San Francisco Giants NL West Chase: 10 Key Things to Watch Down the Stretch
The Giants' season-long chase after the San Diego Padres has finally paid off. San Francisco is half a game back of the Padres.
Getting here has been a lengthy and remarkable pursuit marked by the resilience and dedication of the boys in orange and black.
And it isn't over. Much will depend on how the Giants play their last remaining games.
And yet there are some things beyond the Giants control that may happen to hamper their run at NL West Pennant.
Let's take a look at 10 key things to watch for down the stretch for the Giants.
With Torres Out, Who Gets Centerfield?
Appendicitis. An unbelievable and tragic turn of events befell the Giants on Sunday, September 12.
As if the baseball Gods thought the Giants needed more adversity on their road to playoffs, centerfielder Andres Torres is rushed to the hospital to undergo an emergency appendectomy.
Torres is expected to miss 10-14 days after having this procedure done. His contributions this season have been immeasurable.
The looming question, who will take up the slack for Torres?
Aaron Roward has playoff experience, has been through a pennant push before. His diminished range on defense and lack of production at the plate are a major concern.
Cody Ross is another option, He has the youthful speed and range. When you consider his outfield counterparts in Guillen and Burrell, you at least need to have some wheels in your centerfielder.
Nate Schierholtz can probably do the job on defense, but his woes at the plate opens a gaping hole in the lineup.
Expect to see a heavy dose of Rowand and Ross in the outfield, where they actually bat in the lineup is an even bigger enigma.
The Padres Must Continue to Fall
The Padres have been the division leaders for most of the season. Their dominance has only recently begun to waver.
San Diego is 5-5 in their last 10 games. And just before those five wins, it lost 10 straight.
Giants fans have been waiting all year for the Padres to cool down. The Giants took three out of four games in their last series against the Padres—bringing a tie atop the NL West standings.
San Diego's schedule down the stretch (Colorado, Cincinnati, St. Louis) will be slightly more formidable than the Giants.
A continued cooling trend in San Diego is a forecast the Giants will love to see.
The Rockies On Fire
If you are a San Francisco Giants fan, one thing is true: The Colorado Rockies are the most annoying team in baseball come September.
Nevermind the hated Dodgers, these darn Rockies get a fire lit in August and sizzle into September.
San Diego, of all teams, just snapped a 10-game winning streak for the Rockies. Don't expect them to drop the set against the Padres so easily.
The Rockies are hoping to ride into the playoffs once more with a late season surge.
Giant fans will be keeping a very watchful eye on how Colorado finishes. Every win and loss the Rockies earn, will be an important factor down the stretch.
Schedule Highlight: Giants Vs. Cubs
The Giants will finish their remaining schedule mostly against division rivals. The importance of those games are paramount.
Outside of NL West rivals, the Giants will face the Chicago Cubs and the Milwaukee Brewers.
On September 21, the Giants will begin a three-game set in Chicago. The Padres will be starting a series with Dodgers on the same day.
Giants fans everywhere know that the Dodgers cannot be counted on—especially to take important games from the Padres.
I expect the Padres to win that series. It is crucial that the Giants do the same in Chicago. The Cubs are not likely to lay down, and seem to be playing better ball without the pressure of a pennant race.
These are definitely not gimme-games against the Cubs, and to keep pace the Giants must win the series.
Schedule Highlight: Rockies Vs. Cardinals
Now that the Rockies are once again finding their late season stride, expect them to stay in the thick of things to the end. The bitter end, that is.
Like the Giants and Padres, the Rockies will play the bulk of their remaining games against NL West teams.
All of a sudden it is a three-team race.
The Rockies will finish the season in St. Louis facing the Cardinals. The Cardinals are seven games out, behind the Reds in the NL Central.
If the Cardinals can gain some momentum, they may be playing for their own post season appearance in those final four games.
Whatever the case may be, we really need for the Cardinals to stay hungry enough to put a hurt on the Rockies in that final series. Much will depend on it.
Schedule Highlight: Padres Vs. Reds
On Friday September 24, the Giants will meet those darn Rockies for a three-game set.
The Padres will host the Cincinnati Reds that weekend. The Reds at that point may be inclined to rest their starters if St. Louis remains six or seven games out.
That would be a nightmare. While the Giants and Rockies duke it out, the Padres stand a chance to gain some separation from the pack.
While I am not so certain Dusty Baker will field his best players to win that series, I am certain he didn't leave his heart in San Francisco. This series may go a long way in shocking the race, or locking it.
Whoever takes the field for the Reds, please, oh please stick it to the Padres.
Barry Zito or the Bullpen
Barry Zito is a second-half pitcher, right? Wrong.
The No. 2 spot in the rotation is again the weakest link in the rotation. Zito for all his woes since joining the Giants, has gone cold again in the most important stretch of his tenure in San Francisco.
Barry has been shelled for six straight losses where he did not look good at all. If the Giants reach the postseason, I would be surprised if he ends up starting any of those games.
Zito's confidence appears to be shaken as his control has yet again escaped him. He will need to develop an appetite for pressure going forward, it is definitely not going to get any easier.
Barry Zito must pick it up, or the bullpen has to be well prepared for long relief. Either way, we cant take a beating every time his spot in rotation comes around.
The Managerial Department
Bruce Bochy has a lot to be excited about. For the first time in his career as the Giants skipper, he has the tools and talent necessary for a playoff appearance.
Bochy is a player's manager and is well liked in the clubhouse. In my opinion, the good-cop routine needs to be handed over to the bad cop.
The Giants manager cannot afford to be nice to everyone, and will have to snub some of his players to ensure he gets the best lineup and defense he can on the field.
This means tightening things up. We sure didn't need to see the heavy dose of Jose Guillen in the all important meeting with Padres over the weekend.
One appearance sure, but trotting him out there every game when he clearly was not producing speaks to the fact the Bochy has trouble sitting veterans.
Tighten it up. Don't get yourself in a situation where you are forced to let Brian Wilson bat in a pennant race against the first-place team.
Don't field your slowest set of outfielders against a team known for driving balls into the gaps.
There's just no more room for mistakes, especially from the top.
Continue to Score
Starting the season, the Giants already had a better lineup than last year.
Since the season began, San Francisco has taken steps to keep improving their run production.
A lot of new faces in 2010 have given the Giants the means to score runs that they just didn't have years prior.
Aubrey Huff, Buster Posey, Pat Burrell, Juan Uribe, Freddie Sanchez, and the emergence of Andres Torres—all of these names have turned the Giants offense into an entity confident it can score when needed.
The Giants offense has been notorious for hitting streaks and slumps as a team. One moment they riding high, scoring like crazy, the next they are flat and asleep collectively.
Let's hope the slumps are behind the team as they play the next 18 games in the pressure-cooker that is now the NL West pennant race.
The Final Series
As much as I would love to see the Giants rattle off 13 or 14 straight wins to seize the NL West, I know that's just not going to happen. Maybe in Colorado, but not here.
I think what is killing all of us Giants bona-fides is that lurking, creeping feeling that the whole season will come down to the final series against the Padres.
The final set begins on the first day in October. These final three games of regular season play cannot be understated.
It's too early to call where the rotation will be by then, but if I had my pick it would be Cain, Sanchez and Lincecum—in that order.
It's called torture for a reason. Even more so if the Giants just tread water until this series.
Without a three game advantage over the Padres, this series decides it. Behind three games or less, this series decides it.
Academic or not, this series will likely be the toughest and most important set of the year.