NL West: 5 Things That Must Happen For the Giants to Overtake The Padres
With the the final game of the weekend's Giants-Padres series now played, and Giants find themselves 3.5 games out of first place in the NL West with 43 games left to play.
All season long, people have doubted whether the Padres would be able to hold onto their lead in the division, and with the Padres taking two-of-three from in the most recent match-up, the Giants now have some work to do if they hope to be playing in October.
What follows are the five things that must happen if the Giants hope to catch to Padres in the coming weeks and take home the NL West crown in what is shaping up as the most interesting division race in all of baseball.
Buster Posey Must Play Like the MVP, Not the Rookie of the Year
While few doubted the type of player that Buster Posey would become, I don't think anyone anticipated him making the immediate impact that he did.
With Pablo Sandoval slumping, Posey is undoubtedly the most dangerous hitter in the Giants lineup, with a line of .331 BA, 8 HR, 41 RBI in just 67 games this season, and he is without question the most important hitter in the Giants lineup.
His immediate impact is reminiscent of what Evan Longoria did for the Rays in his rookie season when he won Rookie of the Year while leading the team to the World Series. And while I am not saying that Posey is Longoria, he will be similarly counted on to lead his team when it matters most.
The Veteran Acquisitions Must Help Take the Load Off of Posey
There is no denying the talent of catcher Buster Posey, but expecting someone so young to shoulder the offensive load is expecting too much, and that is why midseason pickups Pat Burrell and Jose Guillen need to help take some pressure off of Posey.
Burrell has been fantastic in his time with the Giants thus far, hitting .290 BA, 10 HR, 30 RBI in 55 games after struggling mightily with the Rays, hitting just .218 BA in his year and a half with the team. The fact that the Giants didn't have to give up anything to acquire Burrell makes his contributions that much more impressive.
Guillen, acquired this past Friday from the Royals for a player to be named, is not the player he used to be, but he is still a capable run producer and someone who could make some noise with something to play for. On the season he has totaled 16 HR and 62 RBI, proving he is still a dangerous hitter.
So while Posey is the key to the offense, Burrell and Guillen could go a long way towards adding some balance to what is an otherwise pedestrian lineup.
Tim Lincecum Must Pitch Like the Staff Ace
Much like what Cliff Lee did for the Phillies last season, the Giants need Lincecum to step up and dominate every time out for the rest of the season, and he is certainly capable of doing so.
With his ERA up nearly a full point from last season, and his strikeout numbers down, Lincecum has not been nearly as dominant as he was the past two seasons. He has been particularly bad over his last two starts, as he was roughed up by a bad Cubs team for six runs in four innings, then gave up five runs over three and two-thirds on Sunday against the Padres.
Lincecum has all the talent in the world to step up and be a staff ace, and this playoff race will be a good test of whether or not Lincecum truly is among the most dominant arms in the game today.
The Padres Pitching Must Come Back Down to Earth
All season, the Padres have boasted one of the league's best pitching staffs, and a number of players have far out performed expectations. If the Giants hope to get back in things, they will need the Padres pitching to falter at least slightly down the stretch.
Led by 22-year-old Mat Latos, the Padres rotation also features Clayton Richard and Wade LeBlanc, both of whom are playing a major role in a pennant race for the first time in their career. In fact, the only starter with significant playoff experience is the veteran of the staff, Jon Garland. Nonetheless, the rotation has been fantastic all years, and is anchored by an even better bullpen.
The combination of Heath Bell, Luke Gregerson, Mike Adams, Edward Mujica, and Joe Thatcher mean that if a team is unable to get to the Padres starter, they have a tough road ahead if they hope to comeback against the Padres bullpen.
Pitching has been what makes the Padres go all season, and if the Giants want to make a run at the division, they may need to hope for some struggles from the impressive Padres staff.
The Giants Must Take Advantage of the Remaining Seven Head-To-Head Games
A quick glance at the Giants' schedule will reveal a three-game series against the very team they are chasing in the Padres to close out the regular season, as we could see this race come down to the final game of the season.
However, for that series to truly be relevant, the Giants will first need to step up in what will be a decisive four-game series in San Diego from September 9th-12th. The series will mark the end of a 10-game road trip for the Giants, and each game of that series will be the most important game of the season up to that point for both teams.
So while there are a number of factors that would play into the Giants taking home the NL West crown, it is certainly not out of reach, and with a three-game series to close out the season, this could be baseball's most interesting race come season's end.