EXTRA BAGGS: Assessing the Giants after 159 games, etc.


EXTRA BAGGS: Assessing the Giants after 159 games, etc.

SAN DIEGO In a sense, the Giants 7-5 victory at PetcoPark had all the markings of one of their comeback victories from down thestretch in 2010.

Simply substitute Xavier Nady for Pat Burrell and cast HunterPence in the role of Juan "Jazz Hands" Uribe. Their home runs in the ninth inning gave theGiants a sudden and stirring 7-5 victory over the Padres at Petco Park.

But in so many other respects, this is not the same teamthat so memorably squeaked into the playoffs two years ago. Their pitchersdont have near the run of dominance heading into an NL Division Series, and aswe all know, pitching is what usually leads to trophy hoisting, stingingcorneas and the like.

Tim Lincecum, for all his brave face, is not Tim Lincecumanymore. And for all the teams success in holding a bullpen together without atrue closer, the Giants will miss Brian Wilsons bravado more in October thanany other month. Someone has to have the stones to throw that last pitch to naildown a postseason series. Aside from Wilson, nobody in a Giants uniform has anyexperience doing that.

But every year is unto itself, with a different set of namesand chemistry and circumstances.

Here is where the NL West champion Giants stand right now,with three games remaining in the regular season:

Theyre going to open at home as the No.3 seed unless theylose the last three and the Reds win their last three. Their opponent could bethe Reds or Nationals; the two teams have identical records after the Reds wonand the Nats lost on Sunday. But Washington holds the tiebreaker by virtue ofwinning the season series. So theres still a better likelihood itll beCincinnati.

It hasnt been announced that Matt Cain will start for theGiants in Game 1 on Saturday at AT&T Park. But it also hasnt beenannounced that I have a nose in the middle of my face.

I would be surprised if its anyone but Cain and MadisonBumgarner in the first two games, both because Bumgarner has pitched so muchbetter at home and because hes looked upon as the second most trustworthystarter of the bunch

As for Cain hes Matt Cain.

Under this (one-time only!) 2-3 format, the lower seedpretty much has to throw the best two guys and hope to sweep their two homegames. I think thats how the Giants will decide to line them up.

I also think youll see Lincecum start Game 3, in spite ofhis wretched season. As Bochy said, Lincecum is a rise to the occasion typeof guy. And as we reported today, Lincecum has been told he will be a part of the postseason rotation. (Although it was unclear who, exactly, delivered that message.)

But as Lincecum himself acknowledged Sunday, he cannot expect to get along leash if he struggles. Ryan Vogelsong has much more experience in reliefthan Barry Zito, so Id expect that Vogelsong would unbutton a jacket in ahurry if Lincecum is out of whack in the early innings.

That would leave Zito for Game 4, right? Well, thats myguess, too. But only if the Giants are leading the series. Actually, my guessis that the Giants wont announce a Game 4 starter at the outset. If they faceelimination, it might be more likely that theyll bring back Cain on shortrest.

Remember, Bochy is the wily skipper who used three-fourthsof his playoff rotation in a clinching Game 6 victory at Philadelphia in theNLCS two years ago. And that was a non-elimination game.

During the regular season, the smart money is always topredict that Bochy will make the conservative move. In the playoffs, all betsare off. Its all decks on hand, as he himself once famously said.

One other thing to keep in mind: Two years ago, the Giants opened the postseason against an injury-wrecked Braves team that limped to the wild card with a skeleton crew in their lineup. This time, the Giants are guaranteed to face a powerhouse. So that's one more reason the pitching needs to step up, and fast.

Nady hit his pinch home run to dead center not far fromwhere Cameron Maybin robbed him by reaching over the wall a night earlier. Thisone was hit a little deeper, and Maybin mustve left his Go-Go Gadget arm inhis car.

It also should be noted that Nadys homer came off aright-hander, Huston Street, who had not given up a home run all season.(Street hadnt given up a homer since Aug. 1, 2011, when he was wearing aRockies uniform.)

It begs the question: Would Bruce Bochy consider startingNady in left field against right-handers in the postseason?

Bochy did go as far as to caution that left field wouldntbe a straight platoon between Nady and Gregor Blanco.

No, not necessarily, Bochy said. Weve talked about it,the matchups, and the defense, speed and (Nadys) bat. These are things weretalking about. In the meantime, hes getting his at-bats and hes getting moreand more comfortable out there.

One other advantage to starting Nady: It would allow Blancoto provide another option off the bench to get a bunt down or pinch-run.

Not only had Huston Street not given up a homer all year,but he hadnt been dealt a loss or blown a save.

As the great Bill Center of the San Diego Union Tribunewrote it: Gone, gone and gone twice.

Xavier Nady and Hunter Pence hit home runs in the ninthinning to save Tim Lincecum from his 16th loss.

If you told me in spring training that Id be typing thatsentence on Sept. 30, Id assume you escaped the drunk tank at the city jailbeyond the center field fence at Scottsdale Stadium.

Come to think of it, that must be the shortest distance inAmerica between a drunk tank and an actual beer line.

The Dodgers are two games behind St. Louis for the finalwild card spot. They could be eliminated with a Cardinals victory and a loss tothe Giants on Monday night.

Nothing would give the Giants greater pleasure or theirfans, to be sure.

This series at Dodger Stadium might be exactly what theGiants need a motivated opponent throwing quality pitching at them to helpthem get tuned up for the postseason.

As advantageous as the Giants downy soft schedule has beenin September, they havent faced many high-level arms. And theyre sure to seegood ones (Mat Latos, Gio Gonzalez, etc.) very soon.

So ending the season with Clayton Kershaw on Wednesday couldbe constructive, for once.

Plus, theres the chance to eliminate the Dodgers. And youdont need to be Wayne Franklin to realize thats a good thing.

Giants lineup: Belt in left field, Kelby at second base

Giants lineup: Belt in left field, Kelby at second base

Programming note: Dodgers-Giants coverage starts today at 11:30am with Giants Pregame Live on NBC Sports Bay Area, and streaming live right here.

Dave Roberts and Bruce Bochy issued their lineups for today's series finale at AT&T Park:

Dodgers (10-12)
1. Enrique Hernandez (R) CF
2. Corey Seager (L) SS
3. Justin Turner (R) 3B
4. Yasiel Puig (R) RF
5. Chris Taylor (R) 2B
6. Austin Barnes (R) C
7. Scott Van Slyke (R) 1B
8. Cody Bellinger (L) LF
9. Julio Urias (L) P

Giants (8-14) 
1. Hunter Pence (R) RF
2. Brandon Belt (L) LF
3. Eduardo Nunez (R) SS
4. Buster Posey (R) 1B
5. Christian Arroyo (R) 3B
6. Nick Hundley (R) C
7. Kelby Tomlinson (R) 2B
8. Gorkys Hernandez (R) CF
9. Matt Moore (L) P (1-3, 5.87 ERA)

Morse, Arroyo stun Dodgers, lift Giants to thrilling comeback win

Morse, Arroyo stun Dodgers, lift Giants to thrilling comeback win

SAN FRANCISCO — This spring, Hunter Pence briefly tried to cut back on his coffee intake. The experiment did not last long for a player who is pure caffeine on and off the field, but even Pence is occasionally in need of more than a large cold brew. 

Pence tried to stay upbeat throughout a sluggish start to the season, but around him was a clubhouse in need of energy. Christian Arroyo walked through the door on Monday. Two days later, Michael Morse arrived.

“That’s quite an energy jolt,” Pence said of Arroyo. “Morse, it’s been an energy jolt as well.”

The two recent River Cats sent a pair of jolts through a stadium that was sold out for the 499th consecutive time. Arroyo hit a two-run homer in the seventh, his first in the big leagues. Morse went deep in the eighth for his first big league hit in two years and first homer as a Giant since the 2014 NLCS. 

Pence is close friends with Morse and an admirer of Arroyo, the 21-year-old who has taken a locker a few feet away. He made sure neither jolt went to waste, hitting a walk-off sacrifice fly in the 10th to give the Giants a thrilling 4-3 win they hope they can build on.

“That was a shot in the arm,” Morse said.

The big slugger was just that earlier Wednesday. Morse agreed to terms on a minor league deal at Pence’s wedding last winter and he was on track for Opening Day before a hamstring injury. He was so excited by Wednesday’s call back to San Francisco that he beat Bruce Bochy to the park. The manager tried to lower expectations before the game, telling reporters that Morse would not be a regular starter, especially in left, where the Giants have watched a black hole open. 

Morse was here for the late innings, for the moment when Bochy looks at him and says simply, “Get ready, Mo.” For most of Wednesday’s game, it looked like that big moment wouldn’t come. Alex Wood took a no-hitter into the sixth but he was pulled in the seventh by a Dodgers staff trying to protect his arm. Sergio Romo entered and soon faced a kid who was 19 the first time he walked into Romo’s clubhouse. 

“He’s been doing the same thing in the big leagues with good results for a long time,” Arroyo said. 

Arroyo got the slider that’s always coming, low and away, and he drilled it deep to left-center. He hit only three homers last year but Giants management felt the 36 doubles at Richmond showed a developing power bat. The strength has come quickly, and the ball carried into the first row of seats. 

“I looked up and saw the ump waving and I was like, ‘I’ve got to slow down,’” Arroyo said, smiling. “I tried to slow down and take it all in.”

As Arroyo crossed the plate and looked to the sky, his family shared hugs — without spilling a nacho — in a section overlooking the home dugout. The ballpark roared. A 3-0 deficit had been nearly erased. 

“Now it’s a one-run game,” Bochy said. “Anything can happen.”

Even by that standard, Morse’s blast was improbable. This is a player who didn’t have a hit last season before being sent home by the Pittsburgh Pirates. A player who, at 35, was having a poor spring before he announced to a reporter one day that he was going to hit a homer -- and then promptly did. On a rehab assignment over the past week, Morse had a .250 average and no homers, but he insisted to general manager Bobby Evans that his swing was ready. 

Evans believed, and Morse rewarded him with a moment that had everyone in the park throwing it back to 2014. Just as in the deciding game of the NLCS against the Cardinals, Morse was sent up as a pinch-hitter in the eighth. Sidewinding Pat Neshek was replaced by fire-balling Pedro Baez, but the approach was the same. 

“Swing hard,” Morse said. “Just in case you hit it.”

Baez kept pumping fastballs and Morse turned on one at 97 mph. He raised his arm the same way he did three years ago, an inning before Travis Ishikawa’s heroics. 

“I’m not going to lie,” Bochy said. “I was thinking about that game against St. Louis.”

All the Giants were. 

“You kind of just sit there and shake your head a little bit because it was very similar to his last homer here,” Posey said. “Even his excitement out of the box was similar.”

Morse said he didn’t intend to strike the same pose. 

“I was like, ‘I hope I didn’t strike out and I’m just running around the bases,’” he said, laughing. “It was cool, man. Not only for me, but for the team.”

For four innings, the surging bullpen made sure the homers would not be a fun footnote to another loss. Gorkys Hernandez kicked off the winning rally in the 10th with a single. He was pushed along by a stolen base, walk and bunt. Pence stepped in with no outs and engaged in one of the strangest battles of a career full of them. 

Ross Stripling, a starter with a deep repertoire, kept pumping 94 mph fastballs up near Pence’s eyes. Pence swung through one, fouled off five, and took three more for balls. Only one of the pitches he saw was in the strike zone. In the dugout, Posey shook his head in amusement. 

“It was kind of hard not to laugh,” Posey said. “He’s probably the only guy who can do that.”

Some Giants couldn’t hold the laughter in, even in a tense spot.

“He had that ‘Thou shall not walk’ going in that at-bat,” Bochy said. “He probably expanded as much as I’ve ever seen. If he would have walked it would have gone down as one of the more amazing walks with all the balls he swung at.”

On a night full of so much energy, a walk would have been an anticlimactic ending. Pence, who had been expecting a curveball the whole at-bat, lofted a 10th fastball deep enough to left to score Hernandez and send the Giants streaming out of the dugout. 

Arroyo, the youngest of them all, went sprinting across the infield. Morse followed, and soon he had Pence wrapped in a hug. Hours earlier, he had promised that at the very least, he would bring energy to the clubhouse. He delivered more than anyone could have imagined.

“To do that is one of those special moments that can change a season,” Pence said. “It was electric ... Morsey being Morsey.”