A: Well, duh. The only time when you're leading a race at any point and don't have a realistic chance to win that race is if you're riding a bike across France and your name isn't Lance Armstrong.
As of Monday, the Giants were alone atop the Wild Card standings. No matter how close or how many teams are chasing them, they have a real shot at the playoffs. The question really becomes, which playoff spot can the Giants get?
While the Giants lead the wild card race, they are 5 games out in the division. Certainly, that's an unlikely deficit, but not entirely impossible. The Giants' best chance to gain some ground was the past week, when the Giants were playing the D-Backs (the worst team in the Majors), and the Dodgers were playing the Cardinals (the best). Overall, the Giants made up only 3 games over that period, which is a bit disappointing. However, the Giants still have 6 games left to play against the Dodgers, and a sweep isn't entirely out of the question. But it is unlikely.
The wild card is very possible, and one might even say likely. The Giants still have games against two of their four rivals in the wild card race, including three against the hottest team in the race, Houston. Their other closest rival, the Cubs, have an extremely easy schedule the rest of the way. Then again, the Cubs have gone 5-5 in their last ten, had some weak showing against bad teams like the Expos, and have no days off left (and a makeup double header against Florida). With a staff and offense as potent as they've got, they can wake up out of their relative funk at any time, but they should have a long time ago. Who knows if they'll do it soon enough to make a difference.
So, yes, if you've put a deposit down towards post-season tickets for the Giants, you'll probably not be getting that deposit back.
#2: Will Jerome Williams rejoin the rotation this year?
A: Yes. Well, unless something unforeseen happens (I'm trying to avoid a jinx here).
Jerome pitched a short, simulated game on Friday, and will likely go through two more this week before pitching in a non-simulated game. He'll throw another one likely on Tuesday, and the return date should be right around the 24th of this month, which will give him one or two starts before the end of the year.
Now, is it smart to throw in a pitcher right off of surgery without any rehab into crucial end of the year games? Maybe not, but Jerome was in the stretch and the playoffs last year, and even if he didn't perform then, it might be a better choice than the rookie Noah Lowry, who Williams would probably replace.
#3: Will Jesse Foppert have a role on the team this year?
A: Just what the heck is it with pitchers on this team suffering injuries?
Foppert should do something for the Giants this year, but it won't be as a starter. Keep an eye on any of his appearances the rest of this year. Even though he hasn't thrown since being called up with the September roster expansion, he should appear in relief for the team, probably in the upcoming series against the Brewers. His performance would dictate whether or not he'd take on a role in the playoffs, but bet on it.
Foppert's fastball and movement could make him a very effective reliever, particularly in the playoffs. With most teams not having a chance to scout Foppert ahead of time, he could have a K-Rod sort of impact, ideally. But first things first, the Giants will have to see how effective he can be against the Dodgers and Padres.
#4: Will anyone pitch to Barry?
A: Sure. And by sure, I mean, never when it counts. Of course, when Barry hits home runs these days, they count, but not the way I mean.
Unfortunately, Barry's got a little catch 22 situation going. Teams that are in the playoff chase, and racing against the Giants at that (which is everyone after the Milwaukee series), aren't going to give Barry any chance to be a deciding factor in a game, unless the walk they hand Bonds turns into a run. But, in that case, he'll have to rely on at least one, if not two or more, teammates. That is still a shaky proposition, particularly if it's Marquis Grissom.
But then there's teams that are out of it, like Arizona this past weekend. Arizona manager Al Pedrique said "I don't want him to do anything at home…In this game, you've got to have a lot of pride…I'm sorry for the fans, I'm sorry for baseball, but that's the way it is." Sure, it's a matter of pride, bucko, But which milestone is going to look worse coming against you: him becoming the third member of the 700 home run club, or the first ever member of the 200 walk club? Good choice, Mr. Interim Manager. Just don't expect the fans to support extending your stint.
#5: Is Jason Schmidt going to win the Cy Young? Is he going to at least return to his Cy Young favorite form?
A: That's two questions, but I won't penalize you. Schmidt's Cy Young victory certainly isn't the lock it was a month ago, but he's not out of it. But as for his form returning, that's already happening. Granted, his last start was giving up 2 runs against the Diamondbacks, but it was a complete game with only 4 hits and 2 walks. His velocity is fine, and his control of his fastball and changeup, which had disappeared after suffering his groin pull, seemed to reappear. One start against the worst team in the NL does not make a return, but he's definitely on his way.
#6: Do the Giants have enough pitching to pull this off?
A: Sure. But only because they've cut down their rotation.
In case you haven't heard, the Giants plan to go with 4 starting pitchers the rest of the way, thanks to an unusually prodigious amount of days off. That reduces the number of games that rookies have to start during a big playoff run. Nothing against Brad Hennessey, but he's not the ideal pitcher to have going for you in these games. And while expanding the roster to 40 has boosted the bullpen's numbers, Hennessey's addition to the bullpen could be a boon in itself.
Hennessey has a heck of a slider, and he can make other teams look silly with it. However, teams do better once they've seen him the 3rd time through the order. In the bullpen, that won't be a problem. Some analysts have projected him to be a setup man, and he could get a chance to show how good he'd be this month, and perhaps even in the playoffs.
#7: Isn't anyone afraid of the Padres?
A: You mean, aside from their fans being afraid of more disappointment after raised hopes?
Look, in all seriousness, the Padres have their own Cy Young Candidate in Jake Peavy, and an offense that can be quite explosive, if not the power hitters everyone expected before realizing Petco Park was so big. And they're only 2.5 games behind the Giants. But, that puts them at 7.5 games behind the Dodgers in the division race, and tied for 4th place in the Wild Card race. With four other teams they're competing with in the wild card race, which would make them overcoming all those teams very unlikely. So, their playoff chances in either race remain very remote.
What are scarier is the 6 games the Giants still have against them. The Giants have had a pitiful record against the Padres this season (3-10 to be precise). But the Padres have had the luxury of meeting the extremely streaky Giants during bad streaks. And though the Padres may not remain in the actual race for too long, they may remain motivated by spoiler status. The good news is that they will have that motivation in the 7 games they have left against Los Angeles as well as against the Giants.
The Padres will have an effect on these races. But they won't be doing it from the top of either, only affecting whoever does end up at the top.
#8: Of the September callups, who might be back in the Orange, Black and Vanilla Cream next year?
A: You mean other than who I already mentioned (Jesse Foppert)?
Start with Jason Ellison. Ellison's always flown beneath the prospect radar because of his age, but he's not worthless. He caught some people's attention by having a great debut in Fresno after a callup from San Jose in 2002, but he had a terrible year last year, which seemed to stem from a quick callup and send down from San Francisco early in the year. But he rebounded this year, batting over .300 again and earning the moniker of ‘Best Defensive Outfielder' in the PCL by Baseball America. He's shown that he's a patient hitter with speed, and he's an excellent defender. He may not ever become a full-time major league starter, but a fast, patient hitter with special defensive abilities is a great option for a bench player.
Then there's Brian Dallimore, who is, of course, older than Ellison. He's made a great impression on the Giants and their fans, and Snow's alluded to the help Dallimore gave him while Snow was rehabbing in Fresno, which is when Snow started his career best hitting this year. But Dallimore is also versatile, and can play all four infield positions. With the Giants recently publicly announcing that they plan to give current utility man Pedro Feliz a starting job (somewhere) next year, Dallimore seems like a good, inexpensive option to replace Feliz as the all around backup infielder.
#9: Where will Bonds' 700th home run land?
A: The way Bonds hit 699, I'm not entirely convinced that it'll land as much as bury itself into the ground like NASA's Genesis probe.
Bond's home run chase is not really connected to the Giants' playoff run, but it certainly could become a distraction and factor. As shown above, it lends to everyone, even losing teams, trying to avoid becoming a part of history, no matter how chicken poop it is to be that way. And Milwaukee is certainly not in any playoff chase.
The last time Bonds was in Milwaukee just ahead of a milestone, it was April 2001, and people were looking at 500, not 70. But the circumstances were different: Bonds came to Milwaukee in the middle of a slump, but got hot and hit 3 home runs in Milwaukee to be within 1 of 500 coming home to San Francisco. Perhaps this time the Brewers won't pitch to him. Perhaps 700 will last until he returns to San Francisco, again.
But if I were in Vegas, I'd put money on it landing somewhere in Wisconsin.
#10: When it's all said and done, do you really think the Giants have any hopes for the World Series?
A: Absolutely. Why don't you?
Okay, sure, it's a long shot. A real long shot. But the playoffs are called the ‘second season' for a reason. Anyone in it at the beginning has a shot. When was the last time the best team in the playoffs actually won the series? Does anyone think the Marlins were the best team of 2003? That Anaheim was in 2002?
Heck, look at Giants playoff teams in recent years. Out of 2000, 2002 and 2003's teams, which team was the best? Well, that's debatable between the two 100 win teams. But which team was the least impressive, the least powerful, and the one with the lowest expectations? It was also the only one of those teams that made it to the Series.
In the playoffs, heart becomes just as important as talent. Perhaps more so. A streaky team can win short series over better, consistent teams. And the Giants have shown a lot of heart, and more streakiness than some fans can bear. And this is a team that has shown it's ability to defeat even the Cardinals and Red Sox, when they try.
So yes, no matter the odds, the Giants have a chance.
But they have to make the playoffs first.
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