The Week That Was:
Coming off an excellent week where the Giants swept the Dodgers and fought the Braves to a series split, the team had both momentum and necessity propelling them forward. Facing teams like the Astros and Cubs with little remaining to play for brings its own challenges and expectations. Fortunately, San Francisco exceeded all expectations by taking five of six games despite trailing in more than their fair share of them. In fact, only one of the Giants’ five wins this week had a winning pitcher who started the game, which shows how late many of these games were decided. What’s more, the Giants survived rougher than usual starts from both Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong this week. That should be an encouraging sign considering how much of the pressure has been on those two thus far.
Hunter Pence had a hit in every game this week and played a major role in the Houston series as a whole. His bat would be a welcome addition to the Giants offense.
The Soapbox: Take Care of TCB
A few weeks ago, I discussed the idea that treading water against the playoff competitors and doing better against the also-rans made more sense for the way this Giants team works post-Melky. As it turns out, the team has spent the last two weeks doing better than that by sweeping the Dodgers and winning five of six against the Cubs and Astros this week. Even though a 4.5 game lead does not guarantee San Francisco anything considering how much of the season remains, it does allow them a little more leeway down the stretch. The Giants only face the Dodgers for six games in the last month of the season but have a whopping nine against the Diamondbacks (with September call-ups) and six against the strangely resurgent Padres.
The other huge benefit of the Giants’ recent surge is that the wild card becomes an option if the Dodgers get hot and los Gigantes continue to keep their heads above water. While winning the division makes a gigantic difference in the new playoff system, the additional outs do provide a little bit of solace if Los Angeles puts it together in September
As such, the general take in terms of either walloping the easy teams or controlling the tougher ones still stands and the first road may get even easier as teams work to develop younger players to both look to the future and give their fanbases a different reason to come to the park. One interesting factor of being in the NL West in September is that the Giants play an insane majority of the remainder of their games in pitchers’ parks which gives them an advantage based on how the team has been constructed. Only three more games in Coors, three at Chase Field, and three at Chavez Ravine means that the fly ball pitchers on the staff have more to breathe easy about than the cooling fall air. The Giants have given themselves some extraordinarily helpful breathing room but still need to take care of business to take all of the stress out of the end of the month.
The Week Ahead: A Home Stretch
Even though the Diamondbacks have had a rough stretch and look to be out of it, they just lost two rough games in a row in LA and still have a boatload of young talent. I do not feel particularly comfortable facing both Ian Kennedy and Trevor Cahill even if Vogelsong and Bumgarner are throwing those two games. Hopefully the tailspin takes hold instead of the spoiler surge.
After that, the Dodgers come to AT&T Park for the last time this season. Unfortunately for the men in orange and black, right now both Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito are slated to pitch in the series. Timmy had a nicer outing than usual on Saturday and the team will need the starters to make sure the game is close going into the late innings. Kenley Jansen’s heart problem could end up making the late innings much more interesting this time around.
Marquee Game of the Week: While likely not the best matchup of starters based on current performance, Tim Lincecum vs. Josh Beckett on Friday gets the most interest from me. (I really wanted to pick Zito vs. Blanton on Sunday, but I threw up a little in my mouth thinking about it)