The Giants finally re-found the magic in September with an eight-game win streak. They’ve surged to within five games of the NL West and four games in the Wild Card race. Barring a collapse by one of the front-runners though, the math just doesn’t look that good. The Arizona Diamondbacks have cut their magic number to five, and could clinch before the weekend series with the Giants. Finishing ahead of the Dodgers is always the second-best thing that can happen for San Francisco fans, and that will get settled with the upcoming three-game set in Los Angeles. Tim Lincecum takes on Clayton Kershaw in the first game. Kershaw has won all four meetings between the aces this season.
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Carlos Beltran returned to health and to his usual impressive performance level and that along with a smoking-hot Pablo Sandoval has done much to improve the Giants offense. Will the Giants be players in the Beltran sweepstakes? The only other Scott Boras client on the team is Barry Zito, and one expects the ownership to be leery of another such deal. Zito is still owed over $40 million and will be lucky to grab the fifth spot in the rotation next season. Beltran is certainly attractive, and fills a gaping need for the club, but is an injury-risk at 34 and certainly on the downside of his great career.
Managing General Partner Bill Neukom, despite being the point man in the team’s championship season, was ousted by the other partners in an apparent dispute over dollars. Much of the story is still emerging, but it is clear this was not a friendly divorce. Neukom maintains at least a symbolic role as Chairman Emeritus, a new position within the organization. Whether one of the other major partners steps up to fill the void remains to be seen. In the interim, long-time insider Larry Baer was anointed CEO and that reduces the likelihood of a dramatic shake-up. He’s been with the team since 1992 and served as right-hand man to both Peter Magowan and Neukom. Bruce Bochy and Brian Sabean are both under contract for 2012, and the draft and scouting personnel are well-ensconced in the heierarchy.
Fans can be forgiven, however, for being fearful of tight purse strings with the change. With key parts of the young core reaching either arbitration or free agency, there might not be money enough to keep them together and sign impact free agents. Beltran will cost a bundle, and a big prize like Jose Reyes may be unattainable. Nonetheless things look good for the team in the short term. Youngsters Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, and Eric Surkamp are gettting the playing time they need. Overlooked slugger Brett Pill is forcing his way into the mix with big hits and polished play. Buster Posey‘s rehab is ahead of schedule. Madison Bumgarner, all of 22, has stepped up as the the third gun behind Lincecum and Matt Cain.
The Giants will most likely be watching the playoffs, but with a strong finish can hold their heads up proudly. The rash of key injuries was the biggest thing that derailed the championship defense. The endless scrambling and shuffling to plug the holes ultimately took its toll. Some poor perfomances by key players didn’t help either. In the end, though, it’s all about a spirited effort by a well-run team in Arizona to take the NL West title away from the champs. Like the ballplayers say, sometimes you just have to “tip your cap” to the other guy.