SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - A series that for so long has been billed as an early September showdown between division rivals has suddenly turned into San Francisco’s last stand.
If the reigning World Series champion Giants want to keep any hopes alive of defending their title, they had better show up _ and score runs _ in this weekend’s crucial matchup with the first-place Arizona Diamondbacks.
The D-backs (78-59) hold a six-game lead in the NL West race with 25 to go for each club and are riding a nine-game winning streak. Both teams had the day off Thursday to rest up for what most certainly will be an intense, entertaining three days at sold-out AT&T Park.
Even the Giants acknowledge this very well could be make-or-break.
“I don’t see how it couldn’t be,” outfielder Pat Burrell said. “I think this team responds better when all the chips are out on the table. There’s no secret, these guys are coming in and they’ve proven they deserve to be where they’re at. And we’ve slipped, no doubt about it. But it isn’t over. We’re going to fight this thing out.”
General manager Brian Sabean shook things up Wednesday when he designated for assignment veterans Aaron Rowand and Miguel Tejada. Promising shortstop Brandon Crawford is among the reinforcements expected to arrive Friday as September callups for the reeling Giants.
San Francisco swept a three-game home series against Arizona from May 10-12 with three one-run wins, then the D-backs took two of three here Aug. 1-3 by beating All-Star aces Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum.
“Playing there is always really exciting,” Arizona 17-game winner Ian Kennedy said. “Their pitching staff, you know they’re going to throw well there. It’s kind of like a playoff atmosphere. I think this time is going to be a little more interesting because it’s flipped around. We were chasing them the last time there, now they’re chasing us.”
As always, Arizona skipper Kirk Gibson insists his team is sticking to its mantra: handling business that’s within the D-backs’ control, not worrying about what the Giants might be doing to tweak their roster and make a last-ditch run.
Even if that’s been challenging to do lately.
“It’s tough to not look at the Giants every day and what they’re doing, but I’m sure they’re doing the same thing, watching us,” Arizona center fielder Chris Young said. “We have a lot of tough games coming up and we have to prepare for those. And I feel like if we can do that, we’ll be all right.”
Nobody expects this division to be won just yet.
But Arizona has surprised the skeptics with its staying power and exceptional pitching under first-year general manager Kevin Towers. The banged-up Giants haven’t helped themselves by stumbling since the All-Star break, either.
“We’re pushing a big rock uphill,” Sabean said. “We know that we’re running out of games. But we’ve all been involved in seasons that have turned on the dime _ 1998 was an example, last year was an example. You never know what’s going to happen in the last month of the season. Strange things happen, so there’s still hope.”
San Francisco clinched its first NL West crown and playoff berth since 2003 on the final day of the 2010 regular season against San Diego. Then, the club made an improbable run through the Braves and favored Phillies on the way to capturing its first World Series championship since moving West from New York in 1958.