Walcoff: Giants putting it together for playoffs

It’s clinch-or-flinch time for the Giants.

Forget the wild card. That will likely go to the Atlanta Braves — who have the best home record in baseball — and host their final five games, three of which are against the Philadelphia Phillies who have nothing to play for.

So, it’s real simple for the Giants. Win four of their last five games and San Francisco captures the NL West outright.

It’s also decision time for Bruce Bochy on key players Pablo Sandoval, Barry Zito and Andres Torres. Heading into Tuesday, the Panda was just six for his last 39 at-bats with no homers and only two RBIs over the past 13 games. With an entire season hanging in the balance, it’s pretty basic. If you don’t hit, you sit. Sandoval’s recent defensive adventures at third base are another reason to use him sparingly.

Look for Bochy to give Zito one more shot. Even though the veteran southpaw has only one win since mid-July, he has pitched fairly well at home, 7-5, with a 3.19 ERA compared to 2-8, with a 5.09 ERA on the road. But don’t be surprised if Friday is Zito’s final start of the year.

In the best-of-five NLDS (and probably beyond that if they get there), the Giants will most likely go with a four-man rotation. Madison Bumgarner has clearly earned that fourth spot behind Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez. The 21-year-old rookie is growing more confident and imposing with every outing. Despite winning only once in the past month, Bumgarner has given up just four earned runs in his past five starts.

The Giants’ other question mark is Torres. As valuable as the switch-hitting center fielder has been and as much as San Francisco needs him at the top of the lineup, if he isn’t close to 100 percent recovered from his recent appendectomy, now is not the time to get sentimental.


The Smart choice


How excited are the Warriors about new coach Keith Smart? Longtime team broadcaster Jim Barnett told me he is like President Barack Obama. A great communicator. A charismatic leader. Players love him. Unfortunately, Smart’s prospects of molding the Warriors into a winner anytime soon are almost as daunting as the president’s challenge of turning around the economy. Nine of the 19 players in Warriors’ training camp were not even drafted.


Shaking things up


After the 49ers return from Atlanta on Sunday, beware of another Mike Singletary late-night film session. If the coach changed his mind about keeping offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye for the rest of the season after watching a replay of the ugly loss in Kansas City, who will Singletary bounce if the Falcons rough up the 49ers?

Take the wraps off Patrick Willis and ditch the deep zone while throwing in some corner or safety blitzes. Hopefully new offensive coordinator Mike Johnson will have a better plan to protect Alex Smith with more spread formations and designed rollouts. The 49ers’ biggest problem right now isn’t the quarterback or the secondary — it’s the guy with the headset stalking the sidelines.

KGO (810 AM) Sports Director Rich Walcoff can be heard weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m. on the KGO morning news. He can be reached at RichWalcoff@gmail.com.


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