Thursday, September 25, 2014

LA               91-68      ...                   Dodgers clinch the division.
GIANTS     85-73    5 1/2  GB       96 days in first place not enough.

Pittsburgh   86-72       ...                 Second straight year in postseason.
GIANTS      85-73     1  GB              "Just win, baby."
Milwaukee  81-77      4  GB           Giants control their fate.

Giants lost at LA, 9-1, and were eliminated from the division race.
Pittsburgh lost at Atlanta, 6-2.
Milwaukee defeated Cincinnati, 5-0.

Giants lost at LA, 4-2.
Pittsburgh defeated Atlanta, 3-2.
Milwaukee lost at Cincinnati, 3-1.

Giants open the season's final series, at home against San Diego. Yusmeiro Petit gets the start at 7:05 local time (10:05 PDT). The Giants will clinch a wild-card spot if they win this game.
Pittsburgh finishes up at Atlanta.
Milwaukee concludes the Cincinnati series with a day game. If they lose, the Giants back in.

The LA Series
After some question about whether he'd be replaced in the starting rotation, Tim Hudson went out last night and quietly delivered his best start in a month. It wasn't all that great by the numbers, but for five innings Hudson matched Clayton Kershaw just fine, and thanks to some small-ball and a balk by Kershaw in the third, he even had a 1-0 lead.  It started to unravel in the fifth when Kershaw himself burnished his ample MVP credentials with a RBI triple to tie the game.  In the sixth, Yasiel Puig's homer and Matt Kemp's double were enough to end Hudson's night, and Javier Lopez was then bitten by the old intentional-walk bug. Meant to set up a inning-ending double play, instead it ensured Carl Crawford's subsequent double would bring in two more runs. Out went Lopez, in came Jean Machi, and up came former Giant Juan Uribe, who added an exclamation point with a RBI single.

What happened after that was anticlimax, at least from our perspective. The Dodgers ran around the bases as in a nightmare in the three-pitcher eighth; Erik Cordier took most of the abuse as four of the five batters he faced scored. Then it was celebration time for the home team and crowd, and it was a much more restrained on-field party than that Arizona travesty from a year ago. LA coaches even tipped their caps to their Giants counterparts, who returned the gesture, however grudgingly.

After Monday night's thirteen-inning comeback win, the Giants knew they had at least a chance to sweep this series and turn the upcoming weekend into a suspense thriller, as they took the field Tuesday. But the dream began to fade as soon as Justin Turner launched Madison Bumgarner's seventh pitch of the night into the stratosphere. "Bum" then provided some excitement by plunking Yasiel Puig, which resulted in back-and-forth dugout barking, but considering it was the fifth pitch of the at-bat, any thoughts of retaliation sprang from pure fantasy. And Puig soon scored after Kemp-- who's on fire right now-- launched another blast, this one to deepest center. It was 3-0 just like that, and while this wasn't an elimination game, given the Giants' desperate straits it might as well have been, and it sure felt like it.

Bumgarner provided the Giants' offense himself in the third, with a two-run homer, his fourth of the season, making it a one-run game. But on a night when all runs would come via the long ball, Turner belted his second of the game in the eighth, giving closer Kenley Jansen a nice cushion. "Bum" thus took his tenth loss against 18 wins; he won't get twenty this year. His opposite number, Zack Greinke, shrugged off Bumgarner's homer and retired 15 of 16 batters from the fourth through the eighth in a one-run game, which earned him his 16th win.

In the meantime, Pittsburgh clinched a wild-card spot with a Tuesday night win at Atlanta, and Milwaukee capitalized on the Giants' Wednesday loss with a win at Cincinnati to stay alive one more day.  We shouldn't discount the Pirates' shot at the division title, either; they're only a game and a half back, and it's not impossible the Giants' first postseason game of 2014 might be at Busch Stadium instead of PNC Park.

The Road Ahead
At the moment it appears the Giants are not too concerned about home-field advantage for the Pittsburgh playoff. While Bumgarner is scheduled to start Sunday to conclude the San Diego series, there was open talk in the clubhouse yesterday about his being held back for the wild-card showdown Tuesday.  The Giants appear likely to back off a bit once the wild-card spot is clinched, as opposed to throwing everything they have into a battle for home field. Given this team's been running on empty for close to a month, that's a defensible strategy. The Giants are 42-35 at home and 43-38 on the road this year. They're 1-2 at PNC Park, but for goodness' sake, that was back in the first week of May.

Should the unthinkable happen-- Giants swept at home by the Padres, Brewers sweep the Cubs-- there would be a one-game wild-card-qualification playoff, either at Miller Park or AT&T Park depending on a coin toss, on Monday.  Presumably if the Giants lose the first three games of this upcoming series, we'll see Bumgarner Sunday, and worry about Tuesday's playoff game later.

Elsewhere, the Kansas City Royals are about to make the postseason for the first time since their 1985 World Championship, probably as one of the AL wild-cards. They trail Detroit by two with four to play in the division,  and they have a record identical to that of the Oakland A's, the other wild-card favorite. Seattle trails both by three. Meanwhile, the Washington Nationals just keep on winning; 9-1 over their last ten, leading their division by 16 (!) games.  LA will have home-field advantage over the NL Central winner, no matter who it is, in the division series.  Baltimore is in a similar position in the AL.

And, of course, should the Giants clinch this thing and then win at Pittsburgh (or possibly St Louis) next Tuesday, they'll be coming to Washington to open the division series a week from now, and you all know what that means, right?

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