It's been an up-and-down sort of week. It began with an eight-game winning streak that included a pair of dramatic comebacks (Seth Smith's two-run walkoff single against the Reds, Yorvit Torrealba's three-run ninth-inning double against the Padres) but all in all, it ended with something of a sour taste, as Franklin Morales performed the ignominious feat of a walk-off walk in dropping the second game of the series to the Friars. That was followed up today by an all-around failure, resulting in a 7-3 loss. Coupled with the Giants finally figuring out how to beat the Dodgers, it left us 3 back in the division and 4.5 up in the wild card. While technically that is a sweep-proof lead (even if the Giants do, please god no, what they did to us last time, we'll still be up 1.5) let us hope that it does not come to that. While we've already established that nothing good will come easily, I don't particularly want to let the Giants come creeping back. We had them on the ropes at 5.5 games out. We still do hold the 4.5 game edge, and with only 18 games to play, the math becomes inexorable at some point. That doesn't mean we need to start doing anything... stupid.
Join me after the jump for a look at some of the things we need to quit doing as we head to San Fran for a series that can either settle the issue fairly decisively, or make it juuuuuust a wee bit too interesting once again.
Numero uno area of concern: The offense. We scored an average of 4 runs a game at home against the Reds, we scored an average of 3 runs a game on the road against the Padres (admittedly in the giant sucking black hole known as Petco Park) and even our miracle man, Seth Smith, appears to be looking mortal after a 1-for-9 showing in his last two games. Bad at-bats and stranded baserunners abounded today, whether it was two straight backwards K's and a groundout with two men on, the side striking out in the seventh, or a second-pitch double play to end the eighth inning with the bases loaded. Aside from the 7 runs scored by the Friars today, they weren't looking too offensively minded either, scoring 4 runs in the two previous games. I know it's Petco and all that, but seriously, if you're playing the Padres (or anybody, really) and they score 4 runs in two games, you should win both of them. But in the first game, it took the Rox until the ninth to score (albeit in dramatic fashion on Yorvit Torrealba's bases-clearing double) and in the second, it took them until the ninth (again) to tie what had been a 2-1 affair for most of the duration. (Yorvit better look out for Mafia men sent after him by Heath Bell, as he caused Bell to blow his first two saves all year at Petco. Back to back to boot). And then they promptly lost in the tenth when an intentional walk backfired (who is surprised?) as Frankie Morales couldn't find the strike zone and walked in the winning run.
Of course, things might have been different if they weren't playing in Petco and Tulowitzki would have had an eighth-inning homer (his second of the game) instead of a long flyout that croaked on the track, but obviously that's part of the situation and has to be taken into account. This was followed today with the aforementioned generally bad game, as Jason Marquis struggled with his command and the offense failed to report. This isn't particularly the way I want to go into our final head-to-head matchup with SF, again in their place rather than ours. While the Phonebooth may not be in the same level of boneyard as Petco, it's not overly friendly to hitters either. And we start off with a tough draw, Jason Hammel against the unfortunately recovered Freak. (Not that I'm wishing injury on Tiny Tim, I just wish he could have sat out another, oh, 3 games or so. Maybe he'll be somewhat rusty from the time off). This is followed, wouldn't you know it, by the oh-so-fun combination of Zito and Cain. As I'm sure I don't need to remind you, that combination added up to a sweep for SF last time, also as we were coming off a series loss against an NL West opponent, also after an exciting last-minute win in the first game of that series. Zito's ERA against us this year is 0.42, and the Giants have won 3 of Cain's 4 starts against the Purple. The last time Lincecum faced us in SF, he threw eight four-hit, shutout innings.
So, I'd say we need to find the offense. Pronto.
This is not to advise anyone to panic, as after all we'll still have the numeric advantage if the worst should come to pass, but allowing your closest competitor for a playoff spot to sweep you twice in less than a month won't engender any warm fuzzies in me (or anyone, I imagine). The Giants are in the most crucial stretch of their season -- they looked pretty out of it after the Spilly grand slam, too, and look how that turned out -- and don't think they don't know it. If they can win several games in a row against us, it's back to the wire, and they can still have a chance to pull off a fairly major upset. Not that I necessarily think this will happen, but we do have three games against the Dbacks at Chase, where they always play us tough, before returning home to face the Pads, the Central-leading Cards, and the prone-to-stupid-celebrations Brewers, who can't pitch all that well but certainly have plenty of offensive firepower. Of course, we swept both those clubs back in June, but it's September now, and the last fevered hours are upon us, gents (and ladies). We are indeed privileged to be fans of a ballclub that's been playing so well, that's still seriously in the playoff discussion, considering a relatively set field elsewhere (in my humble opinion, the AL East, AL Central, AL West, NL East, and NL Central races are more or less wrapped up) but the only thing we needed to do last time we went into San Fran was to avoid a sweep. Guess what happened.
Now, I won't say that the sky is falling, because it's clearly not. We still control our own destiny, and once they're done with us, the Giants go to LA to play the Dodgers again, who creamed them resoundingly in the first two games of their just-concluded series. If you can run enough time off the clock, as Brandon Stokely demonstrated today, you make it just that much harder for the math to work out. Which is why, if it comes down to it, I'll be rooting for the Dodgers over the Giants. Yes, I want that first NL West title like you wouldn't believe, and man oh man do I want the Dodgers to complete a '64 Phillies (or 07/08 Mets)-esque eleventh-hour meltdown. But I also just want to get into the postseason however the hell it comes. If that means wild card, so be it. I seem to recall we went to the Series as the wild card just a few years ago. And also that the last NL team to go to the Series and be swept in 4 by the Red Sox (the '04 Cards) showed up two years later and won the damn banana (the '06 Cards). So if you believe in the numerology...
What other issues are there? The zillions and zillions of baserunning blunders, for a start, need to disappear. Frankie Mo needs to not be rattled, as he appeared to be on Saturday night, and go back to the guy who's making Huston Street's absence palatable. The offense. I think I may have mentioned that...
Am I scared? Yeah, maybe a little. We have the gruesome example of last time hanging over our head like the sword of Damocles, the Giants are desperate, and we're facing one of the top rotations in the NL. But there's also the fact that the Rockies are the overall better ballclub, still hold the cards, have been playing like they really want it, and can salt away their spot in the Elite Eight with just a win, or even two, in the latest round of the Derby-by-the-Bay. Join us on Monday at 10:15 ET/8:15 MT, for the first round of "Oh Gawd This Is Gonna Kill Me, I Swear."
That may be so. But remember, what doesn't kill you, will make you stronger.