The San Francisco Giants have been sinking in earnest for about a month now, but things have gotten serious in the last few weeks.
At first, the losing was a mere curiosity due to the Giants' comfortable lead in the National League West and the almost comical idea of the Arizona Diamondbacks actually catching the defending World Series champions.
Then, the Snakes rattled off a couple long winning streaks sandwiched around a jagged losing streak of their own.
Simultaneously, San Francisco lost game after game while managing scant few victories to break up the monotony of defeat. The much-maligned offense found a whole new level of futility, one that not even the Gents' superlative pitching staff could turn into lemonade. The losses piled up by the Bay, the wins wound up in the desert and so here we are.
It's early September and the good guys find themselves six games behind the D-Backs, who've won nine in a row and are showing no signs of slowing down. With a month of baseball left, that right there is a daunting task.
In fact, the six-game divide might as well be an infinite chasm for all the optimism that can be found in the City with Arizona coming to town for a three-game set.
But 'Frisco fans would be wise to keep one very important thing in mind: The San Francisco Giants were not built to dominate a 162-game schedule.
These are not the Philadelphia Phillies, the Boston Red Sox nor the New York Yankees—the BoSox and Bombers have offense oozing from their ears and front-loaded rotations while the Phightins flipped that paradigm, opting for an all-world rotation to go with a flawed-but-still-dangerous lineup. All three of those teams could (and did) have key components miss significant time without skipping much of a beat.
The 2011 San Francisco Giants, like the rest of Major League Baseball, didn't have that luxury. They were built on the premise that superlative pitching, good defense and just enough offense can get you to the playoffs.
From there, anything can happen.
When Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez were lost for the year, things were bound to get ugly at some point.
Even in 2010 when the fellas won it all, you could've argued the biggest key was the impeccable health the club enjoyed. The Orange and Black were always a few key injuries away from serious trouble, but sailed through both regular and postseasons without suffering such luck.
This year, the Gents had that same small buffer, but encountered fortune of a different shade.
The losses of Posey and Sanchez set the team teetering on the edge of the abyss. Subsequent niggling aches and pains to various other assets have only intensified the wobbles to the point where one more good shove will send them over the edge.
Frankly, it's an NL West miracle that the squad is still within hailing distance of the pennant after the aforementioned buffer was erased so thoroughly.
Here's the optimistic rub, though—hailing distance isn't such an awful spot for these Giants. Remember, that's right where San Francisco started playing its best ball in '10.
True, Posey and Sanchez were crucial to the stretch drive a year ago and those two comebacks ain't on the horizon. Also true, Aubrey Huff, Andres Torres and a host of other key contributors are having miserable campaigns this time around, so an encore to the majesty of '10 doesn't seem likely.
But all hope shouldn't be abandoned.
As the postseason nears, each regular-season game takes on an additional dimension of desperation and the pressure mounts. That pressure does strange things to players, especially those experiencing the pinch of the dwindling schedule for the first time.
Just ask the '10 San Diego Padres, a team that is vaguely reminiscent of the '11 Arizona Diamondbacks. Only an epic, 10-game collapse by the Pads opened the door to immortality for the G-Men.
Granted, the Snakes have more firepower and less pitching than those Friars, but they rely on youth to a considerable degree. Just like the '10 Padres. It remains to be seen whether those young components can hold up under the scrutiny of a pennant chase.
San Francisco has no such questions, which means it still has one valuable advantage (assuming, of course, SF can keep the chase alive).
There's no reason to believe the pitching staff will suddenly wilt after another stellar year. Additionally, you could argue the job gets easier for a no-name offense as the pressure builds. After all, if nobody expects you do to anything, there aren't many questions looming when you fail.
As the calendar fades and Giant hitters step in the box, they literally have nothing to lose.
Their opponents, however, must operate under the burden of expectation, which can turn the mightiest lumber limp. And they have to do it against a pitching staff that has already proven itself in the crucible of a stretch run.
Obviously, the odds are against them. A return to the playoffs won't be easy and it won't be pretty, but these are the San Francisco Giants.
Could it really have been any other way?
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