With the 2011 MLB Season winding down in just under two months, the race for the NL West is in full force. Despite numerous injuries and low expectations for the defending World Series Champion San Francisco Giants, after a rough start they have finally seemed to have gotten it together, but sit just a half game up on division rival Arizona Diamondbacks. If the postseason were to start today, the second-place Arizona team wouldn't be there, as it sits 4.5 games behind the Wild Card leading Atlanta Braves. So it's pretty clear how important it is for the Giants to win the West.
It's going to be a very tight race down the stretch, which includes the Giants having two more series against the Diamondbacks in September. In order to ensure that the Giants, not the Diamondbacks, will be in the Fall Classic, there are certain things they will need to do and count on happening.
The obvious thing to do in any tight divisional race would be to distance yourself from the competition. In baseball this is a lot harder to do than any other sport as there are so many different things that must happen in order for the team to do that. This is especially important at this point of the year, as the Giants have gone 2-8 in their last 10 games and are just .500 in their last 30 games played.
The two most important things for the Giants to do is to win both series against the Diamondbacks in September. If the Giants achieve this feat, more likely than not they will win the NL West handily. If not, it could come down to the team's last game of the year versus the Rockies before we know who is in and who is out.
They also need to win their other games as a way of catching the NL Wild Card leading Atlanta Braves as insurance if they don't end up winning the NL West.
Going into the 2010 MLB Playoffs, no one expected the Giants to beat the Philadelphia Phillies and advance to the World Series, but they shocked us all and did the unexpected. One of the big factors for their success last season and into this season has been their small-ball offense. Although they haven't been as successful at it this year, they are still better than most teams in baseball at it.
After losing significant bats in Pablo Sandoval, Andres Torres and Buster Posey early on in the year, both Sandoval and Torres have returned and are having good seasons despite being out lengthy periods of time. This is some much needed offense for the lowest runs scored average in the National League at 3.4 runs per game. If the Giants can achieve the small-ball perfection they had in the playoffs last year, that combined with solid pitching and good defense will make this team a no-doubter to win the NL West.
Previously mentioned was the importance of small-ball success, but so is the importance of having a big bat. A big bat can make an instant difference in the biggest of moments. With the loss of catcher Buster Posey for the year and Cody Ross' lack of production this season, the Giants were forced to bring in a couple of new bats. Just prior to the trade deadline the Giants brought in former Mets superstar outfielder Carlos Beltran, as well as former Houston Astro Jeff Keppinger to bolster a struggling offense. Beltran immediately became a team leader in several offensive categories, including home runs and RBI's.
Unfortunately for the Giants, neither Keppinger or Beltran have stepped up and performed to their full ability as of yet. They both have just batted in 2 runs each in under 20 games with their new ball club. If the Giants want to win the NL West, the big bats are going to need to get going right away.
Over the past several seasons, the focal point of the Giants success has been their pitching. In 2011 it is no different. The Giants have two amazing starters in Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and surprising star Ryan Vogelsong.
Lincecum is currently carrying a 10-9 record which clouds the great season he has been having with a 2.69 ERA and averaging nine strikeouts per game. Cain on the other hand is sitting with a 9-8 record and a 3.00 ERA. Meanwhile, the late blooming Ryan Vogelsong is a stellar 9-2 with a 2.48 ERA and averaging seven strikeouts per game.
In the bullpen, almost all the relief pitchers are helping the team to victory including left handed specialist Jeremy Affeldt and right hander Sergio Romo, who has 52 strikeouts in just 36 innings pitched. Of course the star of the bullpen is the very unique personality of Brian Wilson. Wilson remains one of the top 3 closers in the Majors, converting an astonishing 34 of 38 in save attempts.
Unfortunately for the Giants, they cannot rely on just arms to get them into the postseason.
One last key trait the Giants have that may be the most important is experience. The core group of players from last years World Champion ball club are still in the clubhouse and could play a key role in the outcome of this season.
The players who were considered young, immature, and inexperienced last year are now considered mentally tough and experienced. They now know how to react in pressure spots and how to come through when the game is on the line.
The nerves of coming into a new situation are seemingly no longer there, and the experience of the franchise may make or break its run to the post season.
Torture. That is what Giants fans consider a game with their favorite team. Good torture, but torture nonetheless. The Giants provide baseball fans with nail-biting games from start to finish. In the eyes of Giants fans, "Torture" means winning.
Well Giants fans, get ready for another month of pure, relentless torture. The team of misfits, as manager Bruce Bochy calls them, needs to once again play as a team. The Giants cannot rely solely on one facet of their game whether it be batting, defense or pitching, but rather need to play as one team as they did in the 2010 World Series. The offense needs to put up more run support, while the pitching staff needs to close out games.
The Giants seem poised to win another NL West title this year, and hopefully their experience from the 2010 run has carried over into this season and will help them clinch a spot in the Fall Classic.