Echoes of last year are faintly, ominously audible
Friday, Aug. 3
SAN FRANCISCO — Hints of 2011 have crept into this season for the Giants.
That’s not a good thing.
Consider these parallels:
Euphoria swept the visitor’s clubhouse at Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park on July 28 of last year, when the Giants recorded a stirring 4-1 victory over the Phillies. Tim Lincecum looked great during six shutout innings. The acquisition of slugging outfielder Carlos Beltran from the New York Mets before the Trade Deadline fortified the Giants, psychologically and on paper. They owned a four-game lead in the National League West as they continued their trip with three games against the Reds, who had just been swept in four games by the Mets.
The Giants proceeded to lose their next five games and tumble into a first-place tie in the division race with Arizona. They clung to first place for another week, when the Diamondbacks pulled in front for good.
Fast-forward to this year. Optimism filled the Giants’ clubhouse this past Tuesday, after Lincecum worked seven strong innings in a 4-1 triumph over the Mets. That victory broke a virtual tie with Los Angeles atop the West standings and gave the Giants a one-game lead. Moreover, the Giants knew the cavalry was coming in the form of multitalented outfielder Hunter Pence, who arrived from Philadelphia in a trade that was officially announced about two hours before the Trade Deadline struck. Pence would make his Giants debut behind Matt Cain, he of the perfect
game and the All-Star Game triumph, against the disappointing Mets, who arrived in San Francisco having lost 14 of their previous 17 games.
The Giants proceeded to lose the series’ final pair of games to New York, collecting seven hits in the process. They still lead the West, with Los Angeles trailing by a half-game and the D-backs two games behind. Nevertheless, the Giants clearly are in a precarious situation. They’ve lost seven of their last eight games and must play 19 of their next 29 games on the road.
The Giants’ performance during that stretch could determine whether they’re pursuing postseason glory in September or staring enviously at the Dodgers and D-backs as they pull away from them in the standings.
It’s easy to suggest that the Giants are bound for another agonizing August and a desperate September. But perspective must be maintained. It’s entirely possible — the coming weeks will tell the story — that this is their nadir, that their offense will thrive once Pablo Sandoval returns from the disabled list (perhaps in a week) to complement Buster Posey, Melky Cabrera and a motivated Pence, and that the starting pitching, which remains the division’s best, will help San Francisco outclass their rivals.
Finally, don’t forget about that second Wild Card spot. Sure, it’s a cheap way to reach the postseason, but it opens the window of opportunity longer for legitimate contenders. Thus the intensity of this stretch drive could generate more excitement than most.
As a result, the time has arrived for teams such as the Giants to strive to summon their best each and every day. It’ll be a pleasure to watch.
– Chris Haft