Tim Lincecum, Pablo Sandoval: San Francisco Giants' Keys to NL Playoffs
With the calendar down to the last day of August, Major League Baseball is about to fire the starting gun on its stretch run.
Much to the surprise of everyone outside of the 619, the San Diego Padres have been maintaining a nice cushion in the National League West all year and are serving me large helpings of crow with each day in first place. Let's not mention the Friars' record against our San Francisco Giants—I'll leave that bit of vengeance to a Padre poster, should one stumble into hostile territory.
Even more troubling for the City, the Fathers were threatening to run away with the pennant until getting swept over the weekend by the Philadelphia Phillies. That makes four losses in a row for SD (five including Monday night's), but the club still has a six-game advantage in the loss column over the lads.
Until this little bump in the road turns into a sincere losing jag for the front-runners, San Francisco's best shot at the postseason remains to slip through the Wild Card side door.
But the Orange and Black will need a few things to happen, first.
The Center Must Hold
Despite what the gloom 'n' doomers would have you believe, there are actually a bunch of Giants who've been playing consistently good baseball all season. Every athlete has slumps, but no major-league team enters its 132nd game boasting 72 wins without a solid nucleus of performers.
In 2010, it's been the usual suspects:
1. Pat Burrell—.270/.363/.505, 12 HR, 36 RBI in 204 AB
2. Matt Cain—182 1/3 IP, 3.11 ERA, 1.14 WHIP
3. Aubrey Huff—.295/.390/.523, 22 HR, 77 RBI
4. Buster Posey—.329/.372/.505, 10 HR, 49 RBI in 295 AB
5. Sergio Romo—52 2/3 IP, 2.56 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 9.57 K/9
6. Andres Torres—.287/.369/.502, 13 HR, 78 R, 23 SB
7. Brian Wilson—57 1/3 IP, 36 SV, 3 BS, 1.88 ERA, 11.93 K/IP
OK, so maybe we all expected Cain and Wilson to be on that list.
And it's not a huge surprise to find Posey and Romo there considering the buzz the duo created once inside the San Francisco organization. Still, it's a pleasant treat that they've blossomed into dependable cogs so quickly, especially Gerald Demp the Third.
But the other three names are total shockers.
If Huff was on the diamond scrap heap after 2009, then Burrell was under it. Meanwhile,Torres was a journeyman backup to start the campaign.
Now, the trio must continue their stellar performances down the stretch run while the other quartet keeps pace. Except for a couple key pieces, the Giants are what they were at this point in the season—it is extremely unlikely that a new face will suddenly join the fray as the savior (though Cody Ross and Jose Guillen are in park, just in case).
If one of the aforementioned stalwarts disappears off a cliff in the next couple weeks, the rest of what follows might not matter.
Pablo Sandoval Must Continue His Resurgence
"Pat the Bat" should give all Giant faithful reason to believe here.
Burrell's been a different man ever since putting his arduous divorce behind him and coming home to the Bay Area. He's been a constant source of quality at-bats, has come up with seismic hits, and has played a serviceable left field while contributing with a strong/accurate right arm.
Enter "The Kung Fu Panda."
Sandoval's abysmal season has been talked to death, chewed up, and beaten. It's a TIRED angle, but only because it was so true—he'd been as bad in '10 as he had been good in '09. His weight was the most popular culprit, but the 24-year-old Venezuelan was also going through a rough divorce.
Burrell was 33.
Both were dealing with the situation miles away from home.
It's not delusional to think "Little Money" was slumping horribly because of the personal problems, since similar ones seem to have derailed a good pro who was a decade Pablo's senior. Especially because Sandoval finalized his divorce in July and the third baseman proceeded to post the following in August—.320/.352/.583 with 6 HR, 16 RBI, and 11 R.
If the dissolution really was at the root of the Panda's problems, then the root may be dead. Which would be wonderful news because San Francisco's offense has been thumping along ever since he's begun his mini-renaissance.
And the thump must go on if the Giants want to contend with teams like the Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds, and Colorado Rockies.
Tim Lincecum Must Find His Filth
In a development that's stunned the Show as well as the Bay Area, Lincecum has been decidedly mortal this year. He's still posting very good, absolute numbers: 170 2/3 IP, 3.80 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, and 9.44 K/9.
However—in Timmy's freakish, relative world—those dogs won't hunt.
Not after back-to-back NL Cy Young Awards and not with the franchise that bears his face entering September in a jostle for playoff position. This last point is really the killer; when your ordinary ace goes out there and gets knocked around, oh well.
But it's not supposed to happen to the special fireballers, the aces of the aces.
That's precisely what "The Franchise" is awnd when he gets shelled, it's like a psychological wound on the fans and (I imagine) the entire roster. Without Lincecum's filthy brilliance to anchor the rotation, it seems like the five-man wheel has been adrift. It certainly hasn't been the sturdy backbone it was supposed to be.
Los Gigantes have managed to weather the poor-start storm for the past few days, but even with all bats on deck, that won't last. Either the lumber will hit a lull or someone will deal it into submission (like...say...Jorge de la Rosa). The starting rotation needs to find the swagger it had back in the spring and it all starts with Lincecum.
He just has to be better, plain and simple.
That's not an ultimatum.
There's a last get-out-of-jail-free card that remains should one or two of the requisites fail to materialize. The right combination of contenders must struggle.
By that, I mean the Atlanta Braves or the Philadelphia Phillies and the St. Louis Cardinals or Cincinnati Reds must hit the skids (plus the Colorado Rockies have to slow down, but let's jump off that bridge when we come to it).
One of each, though I guess three or four would also do the trick.
Yes, I'm kind of kidding.
Obviously, if the teams above them go in the tank, the Gents need only to avoid doing so themselves and they'll clear the first hurdle to the Promised Land. But I mention the back door more to illustrate how important it is for the good guys to start using all (or most) cylinders.
Those four teams have combined for 294 wins (add another 69 W's for the Rox). The notion that even one would suddenly fall apart seems far-fetched. Forget about two.
Of course, the baseball gods differ a bit on the definition of "far-fetched," but that still doesn't mean it makes for good strategy. Nope, if the fellas want to see the playoffs for the first time since 2003, they need Tim Lincecum to join the party and Pablo Sandoval to stay here.
Otherwise, the San Francisco Giants won't control their own destiny, leaving it instead to the fates.
And we all know how that usually goes...