Tuesday, September 28, 2010

And Then There Were Two

It all comes down to this.

Those annoying half-games are gone and everyone pertinent to the conversation-- San Francisco, San Diego, Colorado -- is on equal footing. Six games to play and the issue is decided.

It's hard to believe, but this team that lacks offense, power, speed and consistency finds itself in the driver's seat. The Giants hold a one-game lead over San Diego. The Rockies, at five games back, have a pulse but the priest is on stand-by. Unless someone spits the bit, the three-game showdown over the weekend will decide the issue.

Could anyone have forseen the Rockies' demise? They were the hottest team in the division, then they blew a 6-1 lead to The Hated Dodgers and never regained their footing. They got swept in Arizona, then they Giants took them in two of three (and the one loss was a gift from God, or Bochy), and the Fat Lady started tuning up. Rock-tober? Not this year.

There were those who liked the Giants at the start of the season a lot more than I did, but I dare say nobody picked the Padres to be in this position. It says volumes about the National League that two teams that can't hit their average weight have an opportunity to (potentially) punch TWO tickets to the postseason.

But enough about the wildcard. The Giants' easiest path to October baseball is simply winning the division. It's a sprint to the finish, and they have a one-game head start.

So, now what? Andres Torres is less than whole, Freddy Sanchez and Edgar Renteria are (not surprisingly) ailing -- although having Renteria on the shelf, in my opinion, strengthens the team -- and there are still serious defensive issues with range no matter where you look.

It's gonna be an uphill battle. There will be serious pressure on the offense to produce, and it's anyone's guess if that will produce diamonds or coal dust. We can only hope the G-men can muster 3-4 runs a game. Asking for more than that given the personnel isn't reasonable.

As has been the case all year, the pitchers are gonna have to carry the load.

First things first. The Giants can't overlook Arizona, which opens a three-gamer at The Big Phone on Tuesday. Ask the Rockies about the folly of that. A lot has been made of the Giants rotation - how to match up better against the Padres. Most of the speculation has to do with Timmy Franchise: Do the Giants push Lincecum back a day and save him for San Diego?

My take: Absolutely not.

The Giants benefitted from a day off Monday. Because of that, every member of the rotation gets the extra day's rest while staying in turn: Sanchez, Bumgarner, Lincecum against Arizona followed by Zito, Cain and Sanchez over the weekend. I'd shake it up, but by moving Lincecum FORWARD.

Think about it. Timmy actually throws on regular rest, Bumgarner gets an extra day, and everyone else is both rested and on turn thanks to the day off. This is of considerable interest to one Barry Zito. Move Lincecum back to face San Diego and Zito is the obvious canidate to move up -- and face an Arizona team that lights him up. He's had better success against the Friars.

And here's what else this accomplishes. If the Giants and Padres tie after 162 games, the Braves factor in. If they've fallen off and both the Giants and Padres have clinched playoff spots, the Padres are awarded the NL West as winner of the season series while the Giants earn the charity pass. If the Braves have locked down the wildcard and the NL West gets but one rep, then strap in for Game 163 -- winner take all.

Who do you want throwing that game?

That's what I thought. Personally I'd vote for Warren Spahn, but he's not available. The Giants, however, would have The Freak throwing on regular rest. In a one-game scenario, that's my guy. You also have the ability to have both Lincecum and Bumgarner on standby if Jonathan Sanchez turns into Solomon Torres on Sunday.

And, of course, if the Giants don't need Timmy (to God's ears), he's rested for Game One of the division series. In fact, the pitching is set up to allow Lincecum and Cain to go 1-2. Yep, the baseball Gods are smiling -- if the Giants are smart enough to read the tea leaves. The question is, will they be thinking that far ahead?

It would be a nice problem to have, wouldn't it?

But first, the Giants have to take care of business. Arizona took two of three the last time they came to the bay, and those young pitchers know their stuff. The rest of the team may let them down upon occasion, but that's certainly not the fault of the pitching staff (sound familiar?). Against a team that is as offensively challenged as the Giants, that's a banana peel they could slip on well before the weekend gets here.

Tuesday sets the stage, and it'll be interesting to see which J. Sanchez shows up -- the guy who makes opposing hitters look silly or the one who can't find the plate with the aid of Google Earth. A win does wonders for the Giants -- it means the weekend matters no matter what else may transpire. A win put the Giants one step closer to slamming the door. And a well-pitched win provides some confidence that Sanchez won't turn to jelly if Game 162 (which he's scheduled to pitch) turns out to be THE game.

Wow. Throughout the year you see games characterized as "must win". The hyperbole is fitting now.

This has been a screwy year. The Giants have alternately looked both invincible and insufferable. But through it all, they've kept their heads above water.

Now we find out if they can swim.


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