After sliding by in what most believed to be their toughest stretch of games this season, the Giants find themselves with just a half-game lead over surprise division opponents, the Arizona Diamondbacks.
With the division lead crumbling, the Giants are now in a position to be leap-frogged of their possession of first place. Winning only two of their last 10 games leaves a lot for concern, however, looking forward the Giants have a lot to be optimistic about. Only 47 games remain for the world champs, but in only 10 of those games do the Giants face opponents with a winning percentage over .500.
Unfortunately, only three of those 10 games are played at home where the Giants are significantly better. They play four of those games in Atlanta against the Braves, which should be the last chance the Giants get to look at a playoff team. The rest of those six games will be spent battling with their pursuers, the D-Backs. Almost certainly those six games will decide the division.
The Diamondbacks are a team that hits home runs, and survives by their underrated pitching. Remind you of anyone? The 2011 D-Backs look a lot like those 2010 Giants that just so happen to have won the World Series. Their offense is considerably better than that Giants team, but they score many of their runs with the long ball much like those Giants.
Their pitching is what’s really familiar. They are young, very good and underrated. They spend their final 48 games with a schedule that looks similar to the Giants. They play 26 of those at home, and 12 against opponents with a winning percentage over .500. It doesn’t sound like much of an advantage for the Giants, but the D-Backs have a make-or-break 10 game road trip starting August 16th.
They start off with the best team in baseball, the Phillies. Then they head to Atlanta immediately after for a series against the Braves. If that wasn’t enough pain, they get a four game set with the Nationals who are sure to put up a good fight. The D-Backs can easily find themselves in the same 2-8 skid the Giants fell into. That is why the Giants have the slight advantage as this long season nears its dramatic conclusion.
Perhaps neither team will have the playoff doors close on them. There is still the chance that both NL West teams advance via the wild-card. This suggestion doesn’t get a lot of chatter because of the competition being the Braves and the Cardinals. However, the Cards appear to have phoned in the remaining schedule with the trade of Colby Rasmus to the Blue Jays, and frankly their pitching doesn’t look to have the legs to get them there without Adam Wainwright leading the charge.
This race will go down to the Braves and whoever emerges from the NL West, just as it did last year. The Braves currently hold a three-and-a-half game lead in the wild-card standings, but looking at their remaining schedule should give their fans a reason to worry.
Of their 47 games left, 16 of those are against teams better than .500. Of those 16, six are against the Phillies, the team with the best record in baseball. The addition of Bourn at the trade deadline gives the Braves a speedy leadoff hitter, but they are still missing their All-Star catcher. However, much like the Giants, they are trying to prove that missing a slugging catcher is not the end of the world.
It seems once again the torture is upon us, and the playoff spots will be up for grabs until the final games of the season. Despite complaints of a weak division, don’t be surprised if you see two teams come out of that wild wild west and play into October.