As I walked out of AT&T Park back in May following yet another dismal Giants loss, the queasy, uneasy feeling ripping at the guts of San Francisco fans undoubtedly made its way to management’s door.
It was pure April Fool’s to think the team that started the season could contend for a title. Credit the Giants’ three headed brain trust for turning it all around.
Instead of pretending there really was “magic” inside their waterfront ballpark, Bill Neukom, Larry Baer and Brian Sabean pulled off a series of trades, signings and call-ups like rabbits out of a hat.
Without Buster Posey, Pat Burrell, Jose Guillen, Cody Ross, Mike Fontenot, Chris Ray, Javier Lopez and Ramon Ramirez, the Giants would be done for the year and pondering an unsettled future. Instead, they get to open the National League Division Series at home against the banged-up Atlanta Braves, who have the worst road record (35-46) of all eight playoff teams.
The Braves do have a pair of solid 16-game winners in Derek Lowe (5-0, 1.17 ERA since September) and Tim Hudson. Both are low-ball pitchers likely to induce more than a few ground balls from the Giants, who hit into 158 double plays this season, second most in the majors.
But not only are the Braves missing their No. 3 starter, Jair Jurrjens, they are also without two of their top hitters, Chipper Jones and Martin Prado. In the tale of the tape, the Braves’ .258 team batting average is one point higher than the Giants’, who out-homered Atlanta 162-139 on the year.
The Giants have a big edge defensively, having committed only 73 errors to the Braves’ 126.
If it comes down to pitching, as it often does in a best-of-five series, the Giants get the nod with their majors-best 3.36 ERA, slightly better than Atlanta’s 3.56 ERA.
Equally important, Posey and Madison Bumgarner seem immune to the rookie jitters in crunch time. The Giants are sitting pretty. Rested and ready. They have a better rotation, deeper bullpen, healthier lineup with more power and home-field advantage fueled by some of the most rabid fans in baseball.
If that doesn’t add up to a trip to the NLCS, it may take till Christmas to untie the collective knots in the stomach of Giants fans.
Look for the $126-million man to be the 26th man on the Giants’ 25-player NLDS roster. Barry Zito, with only one win since July and never a favorite of Bruce Bochy, certainly didn’t help his cause by walking in two runs in losing to the San Diego Padres last Saturday. In a short series, he was destined to be the out man out of the rotation anyway. Meanwhile, fellow southpaw Dan Runzler hasn’t given up a run in five outings since returning from a dislocated kneecap.
The Braves often have as many as four left-handed hitters in their lineup: Jason Heyward, Eric Hinske, Brian McCann and Rick Ankiel. Who do you think Bochy would feel more comfortable calling in from the bullpen to get one of those guys out in the seventh or eighth inning? Runzler, a proven reliever, or Zito? I thought so.
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.