The first eight days of July have not been kind to the San Francisco Giants.
After beating the Reds the first day of the month to split a four-game series, the Giants experienced a relative pitfall.
Washington absolutely throttled them in a three-game sweep. The G-Men allowed a combined 24 runs to the Nationals in sweltering conditions in our Nation’s capital. In comparison, they had surrendered 26 runs in the previous 10 games (including a franchise record four-straight shutouts).
They rebounded slightly in Game 1 of the Pittsburgh series, overcoming an early three-run deficit. Melky Cabrera and Ryan Theriot contributed two RBI apiece in the comeback.
It was a rather short-lived reprieve for the Giants, however. James McDonald and the Pirates bullpen shut them down in Game 2, striking out 13 batters. Tough-luck starter Ryan Vogelsong (2nd in NL ERA) made another quality start but received the loss.
The Giants then gave up 13 in the series finale. Only a 17-run shellacking in Colorado back on April 11 eclipsed this awful pitching performance. Once again, Tim Lincecum absolutely imploded, this time allowing six runs over just 3.1 innings.
If not for having four starters voted into the All-Star Game (C Buster Posey, 3B Pablo Sandoval, LF Cabrera, SP Matt Cain) and being just a half game out of first place, this would be quite a depressing time for this team.
The Houston Astros come into town this weekend for a three-game set. The Giants previously took two of three exactly a month earlier from the ‘Stros. Matt Cain’s perfect game—the first in franchise history and second-greatest pitching performance of all time—was the unquestionable highlight of that series.
Houston looks to be even worse this time around, at 20 games below .500. Prediction: series win for the G-Men.
San Francisco then travels through the NL East for a six-game road trip. The first three come against a strong Braves ballclub that is 46-39 and second in their division. They are fourth in the National League in team batting and hold a top-10 ranking in team pitching.
Up next are the heated-rival Phillies. Philadelphia has had an awful year due to injuries to top sluggers Ryan Howard and Chase Utley and starting pitcher Roy Halladay—winner of the Cy Young Award in 2010 and runner up last season.
Despite being swept by the Braves entering the break and sporting a disappointing 37-50 record, the Phillies are on the rise, as they will presumably have all three superstars on the field against the Giants.
Utley and Howard recently returned and have a total of 42 at-bats between them. Halladay should also be in line for the series finale if all goes well in his latest rehab start on Thursday.
This will be three hotly-contested games due to the restoration of the Phillies lineup and the mutual enmity between these two teams.
The Giants then return back to San Francisco for 10 straight home games.
They have the opportunity to feast on the bottom-dwelling San Diego Padres and make up for any setbacks incurred on the previous road trip. Aside from some decent pitching, San Diego is statistically the worst-hitting team in all of Major League Baseball.
The loathsome Dodger Blue is next on the schedule for a weekend series. LA suffered a sweep at the hands of the Giants in late June. The Giants set a franchise record by shutting out the Dodgers in a three-game series—not bad, considering they’ve been rivals for over 120 years.
These three games look to be much more challenging. Both Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier—the team’s home run and RBI leaders—should be back in the lineup. The Dodgers as a whole will be absolutely fired up after the demolishing they experienced last time around.
I expect one or two bench-clearing brawls…well, perhaps skirmishes.
Rounding out the month are two of a four-game set against the Mets. 12-game winner and 37-year-old knuckleballer sensation R.A. Dickey leads New York’s surprisingly effective pitching staff, which is among the top 10 in baseball. The Mets' offense is currently third, led by All-Star third baseman David Wright.
Overall, the Giants face six opponents with a combined record of 243 wins and 275 losses. Things look quite manageable on the surface with matchups against the last-place Astros and Padres.
However, the Giants must not overlook the Phillies, their other last-place opponent in July. Philly will feature a fully functioning lineup and pitching staff, two things they’ve been without the entire season.
Series against the Braves, Dodgers and Mets will be tough matchups any way you look at them as well.
How can the Giants succeed in this July schedule and perhaps assume first place in the NL West?
Four things: get Lincecum back on track, beat inferior teams, hit better with RISP and take two out of three from the division-leading Dodgers.
To succeed for the rest of the season, the Giants must also shore up their infield defense, allow closer Santiago Casilla to rebound from a brief stretch of blown saves, maintain SP dominance and ride the bats of Cabrera, Posey and Sandoval.
For now, let’s just settle on a combination of a few of these things.
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