Death March to the Top of the NL West
A lot has happened since I last posted here at Croix De Candlestick. The Giants swept the Dodgers in an inspirational series at home, sending the Bums back to LA a broken team. They split series against the Marlins and Rockies while the Padres continue to drop big games. Now in Atlanta, the Giants face their biggest challenge in the last month.
The Braves are a very good team clinging to a 1 game lead over the Phillies in the NL East who seem determined to score runs exclusively off of home runs. In the first two games, the Giants have met the challenge by clinging to the old ways, putting baserunners everywhere with nothing to show from it.
Last night’s 11-inning slog was a perfect example of a contest that the Giants had no business winning, probably as karmic reward for Phil Cuzzi’s home plate felony against the Mets. The Braves walked and hit batters left and right, so appropriately the Giants scored the go-ahead run in extra innings on a sacrifice fly after loading the bases. It was a 3-2 win that really didn’t feel like a win in the end, which probably means Braves fans feel even worse than we do.
Last night’s victory coupled with a Padres loss brings the Giants within one game of the NL West lead, continuing what I affectionately have labeled the Death March to the Top. We’ve gained games here, and lost games there, with it all culminating in a grind to the brink of division superiority. Now assuming that the standings hold until next Friday, the real battle begins with a three game set at AT&T against the a Padre team the Giants have lost seven of eight against up until this point.
What this means is that we can win all the games against everyone else we want to, but if the Giants want to end the season at the top of the division, they absolutely must win head-to-head matchups against San Diego. And to be completely honest, the Padres absolutely should not be as good as they are.
Minus Adrian Gonzalez, their offense is God-awful. Past Mat Latos, their pitching staff is anchored by the likes of Wade LeBlanc, Clayton Richard, and Jon Garland who quite frankly aren’t as good as their season stats would suggest. To their credit, their bullpen is downright terrifying to think about in the late innings, which is why the Giants should be able to score runs off of the aforementioned shmucks.
August is going to test the Giants’ ability to be a playoff team. In addition to Atlanta and San Diego, they face the Reds, Cardinals, and Phillies, followed by an NL West swing into September. The Padres’ schedule on the other hand has them playing these teams next month, meaning the Giants are going to need to hold their own in order to push the issue late into the season.
For the time being, winning this series against the Braves would be a good start on the path to postseason competency. The pitching the Giants face doesn’t get any easier, so the offense has its work cut out. The rotation will need to be able to limit damage to 2-3 runs a game on a daily basis, which for them is business as usual. There’s a lot of season left to play, with nothing even close to decided right now. I’ll be holding my breath until then.