Thursday, September 11, 2014

Crunch Time in the NL

Joe Panik
The San Francisco Giants begin their most important 3 game series of the year under the Friday night lights, with the Los Angeles Dodgers.  They took care of business with a sweep of Arizona, a team that at this point in the season seems barely interested enough to stand at their positions, but not enough to actually field them.  The Giants have won 9 straight at home, and 6 straight overall.

Now they face the three best Dodger pitchers at home.  The last time this scenario happened, they were swept.  This is the test of the money the Dodgers have spent precisely to have this short series pitching dominance, first to get past the Giants and then for postseason.  The Giants play the Dodgers three more games in LA, but this is the series they need to win, absent real heroics in LA--where they will face the same three starting pitchers.  Their starters will also be the same.

Whatever happens, the ups and downs of this season has solved one problem and possibly two for the Giants going forward.  They have found a solid second baseman in rookie Joe Panik, who is also a solid hitter right behind lead-off hitter Angel Pagan.  Panik went 5 for 5 in one of the games with Arizona.  In Andrew Sesak they may also have found a reliable backup catcher to Buster Posey, enabling him to play first base more often and perhaps extend his career.

Meanwhile the Pittsburgh Pirates are surging while both the Brewers and the Cards are having problems.  Like the Giants, they've been getting stellar starting pitching lately, pretty good relief, and lively bats.  But both teams have most recently beat up on inferior teams (Arizona, Philly.)

Still, they are both still in the hunt.  The Giants are just 2 games back of LA (with the third place team, San Diego, 15.5 back) in the West, while the Pirates are now in second place, 2.5 games behind St. Louis.  They don't go head to head again, but after the Cubs and Red Sox, they do have important series with current rivals for a playoff spot, the Brewers and Atlanta, finishing the season against the Reds, who are already relishing a spoiler role, having beat the Cards today 1-0.

The possible spoilers for SF are the Padres, if only for the sheer number of games left to play with them: 7, with four of those in San Diego.  But for this weekend, all eyes are on the Bay, as the Giants play the Dodgers.


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