The San Jose Giants took the first step toward defending their California League championship Saturday by wrapping up the North Division first-half title with an 8-4 victory over the Bakersfield Blaze at Sam Lynn Ballpark.
San Jose became the first team in Cal League history to win four straight first-half titles. The Visalia Oaks were the last team to win three consecutive crowns from 1981-83.
"It's a reward that signifies all the hard work that's been done. This is an outstanding ballclub with a lot of character," said Giants manager Steve Decker, who moved up to the Cal League after guiding the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes to back-to-back Northwest League championships.
After Ryan Rohlinger and Brett Pill stroked RBI singles in the first inning to give the Giants (43-26) a 2-0 lead, Matt Downs -- who went 3-for-5 -- hit a solo homer in the second. Mike McBryde broke the game open with a three-run shot in the fifth.
Former fourth-round pick Ben Snyder (8-2) allowed two runs on seven hits with five strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings to win his second straight start.
"[Our] starting pitching has been outstanding," Decker said. "Along with the defense and situational hitting and being able to perform every day, these players have put in a lot of hard work."
The Giants' pitching staff is anchored by Snyder and 2007 MiLB.com Class A Starting Pitcher of the Year Kevin Pucetas (7-0, 2.54 ERA). Left-hander Jesse English (8-2, 2.63) and righty Tim Alderson (6-3, 3.13) round out a rotation that ranks first in the league in ERA (3.08) and shutouts (10).
Pablo Sandoval, who doubled and scored twice, is fifth in the Cal League with a .365 batting average. Downs (.294, 12 homers, 43 RBIs) and Andy D'Alessio (.313, 8 HR, 47 RBI) lead an offense that tops the circuit with 390 runs scored and ranks second with 92 stolen bases.
San Jose followed an 18-9 April by going 18-10 in May and has put together six winning streaks of at least four games, including a six-game run to close out May.
"This is a class organization that puts not only good players but good character guys on the team," Decker said. "It's a reflection of the hard work and dedication of the organization as a whole."
Jose Vallejo went 3-for-4 with a pair of RBIs for Bakersfield (35-34).
Blaze starter Kasey Kiker (3-3), a 2006 first-round pick, surrendered eight runs on 11 hits while striking out four and walking two in 4 1/3 innings.