By Morris Phillips
SAN FRANCISCO — It’s been nearly a year since the Giants sported a winning record, and this time, it feels like it fits.
The Giants rallied for two runs in the eighth, surprising the equally hot Cubs in a 5-4 win at Oracle Park on Monday night. The win was the Giants 16th in their last 19 games, which apparently is the length of time required for a bad ballclub to gain its footing.
In the previous three weeks, the Giants have crushed the ball, and overwhelmed the opposition on the road, and they’ve pitched, defended and picked their spots at home. On Monday, the Giants executed the latter, coming up with consecutive RBI doubles from Austin Slater and Joe Panik in the eighth to cap a comeback from being down 3-0 in the fourth.
By improving to 51-50, the Giants remained within two games of the second wild card placeholder, St. Louis. Just as importantly, they continue to gain the faith of their own front office, that now may be less likely to break up a good thing before the July 31 trade deadline.
“We’re playing our best baseball right now,” said Panik. “There’s something about this team. We’re a collective group. It’s not just one guy doing it all.”
With 61 games remaining, how could the previously last-place Giants pull this off and grab a wild card berth? Well, their schedule and the math make this three-pronged scenario a possibility.
First, they post a winning record over their next seven games leading up to the trade deadline. GM Farhan Zaidi continues to monitor the trade front while his team’s won-loss record weighs heavily on whether he buys or sells. Being at least 55-53 a week from now after the two remaining games against the Cubs, three at San Diego, and the first two of three at Philadelphia keeps the Giants where they are: a game or two out of the second wild card spot, and on the heels of the Cardinals, Phillies and Brewers, the teams they must catch.
Second, they need to win 36 of their remaining 61 games to gain an 87-75 record, which is modest, but could land them in a favorable spot when compared to the other three clubs, none of which have shown the ability to get hot and run away from the pack.
And third, the Giants only have 11 games remaining against the trio they’re pursuing. Seven road games at St. Louis and Philadelphia, and four home games against the Phillies. Their season series against the Brewers is concluded (Giants won 4 of 6 against Milwaukee). Win more than half of those 11 games, and it makes it far more likely the Phillies or Cardinals don’t get hot and approach, or reach 90 wins.
On Tuesday, Madison Bumgarner faces the Cubs in a matchup against Yu Darvish at 6:45 pm. And yes, it’s unlikely to feel or be treated like Bumgarner’s final start in a Giants’ uniform at Oracle Park.
“I’m proud of them and how they played their way into playing important games,” manager Bruce Bochy said of his Giants. “I can’t think of a season quite like this. We’ve had some ups and downs, but to go from where we were to where we are, it’s made this even more enjoyable.”