Giants first baseman Darin Ruf will play a key role in keeping the team sharp as the playoffs approach.<ins> (Chris Victorio/Special to The Examiner)</ins>

Giants first baseman Darin Ruf will play a key role in keeping the team sharp as the playoffs approach. (Chris Victorio/Special to The Examiner)

Nine Giants to watch in the late innings of the season

If they find a groove, the ballclub will thrive

By Chris Haft

Special to The Examiner

The Giants still have serious business to address despite the likelihood of clinching a postseason spot.

Here’s a snapshot of nine Giants — since that figure happens to be an operative baseball number — who still have something to prove or momentum to build by the time October arrives. They’re listed in no particular order. If they find a groove, the ballclub surely will thrive.

Buster Posey, catcher: The Giants hope that the season-long pacing of Posey’s playing time will enable the 34-year-old to remain energetic through October. Posey caught every pitch during the Giants’ World Series-winning postseasons in 2010, 2012 and 2014. Though Curt Casali might be the Major Leagues’ best backup catcher, San Francisco probably would feel more comfortable with Posey holding the car keys for the pitching staff and never relinquishing them.

Mike Yastrzemski, outfielder: When he’s thriving offensively, he fits anywhere in the Giants’ batting order. For Yastrzemski to regain his rhythm, he must shrug off whatever malaise it was that ailed him in August, when he batted .198 (17-for-86) with 25 strikeouts and four walks. “We’ve seen Yaz when he’s at his most confident,” Giants manager Gabe Kapler said. “He can carry a team for a long time.”

Jake McGee, closer: Any ballclub must maintain faith in its closer, particularly when the postseason approaches. Doubt can fester if it corrodes a team’s psyche even the smallest bit when a victory must be sealed. The words “uh-oh” not only must never be spoken; they also shouldn’t even be thought. McGee’s performance has been uneven since he was named National League reliever of the month in July (4.11 ERA in 21 August-September outings through Sept. 9). The Giants would look truly ready for their first postseason of the Kapler era if McGee were to regain that look of a shutdown closer.

Kevin Gausman, right-hander: Like the closer, the staff ace often shapes the club’s mood even when he’s not pitching. An elite starter gives his team a feeling of invincibility. Winning seems almost inevitable when he goes to work. Many believe that Logan Webb has replaced Gausman as San Francisco’s ace. But the team has viewed Gausman as its No. 1 man all season, and roles like that don’t shift easily. That’s why it was a big deal when Gausman lasted seven innings at Colorado on Sept. 6, ending a streak of 10 consecutive starts in which he didn’t last that long. The Giants won their first San Francisco-era World Series in 2010 largely because Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain were so dominant. Gausman and Webb can help lead a similar surge.

Evan Longoria, third baseman: San Francisco’s lineup looks a lot deeper when he’s in it. He strengthens the team at two positions: his own, obviously, and the outfield, since his presence at third enables Kapler to use Kris Bryant in left, center or right. Furthermore, Longoria’s still capable of prodigious efforts, and his credentials give him a certain gravitas whenever he’s on the field.

Kris Bryant, third baseman-outfielder: Speaking of Bryant, soon would be a good time for him to flex his hitting muscles. The trade deadline acquisition has provided glimpses of his considerable talent. But he owns a .229 batting average in 39 career postseason games despite batting only .229 through Sept. 9. A strong regular-season finish from Bryant would send the message that he’s primed for October.

Brandon Crawford, shortstop: He has sustained the team’s success all year by playing ceaselessly at an All-Star level. He doesn’t have to do anything different. He’s postseason-ready right now. Through Sept. 9, he has batted .352 since July 1. The Giants are simply hoping that he can remain healthy.

Darin Ruf, first baseman-outfielder: He established himself as an intriguing option for the leadoff spot by reaching base safely in six of 11 plate appearances during his first two starts in that role. He has quietly remained a valuable offensive source, leading the team with a .946 OPS through Sept. 9 despite ranking 10th in plate appearances. Look for Kapler to continue to search for creative ways to get the right-handed batter in the lineup.

Jose Quintana, left-hander: He has shown the aptitude for working multiple innings, which the Giants could need if they’re forced to assemble groups of relievers to handle the pitching chores. They have other relievers who can record four or five outs. But few, if anybody, can match the 3 1/3 innings Quintana pitched in his Giants debut on Aug. 31 against Milwaukee.

Chris Haft is a long-time baseball writer who covers the Giants for The Examiner.

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