Monday, September 5, 2011

Arizona    80-60   …        Four-run eighth-inning rallies win pennants.
GIANTS  73-67   7 GB   The 'fat lady' is warmin' up.

Giants lost to Arizona, 4-1, blowing a 1-0 lead in the eighth.

Giants are off to San Diego to open a three-game road trip. Madison Bumgarner starts against Tim Stouffer today at 1:05 local time (4:05 PM EDT).

Yesterday's Game
The stat sheet will show another loss, the fourth in a row, for Ryan Vogelsong, who was once 9-1 and is now 10-6, and perhaps some will view that declining record as metaphor for the Giants' once-bright but now almost-gone 2011 prospects. But from here we see a valiant pitcher on a staff of valiant pitchers, asked to do the near-impossible once again: shut out a hard-hitting opponent while sustaining himself on a diet of three hits. Yes, it can be done. Yes, it was done, more often than anyone thought possible, by the Giants a year ago. But it can't be done over and over again, month after month and year after year, as a winning formula. The Giants of 2011 will likely wear it as their epitaph.

Vogelsong carried a three-hit shutout into the eighth; the Giants' only run had come on Cody Ross' homer in the first. Considering the circumstances, it was one of Vogelsong's finest starts of the year: he'd thrown only 87 pitches through seven and appeared to still be going strong. With one out, Ryan Roberts homered to tie the game and Gerardo Parra reached on an infield single. In came Jeremy Affeldt, who lost pinch-hitter Geoff Blum to a walk, and that brought in Ramon Ramirez, who gave up the two big hits that settled the outcome. It makes about as much sense to blame Ramirez and Affeldt for the loss as it does to blame Pablo Sandoval or Eli Whiteside, both of whom left runners in scoring position. The problem is endemic. We saw the same thing happen down the stretch in 2009. The Giants do not score enough runs to function as a pennant-contending team.

Do the Math
The only reason we can say "It ain't over" is because the Giants still have three games left against Arizona-- a weekend series at Chase Field beginning September 23. A yawning gulf of 16 games stands between now and then, plenty enough games for Arizona to salt this thing away for good. Should the 'Snakes' play .500 ball over that stretch, the Giants would need to go 12-4 just to whittle that lead down to a reachable three games. Of course, having won 11of their last 12, Arizona looks nothing like a team ready to settle for .500. After last night, they can smell it, as surely as the Giants could a year ago. Unlike the Giants, they have a series outside the division (Pittsburgh, at home in two weeks). The Giants have six each, home and away, against LA and San Diego, plus four at Colorado, before the 23rd. That Arizona series will be a culmination of a ten-game road trip.

The antidote to a brutal road trip is a good homestand, and the Giants have nobody but themselves to blame for how this most recent 12-game abomination turned out. They went 4-5 against three of the weakest teams in the league, before Arizona even showed up. With a chance to fatten their record at home against the Padres, Astros, and Cubs, and to enter the weekend trailing by two games, instead the Giants put themselves into a desperate situation from which they will not, absent a near-miraculous turn of events, recover.

And for those of you who care (yes, both of you!) we'll keep this thing going for now, perhaps even hangin' in until the bitter, mathematical end.

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