In the aftermath of champagne showers and victory laps around the field at AT&T Park, the San Francisco Giants find themselves as the N.L. West Division champions with eight games left in the regular season. While no combination of wins or losses will alter the Giants’ playoff path, there is something to be said for choosing not to coast into the playoffs.
There are matters of choosing the playoff roster, the pitching rotation, and so forth, which all speak to the importance of giving select players more time on the field for observation. But it’s also vital to recall the San Francisco team of 2010, a squad that made the playoffs on the final game of regular season play, and the impact that momentum had on their run to the World Series.
Here are four ways the San Francisco Giants can be sure they stay on edge for the rest of the regular season.
While team accomplishments usually take precedence, the N.L. West is all locked up, ceding the floor for individual players to attempt to leave their marks on 2012. In particular, the efforts of one Buster Posey, N.L. MVP candidate and current owner of 99 RBI this season.
There isn’t a lot of drama left in this quest – assuredly Buster Posey will amass one run batted in between tonight and next Wednesday – but it’s something for fans to cheer for. Reaching the 100 RBI plateau will only further Posey’s cause to be selected as the MVP, another achievement worth leaving him in the lineup for.
It’s too early to say whether the Giants final regular season series against Los Angeles will have an impact for either team. Aside from the pride that comes with beating your archrival, the Dodgers currently sit four-and-a-half games behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the second wildcard slot. Should they make ground (read: win five in a row) between now and Oct. 1, the Giants could be all that stand between Los Angeles and a playoff berth.
Don’t expect Bruce Bochy to roll out a top-notch lineup for the cause, but definitely look for bit players and unfamiliar names on the San Francisco roster to make their presence known in a three-game duel with the boys in white and blue.
When imagining the Giants in the playoffs, one is most likely not conjuring images of Aubrey Huff, Emmanuel Burriss and Xavier Nady. That’s because they did nothing to help us reach the postseason, but it doesn’t mean they won’t get a chance to play in it.
With Melky Cabrera expected to be left off the playoff roster, outfielders Nady and Gregor Blanco are safe bets to make the cut. Where things become more interesting is in the infield, where perennial hospital visit Aubrey Huff has somehow limped his way into a pinch-hitter role for San Francisco.
Also in the mix is opening day second baseman Ryan Theriot, displaced as of late by the dynamic Marco Scutaro. Brett Pill could make a compelling case to trump Huff if his bat wakes up, and also-ran outfielder Justin Christian may be up against call-up Francisco Peguero for the 25th spot. Whichever way the front office chooses to go, you can be sure the names above will be playing the hardest ball they have in them in the final eight games of the schedule.
Perhaps the biggest unknown factor remaining for San Francisco Giants playoff roster is which starting pitchers will take the mound, and in what order. More specifically, which pitchers in what order will follow Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner when the NLDS opens the weekend of Oct. 6.
The epic collapse of Ryan Vogelsong has come at the end of a stellar season in which he at one point held the mark for lowest ERA in the National League. Barry Zito has pitched himself to a 13-8 record, including nine wins in his last 10 games. And then there’s Tim Lincecum, who last night reached the 15-loss mark in a season for the first time in his career.
So who continues into October? While the games these pitchers start in may not have much significance, their performances in them surely factor into the decisions awaiting Bruce Bochy and Brian Sabean. It would be crazy not to keep Lincecum’s 4 IP, 7 ER performance yesterday in mind when deciding who to start against very potent Reds and Nationals clubs. This means that each start left for Lincecum, Vogelsong and Zito is an audition for October.
Hard to find a more compelling reason to keep your edge than the chance you might get cut.