By Morris Phillips
AP photo: San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner delivers against the Atlanta Braves Sunday at AT&T Park Mad Bum’s last win
SAN FRANCSICO–On the same day the Giants banged out four home runs, four triples, and won 13-4 behind Madison Bumgarner, the Dodgers may have played more impressively.
In Los Angeles, the Dodgers pushed across the only run of the day in the eighth inning to back the pitching of starter Brock Stewart, and relievers Jesse Chavez, Grant Dayton and Joe Blanton—four guys who didn’t have definitive roles on the roster when the season began—and beat the Cubs, the team with the big league’s best record.
On a weekend the Giants played the worst team in baseball, and the Dodgers played the best, the Giants fared no better than their rivals, winning twice and losing once. After the Dodgers fell 8-1 to the Rockies in Denver on Monday, and the Giants enjoyed a day off, Los Angeles’ lead in the NL West sits at a 1 ½ games, so far a number the Dodgers are doing a lot more to protect than the six-game lead the Giants held during the All-Star break.
On the surface the teams couldn’t be closer in achievements and results—both have scored 586 runs this season, both have allowed 524—but this week shows that the Dodgers have clearly been the more impressive club, whether or not injured ace Clayton Kershaw finds his way back to the mound before the season ends.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Giants fell in Los Angeles with both their aces, Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto, on the mound. On Thursday, the Giants rebounded behind Matt Moore’s near no-hitter. Again, advantage to the Dodgers.
So what can the Giants do to close the gap?
Most importantly, they can’t blink now. After Wednesday, the Giants play 17 of their next 24 games on the road. Injuries are mounting; reliever Derek Law was placed on the disabled list, Brandon Belt is battling a stiff neck, and Hunter Pence hasn’t really been healthy all year. Since returning from his two-month stint on the disabled list July 30, Pence has hit just one home run. Now, Pence is battling a hamstring issue–the classic injury for a body forced to compensate for nicks in other places—and missed the previous two games.
Also this week, Jake Peavy and Gregor Blanco landed on the disabled list.
If the Giants can stay within striking distance, over the next 26 games, they then get the final six of the regular season at home, and the final three against the Dodgers (September 19-21). The trick is getting there, and a deficit of 2 ½ games heading into the final week may be the most realistic to overcome. That means the Giants must play no worse than one game off the pace of the Dodgers over that 26 games, with the last three in Dodgers Stadium.
It won’t be easy. For one, the Giants don’t have a definitive fifth starter with Peavy on the DL, and Albert Suarez suited to long relief, as a guy who couldn’t get through the opposing lineup a second time in his start on Saturday. All of a sudden, Matt Cain is back in the picture, scheduled to come off the disabled list for a start Friday in Chicago.
Cain shut down the Cubs at AT&T the first time around, but how will he fare in Wrigley Field? Cain’s ERA in six road starts this season is over six. His ERA in three August starts before he was shut down was 7.24. Neither number bodes well for Cain’s viability on Friday.
So who can the Giants depend on with the team sliding and their collective health deteriorating? At the top of the list are leadoff hitter Denard Span and Joe Panik, who homered twice in the same game on Sunday, the first time he’s achieved that feat in his major league career. Span’s hit .346 in August, boosting his overall average to .277.
Jarrett Parker was promoted and replaced Pence in right field on Sunday. If Pence needs more time, Parker becomes the starter. With Parker it’s big (nine extra base hits, 19 walks) or insignificant (38 strikeouts in 114 official at-bats) further highlighting the tenuous position of the club as a whole.
With Law removed from the bullpen, someone else needs to get hot. If it’s hot as Law was (most recent 11 innings, 0.79 ERA) then it will be significant. Will Smith, Sergio Romo and Hunter Strickland are the likeliest candidates to heat up, but if one of those three falls off, that could be just as telling.
On Tuesday, the Giants welcome the Diamondbacks with Zach Greinke facing Johnny Cueto in a matchup of double-digit winners at 7:15pm.