The calendar is approaching that point in the season a year ago, when Yasiel Puig joined the Los Angeles Dodgers and the team caught fire. Now Josh Beckett has thrown a no-hitter and Los Angeles is surging, having won three in a row. Can the San Francisco Giants prevent the Dodgers from overtaking them and running away with the title again?
Pre-season pundits pretty universally selected the Dodgers as the National League West division winner in 2014. So far it has been San Francisco all the way and the question is, can the Giants stay ahead of the Dodgers, now that Clayton Kershaw is back in the rotation and they are picking up the pace?
Based on the overwhelming job the San Francisco bullpen has done, plus the surprising display of long-ball power, I’d like to say that the answer is emphatically yes, but I will settle for a cautious vote of optimism, based on seven related elements. All seven should be in place in order to ensure continued success, the first of which is health, in general. Most immediately, the Giants are concerned with the health of Matt Cain.
San Francisco needs this horse on the track every five days, because Cain sets the pace and has done so longer than any other current Giant. He is not the number one starter in Bruce Bochy’s rotation-that being Madison Bumgarner-but make no mistake about it: Cain, with his Southern stoicism, still sets the pace. When the Giants cross the finish line, Matt will be at the front.
Second, Ryan Vogelsong must maintain his momentum and continue to provide opponents with an unexpected force from a number-five rotation man. Vogelsong’s recent reemergence into the form he displayed during his two epic seasons, leading to his dominant performance in the 2012 World Series, has been electrifying. He is a huge reason why the Giants are still four and a half games ahead of Los Angeles.
Next, Pablo Sandoval must not fall back into a prolonged slump; his bat has carried the team since Brandon Belt went down, and he will need to remain consistent. He does not have to knock in an RBI every game, as he currently is doing with a seven-game streak going, but he can’t go into a tailspin again, either. With Pablo in a contract season, it’s hard to say whether or not that kind of pressure will surface later on, just when the Giants need him the most.
Fourth, the Giants will also need Brandon Belt to resume his spot in the order. Leading the league in home runs when he broke his thumb, Belt’s bat and his glove are essential components to a successful San Francisco push to the pennant.
Fifth, Tyler Colvin’s loud bat has given the Giants a revitalized bench. Juan Perez brought superior defensive skills to the table, but we already have that in a fourth outfielder with Gregor Blanco. Now, when Belt returns, the Giants have backup outfield power on the bench.
Sixth, the Giants, who are leading the majors with two-out hits with runners in scoring position, must continue to do so. Nothing demoralizes an opponent more than clutch-hitting with two outs. Being the best goes a long way to guaranteeing late-inning success.
Finally, Brian Sabean has to continue the success that has gained him so much acclaim in the past by supplying the Giants with quality help at whatever position they need. I’d say that need might be a back-up starting pitcher right now, since neither Yusmeiro Petit, nor David Huff appears to want the job. On the other hand, our bullpen has upped the ante considerably.
Are the Giants feeling lucky? How many of these seven components can they maintain going into the middle months of the season? How many will they need to stave off the on-rushing Dodgers?
The Giants have employed the long ball to get quick leads, and a razor sharp bullpen to preserve them. Combining these elements with dominant starting pitching and clutch-hitting, is a formula for success, and the Giants have proven that they know how to apply formulas, especially when playing in an even numbered season.