Maybe the Giants just don’t like the dog days of August. Maybe they need the urgency of a September stretch run to get fully locked in.
Whatever the case, after spotting themselves a healthy deficit in the NL West with a losing August for the second straight year, the Giants sure looked plenty comfortable with first-place Arizona in town on Friday night to kick off the final month.
Can the turn of a calendar page make that much of a difference? It sure did a year ago, when the Giants used an 18-10 September to reverse their August struggles and clinch their first division title since 2003. And for one night at least, it certainly seemed like they are plenty capable of doing an about-face to make another dramatic run to the playoffs with their 6-2 win over the Diamondbacks.
The Giants entered the three-game series on the brink of falling out of postseason contention after going 11-18 in August -- what manager Bruce Bochy termed an “awful” month – to fall six games behind surging Arizona, which had won a season-high nine straight games. After San Francisco had lost the opening game of 12 straight series dating back to mid-July, the collateral damage of a loss Friday might well have delivered the final blow to its postseason hopes.
Instead, it was the Giants who looked loose and at ease in overcoming a 1-0 first-inning deficit behind some sorely-needed pop and another stellar outing from Matt Cain.
It’s far too early to call the big win a harbinger. San Francisco still trails the Diamondbacks by five games with 24 to play. And if Arizona turns around and wins the next two games to take the series, the Giants will almost surely be rendered spectators come October.
But Friday’s performance had all the makings of a victory that could signal another late push by the Giants.
An offense that has been abysmal since the All-Star break – San Francisco came into the game as the MLB-worst by far in batting (.229) and slugging (.340), among numerous categories – hammered five extra-base hits and drew six walks. Carlos Beltran blasted a home run (just his second in 21 games with San Francisco) and a triple while compiling his first four-hit game in more than four years. Cody Ross, mired in a 0-for-13 slump that lowered his average to .229, erupted with a two-run homer and a booming double.
And Cain was his usual steady self, recovering to throw eight innings after working out of a rough first inning with minimal damage.
Nevertheless, there is much work to be done. Arizona remains on pace for 92 wins; the Giants 86.
Even if San Francisco goes 16-8 from here on out – a great closing surge -- that would leave the defending champs at 89-73. Would that be enough to top the Diamondbacks?
On this date a year ago, the Giants were 74-61, and three games behind NL West-leading San Diego. Now they are 73-65, and trying to climb out of a five-game hole.
Once again, they need a September to remember. And then to hope that would be enough.