There’s still over a month left in the season, but the fate of the NL West may very well be decided these next few days as the Giants face off against the Dodgers, a heated rivalry given more fuel as the two teams jockey for positioning atop the division.
For two teams seemingly heading in opposite directions, they met Monday at a fairly even place, with the Dodgers leading the NL West by half a game. LA has resurrected their season in this second half, thanks to Matt Kemp’s return to health, as well as the acquisition of several high profile players. Hanley Ramirez and Shane Victorino have boosted the Dodgers’ offense and made the lineup for threatening.
Meanwhile, Hunter Pence, who the Giants traded for at the deadline, has fizzled in his time in San Francisco, only recently coming out of a slump in which he hit below .200. Add to that a 50 game suspension doled out to the Giants’ best* hitter Melky Cabrera, a DL stint for Pablo Sandoval, and the sudden loss of consistency from Ryan Vogelsong (combined 5.2 innings, 17 hits allowed, and 11 earned runs his past two starts after pitching at least 6 innings in every start prior this season) and it’s a miracle the Giants haven’t collapsed. The stellar second half of Buster Posey (.424, 11 Hrs, 34 RBI) is all that’s keeping them afloat.
But Monday, Posey’s production was nowhere to be found, as he went 0-4 with three strikeouts. Instead the Giants were supported by their favorite crutch – their pitching. Madison Bumgarner, facing off against reigning Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, out dueled his opponent, tossing 8 scoreless innings, allowing just 4 hits, and striking out 10 to lead the Giants to a 2-1 victory.
For a team whose season appeared over after the Cabrera news, the Giants have shown a lot of heart and fight in their play. Since the suspension, San Francisco has won 3 out of 4 (if you discount their loss on the day of the news, which I will, since they only found out an hour before the game). Of course three of those games were against the lowly Padres and it’s also a tiny sample size, but regardless, the Giants have shown they aren’t going to roll over.
With Sandoval now off the DL and returning to his past form (2 RBI in Monday’s win over the Dodgers), the emerging contributions from the Brandons – Belt and Crawford – at the bottom of the lineup, Pence recovering from his month-long slump, and the continued excellence of Posey, the Giants may not be a team on the decline. At this point, Los Angeles seems to have a more talented roster, but if San Francisco can keep up this level of play while continuing to use their anger at the Melky situation as fuel, things could get interesting in this NL West race. And with such a small gap between the two teams, this series gains even more importance. If one team can gain a multi-game lead over the other, it could be difficult to overcome.
Now with a half game lead, the Giants will throw Tim Lincecum into the ring against Joe Blanton, hoping to expand hold their spot atop the division. If Monday’s game was a pitcher’s duel, Tuesday’s game should be anything but, as both starters are still trying to shake off their season-long struggles.
But with the hunt for the playoffs in full steam, now would be the perfect time for both of them to stop sucking.