The San Francisco Giants face their toughest test of the season, beginning Friday at AT&T Park facing the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are currently sitting atop the NL West with an 83-63 record. Only two games back, with a total of six games remaining between the two clubs, the Giants are geared up to win this series and I will explain why.
First is the heating up of the heart and soul of the Giants, Buster Posey. Just as he did in 2012, when he won not only his second world series ring, but the league’s batting title and MVP Award, Posey got hot in mid-August and has kick-started the almost-dead San Francisco team back to life.
Since the All-Star break, Buster is batting .353, with that figure escalating to .452 in September, with a 1.214 OPS during the current month. He has doubled his home run output from 10 to 20 since the ASG and has been given some relief from his behind-the-plate responsibilities by the emergence of Andrew Susac (3 HR’s, & 2B’s in 59 at-bats). This allows Buster to help shore up matters at first base until Brandon Belt comes back from the disabled list and keeps him fresher for the playoffs.
Secondly, the Giants will compete because of the resurgence of the starting pitching, which has been rejuvenated by newcomer Jake Peavy, whose fiery attitude inspires not only the rookies, but the seasoned veterans as well. Bruce Bochy’s connection with Peavy in San Diego is key because Bochy already knew what he had to offer, and Peavy’s recent success with last year’s World Series Champion Red Sox lent credibility to the whole package. Peavy won’t pitch in this series, but he will in the next one down south.
In preparation for this series, Don Mattingly moved Dan Haren up in the rotation last week so as to allow his Big Three, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw, to pitch against San Francisco, obviously going for all the marbles. And though Peavy has a lifetime win/loss record against the Dodgers of 14-3, Bochy chose not to rearrange his rotation so that Peavy pitched this weekend, explaining that all of his starters are throwing the ball well and he didn’t see the need.
Granted, Boshy’s philosophy sounds grand, but the last time Mattingly rearranged his rotation after the All-Star game, so that the Big Three faced the Giants in the series that began July 26th, LA swept the Giants, out-scoring them 17-4 in the process. That was when the Dodgers were coming on strong and the Giants were in free-fall. Or as they say, That was then-this is now.
Take note of the last ten home games, during which the starting pitching is 7-1 in 72 innings pitched, with a 0.95 ERA and an opponents’ batting average of .144. All ten starts were quality starts and the Giants won nine of them. San Francisco is in infinitely better shape to compete with LA now than they were in July. Bochy’s confidence in his rotation has a sound foundation.
Angel Pagan’d return to the lineup has helped in the Giants regaining their mojo.
Thirdly, the Giants will play the Dodgers competitively because Angel Pagan is back. His absence last July somewhat tarnishes the Dodgers’ accomplishment of sweeping the Giants. Pagan has swung the bat well since he returned, batting .324 in September, and providing that spark for the Giants that is so critical for them to succeed. Pagan’s absence from the lineup coincided with the team’s extended struggles, but that is ancient history as the Giants’ 12-3 mark in their last fifteen games indicates.
Then there is Hunter Pence, just off an eighteen-game-hitting streak, who leads the league in hits and is second in runs scored; there is Joe Panik, who leads a squad of supporting rookies, and there is Gregor Blanco, batting a staggering .382 in September, with 13 hits, including four doubles and two triples. With ace Madison Bumgarner, wily Tim Hudson and red-hot Yusmeiro Petit pitching, the Giants are primed for retribution.
This is the Giants team of the first two months, back in action, and ready to take back the division that was theirs originally. They will play Los Angeles fiercely.
Note, however, that I did not say San Francisco WILL win the series, because that would be a foolish and arrogant thing to declare, and the gods of baseball have long ears.
No, I simply mean that the Giants have the tools to do the job and they have recent history on their side. I expect a series victory and you should too.
June 30, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; San Francisco Giants right fielder Hunter Pence (8) reacts to his home run against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports