Playing in a league that is little more than a pumped- up minor league has allowed the Giants to get into the playoff race and given Barry Bonds a chance to resurrect his career.
The National League is a serious embarrassment. Going into Thursday’s games, only six of the 16 teams were over .500. Two sub.500 teams were among the six in the wild card race.
Because of the glut of inferior NL teams, it’s relatively easy for a team to put on the kind of spurt the Giants have in the last month. It will continue to be that way for the Giants down the stretch. They have only six games against teams that are over .500, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Dodgers, in the season-ending series at China Basin, and neither of those teams are far over .500.
So, the Giants have been able to hang on in both the wild-card and divisional races, though the NL West title is a real long shot.
On the field, the two biggest reasons for their resurgence are Bonds and the young pitchers, especially Matt Cain.
Earlier, it seemed likely that Bonds’ career would end this season. Now, it seems almost certain he’ll be back in a Giants uniform next season — if they can agree on a contract substantially less than the $18 million he’s currently getting. Ignore Bonds’ contradictory statements about whether he will return. He’s always wanted to if he could do it without embarrassing himself. And now, it appears he can. He’s even making plays on the field now and he’s hitting home runs at a pace that makes breaking Hank Aaron’s career record seem entirely feasible.
Management has always wanted Bonds to break that record in a Giants uniform.
It was supposed to happen this year, but that plan was delayed when Bonds missed most of last season with three knee surgeries. The Giants will be willing to extend that plan a year. The steroids buzz around Bonds won’t be a problem because Bonds hears nothing but cheers in his home park.
From a practical standpoint, the Giants will need Bonds’ bat. They’ll be able to free up some salary with the reduction in his salary and the expected departures of Jason Schmidt and Ray Durham (good offense but a defense that has gone from mediocre to awful), but that may not help in what is looming as a weak free-agent market. Carlos Lee and Alfonso Soriano may be available, but the price on each will probably be bid up beyond reason. Lee has already declined a four-year, $48 million a year offer from Milwaukee.
The Giants probably won’t need great hitting to stay in playoff contention next season because of the development of their young pitchers. In the second half, Cain has become the pitcher we all thought he could be. Barring serious injury, this young man will be a star for many years. He’s already the Giants’ best starter, as Schmidt continues to fade.
And, of course, never forget that the Giants are in the National League. If they were in the American League, it would require major surgery to get them into contention. But in the NL, a team that can finish three to four games over .500 is golden.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.