The San Jose Giants could be compared to a freight train. The two-time defending California League champs seem nearly unstoppable again this season with yet another first-half title in the bag.
Of course, every train needs an engine, and for the Giants it's speedy center fielder Gary Brown. As the team's leadoff man and one of their best defenders, Brown's season has also sped along.
Brown has appeared in 89 of the Giants' 94 games this season, hitting .313 with seven homers and 71 runs scored, and all of his team-high 380 at-bats have come at the top of the lineup.
"You want to see pitches," he said of his role. "You get to see the starting pitcher about three times, and you want to set yourself up for the rest of the game."
San Francisco's first-round pick in the 2010 Draft, Brown played in both the California League/Carolina League All-Star Game in Modesto and the Futures Game in Arizona last month. This jam-packed schedule with few off days hasn't worn on Brown, however.
"I got my downtime," he said. "I got to go home to my host family and watch TV and catch up with friends."
He also keeps perspective on the demands of such a schedule.
"This is my first time through, so I'm trying to think of today, and the next day, and not think about the past and how long it's been," he said.
Brown identified the loss of four key players to promotion -- Hector Sanchez, Chris Dominguez, Hector Correa and Francisco Peguero -- and the team's six-game losing streak to open the second half as an adjustment period.
"Right after the first half, when we lost a lot of those guys and went into that funk, I think that was us getting to know our team again," Brown said. "I feel like now we're starting to get to know our team again."
The Cal State Fullerton product went through a rough time at the plate in June, when he hit .202 for the month.
"Everyone goes through slumps," he said. "It's growth. I continue to say that I want to improve, but the only way to improve is to not do so well."
Hot bat leads to Blaze sweep: Bakersfield poured on the offense last week with three double-digit wins in a sweep of High Desert. Shortstop Brodie Greene went 9-for-13 with two doubles and three home runs in the series. Greene has a five-game hitting streak with 11 RBIs over that span.
In the driver's seat: Inland Empire won six of its last eight games and could make a move up the South Division standings if it keeps winning. The 66ers are five games behind first-place Lake Elsinore after winning series in Modesto and San Jose last week. Their next nine games are against South opponents, including three against second-place Rancho Cucamonga.
Diamond on the mound: Rancho Cucamonga's Jon Michael Redding made his longest start of the year on July 16, hurling seven innings and striking out a season-high 14 batters. It was his first win since June 25 and a rebound from his previous start, when he went 2 1/3 innings and allowed five runs on eight hits.