That's all that remains in the San Francisco Giants' 2012 regular-season schedule. Fresh off a crucial sweep of the archrival Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco now has a 2.5-game lead in the NL West. All that stands between them and a playoff berth is their ability to capitalize on the remaining series ahead.
Of the 12 series left, 10 stand out as particularly important. I'm disregarding the series in Houston at the end of the month and the series in Colorado in early September. In both cases, the Giants should have no problem taking two of three, if not sweeping altogether. Of course it goes without saying that losing either of those series would be a huge blow to the Giants' playoffs hopes, but let's extend the team this much faith.
Here then, in order, are San Francisco's 10 most important series for the rest of the season.
10. At San Diego, Sep. 28 - 30
Never count out San Diego to rally the troops when a rival comes to town. Sure, the Padres may be done for 2012, but that doesn't mean they won't throw everything they've got when San Francisco comes to town. And, assuming the race is still live heading into the final weekend of September, the Giants will want to build momentum at Petco before heading into Los Angeles for the last series of the regular season.
9. At Chicago Cubs, Aug. 31 - Sep. 2
The Giants have never done especially well at Wrigley, and given it's the only series (aside from Houston) that offers even the chance of significantly humid weather, it could prove to be a challenge. The Cubbies have been scuffling mightily, but San Francisco has a terrible knack for falling to undeserving foes.
8. Home vs. Colorado Rockies, Sep. 17 - 20
When the games are played at Coors Field, the Giants do OK for themselves. But against any opponent, San Francisco has struggled to hit home runs at home. This series with the Rockies marks the beginning of the final two weeks of the season, and a moment in which the Giants will need to have their bats blazing if they hope to play October baseball at AT&T Park.
7. Home vs. San Diego Padres, Sep. 21 - 23
This series is an extension of the one listed above. The Giants need some serious offense, and coming off a three-game series, this next three at home will really set the pace for the final push of the season.
6. Home vs. Arizona Diamondbacks, Sep. 3 - 5
While in all likelihood it is the Los Angles Dodgers that pose the biggest threat to San Francisco's playoff hopes, never rule out a run from Arizona. As of today, there are 5.5 games back in the NL West, and with a few good series and some bad luck for their opponents, this early September matchup could be a huge factor in deciding whether Arizona has a chance for the postseason.
5. At Arizona Diamondbacks, Sep. 14 - 16
And here are the Diamondbacks again. This series becomes more potent if Arizona is still in the hunt for the NL West or a wild-card spot (highly unlikely), but even if they've busted on 2012, Arizona most definitely has enough weapons to attempt to sink their division foe purely for the pleasure of it.
4. Home vs. Arizona Diamondbacks, Sep. 25 - 27
If Arizona is still in contention going into the final 10 days of the season, this series will be huge. These three games represent the final regular-season play at AT&T Park. The fans will be in full force, and if something more then keeping pace with the Dodgers is on the line, expect these games to get tense.
3. Home vs. Atlanta Braves, Aug. 23 - 26
Starting tonight, the Giants return home having just swept the Dodgers. If San Francisco can keep the momentum going and take three of four from the Braves, they will be in excellent position heading down to Houston for some easy pickings. This series also gives a fresh look at Ryan Vogelsong, Barry Zito and Tim Lincecum, three pitchers that are far from locks heading into September.
2. Home vs. Los Angeles Dodgers, Sep. 7 - 9
Pretty much states itself. Must win games. The final visit from Los Angeles this season, rabid fans, playoff implications and a tough stretch of the rotation (Timmy Jim, Cain, Zito) could put the Giants' postseason chances into a much clearer perspective.
1. At Los Angeles, Oct. 1 - 3
If the Giants aren't up (or down) by over three games before this series starts, it will all come down to three games in L.A. Likewise, one team could be in or out while the other has a chance at a wild-card berth. Honestly, it's hard to think of many situations in which this wouldn't be must-watch baseball. A tease of October and the kind of baseball true fans live for.
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