By Morris Phillips
Winning road games is hard work, airports, ignoring witty fans yelling from half empty concourse sections, and maintaining focus in late inning situations while outdueling baserunners, sluggers, aggressive coaches and managers.
It’s all that. 81 games a year. And apparently, the 2019 Giants are pretty good at it.
It didn’t happen right away. The Giants opened the season on the road, and got fleeced in Petco Park and Dodger Stadium, then underperformed on their second trip starting in Washington and Pittsburgh. But on getaway Sunday at PNC Park, Buster Posey broke his homerless streak of over 70 games, Dereck Rodriguez limited the Pirates to two runs, and three relievers closed the door with no margin for error. The defense was flawless.
That was April 21. The Giants took that next day off and went on to win both games in Toronto for a three-game win streak. Since that still early April date in Pittsburgh, the Giants are 26-15 away from home.
They’ve won games, series, and they’ve piled up the runs as of late. And they appear to be getting better at it.
With the season on the line, they’ll need to keep up the room service routine in Philadelphia starting Tuesday when Tyler Beede faces the Phillies’ Drew Smyly at 4:05pm. The Phillies (55-50) lead the Giants (54-52) by 1 1/2 games in a crowded field of NL Wild Card hopefuls.
Not surprisingly, most of the metrics favor the Giants. Over their last 16 road contests, the Giants have piled up offensive numbers well above their season as whole. While winning 13 of 16, the Giants have 50 doubles (six on Sunday versus the Padres), 22 homers, and 122 runs.
Those numbers aren’t good, they’re gaudy. Better than seven runs a game, and when dramatics have been needed, the Giants have summoned them. They’re 7-0 in extra innings games since the All-Star break, three of those wins on the road.
That’s in 16 games. The Giants have scored just 178 runs in their 53 home games.
Meanwhile the Phillies are leaning on a pair of starters with obvious warts on their 2019 records. Smyly is making his second start for the Phillies after he was acquired from Texas, where he went 1-5 with an 8.42 ERA over nine starts and four relief appearances.
Vince Velasquez, who starts Wednesday, started the season in the Phillies rotation, then pitched out the bullpen for much of May and June. He’s back in the rotation now, going 1-2 in his most recent six starts. But what sticks out are his incendiary numbers at Citizens Bank Park where he’s made seven appearances (four starts) and allowed 19 hits and seven home runs.
On Thursday, the Phillies list their starter as Jake Arrieta. The 33-year old has spent 2019 trying to stay relevant, allowing 57 hits and 29 walks in his 60 innings pitched at Citizens Bank Park. His inability to get deep into games has the Phillies considering a long reliever to piggyback his starts, maybe Zach Elfin, who for now is the listed starter on Friday.
Ironically, the Phillies acquired Jason Vargas from the Mets on Monday, but he won’t pitch until Saturday at the earliest, well after the Giants leave town, and after the trade deadline.
MONDAY’S RESULTS: The Giants didn’t hit the diamond on Monday, getting a travel day while crossing the country from San Diego to Philadelphia. But what transpired was of great importance in their absence. After all, trying to qualify for the playoffs with 88 or so wins while surpassing four of the five teams in front of them in the standings entering Monday is a delicate task with lots of moving parts.
MARLINS 11, DIAMONDBACKS 6 — Arizona fell for the third time in the last four days to the NL’s worst team. The D’Backs are below .500 for the first time since July 5, making them an obvious choice to sell at the upcoming trade deadline. For the Giants, the losses, as well as Arizona’s rugged upcoming schedule against the Yankees, Dodgers, Nationals and Phillies make it more likely they will remain behind the Giants in the standings for the foreseeable future.
Beyond winning games, the Giants’ biggest goals surround staying in front of as many wild card hopefuls in the standings as they can. Not having to worry about Arizona is big.
NATIONALS 6, BRAVES 3 — Anthony Rendon broke open a 2-2 game with a sixth inning grand slam, and the Nats closed ground on Atlanta in the NL East. Washington moved eight games above .500 for the second time in 2019, and they have the clearest track to hosting the NL Wild Card game with a half-game lead on the Cubs and Cardinals, and 1 1/2 games on the Phillies and Brewers.
The Giants would prefer the pack of five in front of them stay as densely packed in terms of wins and losses as possible. The Nats have gone 38-18 after a really poor 19-31 start to their season. They’re the team the Giants are least likely to catch, if so, that makes it imperative they catch the Cubs, Phillies, Brewers and Cardinals, despite having games remaining against only two of those four. That could be tricky.