Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Diamondbacks strike a Giant move in N.L. West

While the Yankees and Red Sox continue to fight it out in the A.L. East, probably to the final week and no one seems to be able to, “hold that Tiger” in the A.L. Central, it’s the N.L. West where a wild turn has taken place, in baseball’s tight races. Just three weeks ago the defending World Champion Giants held a three game lead in the division. Management added slugger Carlos Beltran, after putting 2nd baseman Jeff Keppinger’s name on the roster. San Francisco appeared ready to make a “giant” push into the post-season and go after a serious run for back to back titles. Like the fog rolling in at AT&T Park on a fall night, it’s amazing how quickly things can change.

There are still 39 games left in the division race and the regular season. But with just six games remaining between the Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks, it’s last year’s division winner who will have to play catch up! Not only has Arizona won seven straight games and turned a three game deficit into a three and a half game lead, but they’ve done it with clutch hitting not incredible pitching, which is usually baseball’s formula for fall success. The Snakes have come from behind in six of their last eight victories! That’s the type of energy that breeds the attitude that, “we’re always in the game”! Believing you can win is half the battle for a young team like the Diamondbacks, who seem to grow a little bit with each and every victory. On Tuesday night at Citizen’s Bank Park, Arizona trailed the National League’s top pitcher Roy Halladay and baseball top team, the Phillies, 2-1 heading into the top of the 9th. Nine out of ten times that game is over, especially when Doc Halladay had retired the last 12 hitters entering the final three outs. But after starting the inning with two singles, newcomer Lyle Overbay stepped up and crushed a one-out double to right-center field. Both Justin Upton and Collin Cowgill scored as Arizona again rallied for the 3-2 win. Sure four D-Backs pitchers held the Fightin’ Phils to just nine hits and two runs, but how about those clutch at bats in the 9th?

Meanwhile in Atlanta the tables continue to turn on the Giants. After back to back one-run loses, San Francisco is now 2-3 on its ten game road trip. They’ve lost 13 of their last 18 games overall and have dropped to 3-5 in one-run games in the second half of the season. This is a far change of direction and chemistry from a team that won 24 of 36, one-run games in the first half of the year. The biggest problem has been lurking in the dugout for sometime, a lack of offense. Over the last 18 games, the Giants have averaged just 2.4 runs per game. The big hits Pat Burrell, Cody Ross and Aubrey Huff contributed last season in the title run are now few and far between. Add in the fact only pitchers Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong have consistently given the team long outings and you’re begging to win three out of every five games from your starters. Add in the fact the newly acquired Beltran, brought in specifically to land the big hit missing from the attack is now on the disabled list with a wrist problem and it’s all adding up to the Giants fantasy from a year ago, slowly coming to a wake-up call.

There is still time for the Giants to make up a small three and a half game deficit, especially with six meeting still to take place between the first and second place teams. But as baseball’s dog days of August continue to roll on, it’s the defending champs with their injuries and fortunes turning, who are on the verge of being “snake-bit” for the division title and a spot in baseball’s post-season.

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