So, this is it. Pretty much ever since the Diamondbacks first pulled ahead of Giants at the end of May, we've been looking at this very series as a titanic, head-to-head matchup that would determine who would win the NL West. Once the NL West became a two-horse race, we started planning for this series, scheming about how the Diamondbacks could put themselves in the best possible position to beat the Giants once and for all in the final homestand of the season
But now? Eh, I guess it would be nice to win this series, but it's nowhere near a requirement. The Giants just dropped Thursday's game against the Dodgers, putting their magic number squarely at one. Thus, if the Diamondbacks win even one of the next six games, then playoffs. It's as simple as that. The Giants need a sweep, and then another sweep, and then a sweep of the Diamondbacks from the Dodgers, and then a victory in a one-game playoff. It's not technically impossible, but it doesn't strike me as being particularly likely.
Note: none of what I just wrote will stop me from flipping out and swearing at the screen if the Diamondbacks start dropping games.
The Giants have gone on a bit of a roll since we last saw them, going 10-4 since the Diamondbacks took the most recent series in San Francisco. Everyone knew that they weren't going to continue playing as poorly as they did in August, but they deserve credit for continuing to play hard despite being on the fringes of the playoff race.
What the Stats Say (According to Fangraphs):
Saying that the Giants don't have a good offense isn't even worth the nonexistent Internet ink at this point. I know this, you know this, even my Giant-loving housemate knows this. But they've hit better over this previous hot streak, scoring 81 runs in their last 14 games, for an average of almost six runs per game. This has been sufficient to move the Giants out of last place in wRC+ on the season, vaulting them all the way up to 29th out of 30 teams. Ha! Suck it, Mariners!
Here's that lineup again, but with each Giant's ranking in OPS among qualified players at that position (Minimum: 400 ABs)
1. Andres Torres: Not enough at-bats in center to qualify, but he would rank 20th out of 21 qualified center fielders.
2. Jeff Keppinger: Keppinger doesn't have enough at-bats with the Giants to qualify, but he would be tied for 16th out of 19 second basemen.
3. Carlos Beltran: Beltran's been raking for the Giants and would rank third among qualified right fielders. I'll bet that makes Giant fans feel much better about trading their best prospect for a mercenary who likely won't get the team to the playoffs.
4. Pablo Sandoval: 1st out 27. See, this is why Giant fans wear those goofy panda hats: they have to celebrate their one consistently good hitter.
5. Brett Pill: Pill has only 30 at-bats, but overall Giant first basemen rank 28th out of 30 in the majors.
6. Brandon Belt: Belt also doesn't have enough at-bats (I'm sensing a pattern here), but his .701 OPS in 186 PAs would rank him 17th out of 21 qualified left fielders.
7. Brandon Crawford: Would rank 27th out of 28. The only shortstop below him is Orlando Cabrera, who the Giants picked up mid-season, ostensibly to keep guys like Crawford out of the lineup.
8. Chris Stewart: 20th out of 20.
They bad. That's all the analysis you get, because that's all the analysis you need.
Insightful Commentary: Remember how just about everyone of consequence thought the Diamondbacks got fleeced in the Dan Haren trade about a year ago? Well, that trade netted the Diamondbacks one of the top 10 pitching prospects in all of major-league baseball (Skaggs), another pitching prospect who projects to be a starting pitcher at some point (Corbin), and Saunders, who has an ERA under 3.7 and is starting a game that could clinch a playoff berth. For all of the criticism of the trade, it did exactly what we all ridiculed Dipoto for saying it would: it gave the Diamondbacks payroll flexibility and some nice prospects in the long term, while helping them stay competitive in the short term. I'm not saying the D-Backs won the trade, but at the very least they held their own.
Surkamp has spent most of 2011 in Double-A, only getting called up in September because his name doesn't with "Harry Tito." His 2.95 ERA suggests that he has pitched well in his four starts, but don't be fooled. He has walked more batters than he's struck out in his 21.1 major-league innings, which is never a good sign. He's getting by through a strand rate of almost 80%, and a HR/FB of 3.7%, which isn't sustainable. Unless, of course, he turns out like every other Giant pitcher. Damn you, Dave Righetti. ::shakes fist::
Insightful Commentary: Kennedy's 20 Wins have gotten most of the attention, but I find his four losses far more interesting. That's the fewest number of losses among any pitchers that have thrown over 200 innings this year. What's more, Kennedy has only lost one game in the second half of the season (the rain delay in Philadelphia), while pitching in a number of high-pressure games that befit a team in a pennant race. There are better ways to measure this than Win/Loss record, but it ultimately proves the same point as WPA: Ian Kennedy is currently the safest bet in baseball to keep his team competitive. Hey, if we're going to keep the useless W/L stat around, we may as well have some fun with it.
Speaking of Win/Loss records, Matt Cain has a career record of 69-72, with an ERA of 3.32. This is completely absurd. Among active pitchers since 2006, Matt Cain has the ninth-lowest ERA and he has a losing record. Every offensive player to put on a Giants uniform in the past six years, from Rich Aurilia to John Bowker to Miguel Tejada, owes Matt Cain a bouquet of roses and one of those "I'm Sorry" cards from Hallmark. It's the least they can do. Also, this completely undermines W/L record as a statistic, and as a result, kinda undermines my entire paragraph on Kennedy, but whatever.
Insightful Commentary: Josh Collmenter has only allowed more than three runs in consecutive starts twice all season, and he has never allowed more than three runs in three straight games. We've spent all season waiting with baited breath for Collmenter to implode, for hitters to stop being fooled by his nothing fastball, for the team to be forced to put him back in the bullpen, where he "belongs," but he simply hasn't let it happen. Every time it looks like his time is finally up, he bounces back the next time out, and I see no reason why it isn't going to continue.
Beyond clinching a playoff berth and knocking the Giants out of contention, the Diamondbacks have a golden opportunity in this series: with a win on Sunday, they can give Lincecum a losing record on the season. Think of all the times he has made Diamondback hitters look absolutely idiotic, and think of his stupid girl hair. The Diamondbacks have a chance to saddle him with a thoroughly undeserved bad record, and they should seize that opportunity. SHAME HIM.
Final Verdict: To reiterate: the Diamondbacks don't have to win a game in this series. I'd prefer if they did, it would be nice to win the thing at home, and nicer still to make Wilson, Lincecum et al. watch while the D-Backs celebrate, but ultimately all they have to do is win one game in their next six. But hey, the Diamondbacks are probably the better team, they're at home, and I'm feeling optimistic. Thus, I'll say Diamondbacks win the series and the division.
Feel free to stop by McCovey Chronicles, but don't be surprised if people over there aren't happy to see you.