By Morris Phillips
The Giants pursuit of a second, straight NL Wild Card berth is just about over.
The defending World Champs can thank the Chicago Cubs for that conclusion. The lovable losers just did an about face, winning 21 of 26 games for only the second time in the 100-plus year history of their franchise. The Cubs won again Monday, 2-1 over Cleveland, to extend their lead over the Giants for the second wild card spot to 6 ½ games.
That’s what you call hot.
The Giants can’t seem to find a friendly opponent of late, especially away from AT&T Park. The Giants have dropped 12 of 17 on the road, and just concluded a 2-5 road trip through St. Louis and Pittsburgh. If they pitch, they don’t hit. If they hit, they don’t pitch… you get the picture.
That’s what you call cold.
But if the Giants are on the phone with their sports psychologists, the Dodgers are ready to check into the psych ward. Thanks to a weird stretch of losses (5) and off-days (3), the Dodgers will be looking for their first win in nine days on Tuesday in Cincinnati. On Sunday, things really got hard to swallow when Clayton Kershaw pitched his butt off for eight innings only to depart and watch the Astros get a run to tie in the ninth, and a game-winning home run in the tenth. After an impressive 22-11 start to the season, the Dodgers have split their most recent 90 games right down the middle.
That’s what you call ice cold.
So if the Giants are smart, they’ll let the Cubs go. On the eve of their three-day meeting, the Giants know a sweep of the Cubs won’t draw them any closer than 3 ½ games of Chicago. The Cubs have the third best record in baseball—and the third best record in the NL Central.
That’s what you call confounding.
The Giants are attempting to qualify for the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time in more than a decade. It’s a daunting challenge even for the champs, but things look doable if it’s just the Dodgers and Giants in a race for the NL West crown. San Francisco trails their bitter rival by 1 1/2 games entering play on Tuesday.
But what’s especially appealing to the division winner is the possibility of avoiding both the Cardinals and Pirates in the NLDS and needing to only best the offensively-challenged Mets in a best-of-five series to advance.
Similar to last year’s post-season, the Giants almost surely won’t be the best team. St. Louis, Pittsburgh and the Cubs are fighting for that title. But they could again be the best team right now if they take the right path and avoid the NL Central qualifiers in the NLDS.
On Tuesday, in the opener of the Cubs-Giants series, 15-game winner Jake Arrieta faces Matt Cain at 7:15pm.