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Saturday, September 17, 2011

The math is intimidating but psychology is edging over to Giants' side

Here's the dirty math on the Giants' outside shot at winning a slot in the playoffs:

If the Arizona Diamondbacks or Atlanta Braves split their remaining 10 games, the Giants would have to win their final 10 games (meaning they'd have to finish the season with a 17-game winning streak) just to tie for the West Division or Wild Card lead.

The mathematics are pretty intimidating. But, once you bring in psychology, that's when hope is less irrational.

The Diamondbacks, losers of three in a row and four of six, have watched their lead over the Giants shrink by 4.5 games in just one week. This is the first adversity that they've faced since they overran the Giants in the standings on Aug. 10. It was a fascinating ride to the top as underdogs, but it's a different game when you're on top.

And when you haven't been on top for long and you're hearing footsteps for the first time, you aren't sure how you respond. Insecurity, doubt and self-awareness are your worst enemies. And when the team chasing you wins seven in a row, each blown chance, each missed pitch location begins to magnify.

The Diamondbacks' best hitter, Justin Upton, appears to be feeling the heat. He's gone 2-for-22 in the last six games.

After the Diamondbacks had lost Friday, the Arizona Republic beat writer wrote, "yes, making the playoffs remains a virtual lock for the Diamondbacks." Their lead was still a "robust" six games with 11 to go., he wrote, still pegs their chances at the playoffs at 98.6 percent.

"Should the Giants track them down, the Diamondbacks' collapse would rank among the worst in history."

Yes, that's the point. By the way, their chances dipped a bit after Saturday's events, to 96.9 percent.

As Arizona catcher Miguel Montero said after the Diamondbacks lost 3-1 to the last place Padres Saturday, "I think we're trying a little too hard probably."


The opposite is true for the team that has been counted out. They've got nothing to lose. The Giants have all expressed amazement at how, once the pressure of the pennant race was off, they began playing looser, better.

All they had to do was watch how the lowly Houston Astros played so well against them in the midst of the Giants' disastrous month (you know, the one where they went 10-21) to know that's how baseball goes.

So, back to the math. Say the Diamondbacks or Braves, both with 87-65 records, go 2-8 the rest of the way. Then, it's more doable. The Giants would only have to go 7-3 to tie and force a playoff. That's more in keeping with the trend lines.


Here's a question. If the Giants feel like they're back in the pennant race, will Boss Bochy insist on standing by his old horses, Aubrey Huff and Orlando Cabrera, as regulars?

If not, and I hope that would be the last thing he's thinking, would Bochy finally admit to his biggest blunder of the year: sticking with the veterans through the dark month that nearly killed off the Giants' pennant hopes?

All those weeks Giants fans pleaded with management to bring up Brandon Belt, Brett Pill, Brandon Crawford, Hector Sanchez, Eric Surkamp and others to provide a spark that was missing from the big league club.

Bochy and General Manager Brian Sabean knew better. Our highly-paid, experienced guys will return to form, they assured us. The kids aren't ready, they told us with an air of condescension.

Pill, after all, had been dropped off the 40-man roster. He's just a 4A ballplayer, was the whisper. At the age of 27, he'd lost his prospect status. Bringing Pill up might prove them wrong. So, he remained in Fresno, piling up big numbers that they knew wouldn't translate in the big leagues.

Belt had been given his shot at the season's outset and blown it. So, no matter what he did in each of his subsequent call-ups would never be good enough to persuade Bochy to give him a long look. So, for example, when he hit that home run and double to beat the Dodgers after his mid-July call-up, Bochy benched him to send the message that Huff was still the man.

Sure enough, after Pill's second triple of the night Saturday had brought home the two biggest runs of the Giants season, there was Huff called on to pinch hit to try to knock home that run from third. And there he was with another rollover ground out to first base. Only a bad throw, a good jump from third by Pill and a quick slide resulted in the Giants' sixth run.

Who knows? This run they're on may be too late. It may be too much to ask for a complete collapse on the part of the Diamondbacks, and for the Giants to win out the rest of the year. If it is too late, it's because Bochy and Sabean were stuck in a state of paralysis during that horrid period in which they lost 21 of 31 games, stuck in the mindset that young guys are not prepared for the pressures of a pennant race.

But the thing about young guys is they don't know the difference. They're just happy to be up in the Big Leagues. It was the veterans who all season succumbed to the pressures of a pennant drive. And, here  are the kids stepping in: Brandon Belt with a home run in each of the first two games of the Colorado series, then Pill with his two clutch RBI triples to send the Giants to a 6-5 win.

It is almost all in spite of Bochy, who remained reticent to use the kids even after rosters expanded. It took five days before Pill, called up as part of the Aaron Rowand/Miguel Tejada purge, actually got into a game.

After Pill blasted a home run in his first at bat against San Diego, Bochy had to rethink the hulking first baseman. He seems to have settled on a platoon with Pill being relegated to starts against left handers. But with his big hits coming off tough right-handed relievers Saturday -- a two-strike RBI triple in the left-center field gap off Colorado's closer Huston Street and his booming triple high off the right field wall off Matt Belisle -- Bochy may have to reconsider Pill again.

The main point here is that the young guys have shown what Bochy refused to believe: that they could bring an energy, a freshness, an eagerness that can light a spark in a team. They don't have the baggage of failure on the big league level yet. They have everything to prove, everything to gain in an audition.

Last year, as the Giants veterans had everything under control en route to their world title, Bochy had little reason to turn to rookies, and didn't dare put them in in spots that the veterans were already succeeding in.

But this year, Bochy has been forced to turn to the September boys in a time of need. And maybe they'll convince him that youth isn't wasted on the youth.


  1. Generally speaking, I've been down on the know-it-alls who think they can out-manage the manager&GM who won a WS last year.

    But it was at the point of Brandon Belt's *3rd* send-down, that I think *I* finally went "WTF?!"

  2. I was, too, JCF. I really bought into the philosophy of patience. And I did have high regard for Bochy. But he just seemed to take hard-headedness to a different level during that awful 10-21 stretch. It exposed a flaw in him that I wonder is fundamental.