrow, a week from now or on August 1 remains to be seen, but the Giants have done everything in their power to give themselves a serious chance.

“We’ve got a lot of veterans, a lot of guys that have been (to the playoffs) before,” Bumgarner said. “If we manage to keep this going and sneak in I don’t think anyone’s going to want to match up against us.”