I’m going to make this a quick one because of the 1:05 p.m. start today. Today is October 2, and the Giants’ magic number to win the NL West is 1 (2 for 1, get it?). I am not going to write this as if the NL West is a done deal because (a) it’s not and (b) I don’t want to anger any Baseball Gods with hubris.
But here’s what we can say. The 2021 San Francisco Giants have tied the 1904 New York Giants for the all-time franchise record for wins in a season at 106. The worst they can do at this point is fall into a Monday tiebreaker game against the Dodgers, which would be held in San Francisco because the Giants won the season series 10-9. One Giants win or one Dodgers loss and the Giants, not the Dodgers, will “own the West” this year.
How we got here
This has been an incredibly tight, tense division race. One month ago yesterday, on September 1, the Giants lost their fourth straight game and fell a half-game behind the Dodgers in the NL West, leading MLB.com to exult that “the Dodgers own the West” (complete with fireworks). Seventeen hours later, the Giants won a day game and went back into a tie for first, just as the Dodgers arrived in San Francisco for a Labor Day weekend showdown. The Giants won the first game–1 game up. The Dodgers won the second game–back to a tie. It didn’t look good for the third game, as Walker Buehler, who was at that point the leading Cy Young candidate, would face off against…Dom Leone and the Giants’ bullpen. That was during the stretch where Johnny Cueto was on the IL and Alex Wood had COVID. The winner of that final game on Sunday, September 5, would win the season series and the right to host a tiebreaker Game 163 if necessary (which we still hope it’s not).
Well, we all remember what happened next. The invincible Buehler was knocked around by the likes of Steven Duggar, a rookie reliever just recalled from AAA pitched out of a bases-loaded jam, and Jake McGee survived a terrifying ninth inning. The Dodgers left SF with a one-game deficit…and they have never since caught the Giants. The lead has gone between 1 and 2 games. No more than 2. No fewer than 1. So here we are. 2 for 1.
Since 9/4 when SF and LA were last tied for 1st at 86-50. Giants have gone 20-4(.833) and Dodger 18-6 (.750).
— Jimmy Verducci (@Nuschler) October 2, 2021
I’m getting the sense this week that Dodger Nation (fans, writers, maybe even the team) never really believed it could come to this. Of course the unstoppable machine that is the 2021 Dodgers would come out on top. Of course the no-name, over-the-hill, cheating/lucky Giants would falter. When the historians write about the Dodgers’ 20 straight division titles from 2013-2032, they’ll note how close the Dodgers came to not winning one in 2021–but of course they pulled it out at the very last possible second. Of course that’s how it’s going to go because, as we were told back in March, the 2021 Dodgers were destined to be the greatest team in baseball history.
Now, it’s still not over. (You hear that, Baseball Gods? I said Not. Over.) But Dodger Nation is actually beginning to understand that the Giants could win the West, and worse, there is nothing the Dodgers can do at this point to stop them. Ever since the day nearly a month ago that Walker Buehler couldn’t get it done but the Giants’ bullpen could, the Giants have controlled their own destiny. How is Dodger Nation taking this dawning realization? Thanks for asking. Not well. The same LA Times columnist who anointed the 2021 Dodgers the greatest team ever before a single pitch had been thrown was whining yesterday about how unfair the playoff system is–you know, the same system that’s been in place since 2012, the same one the Dodgers have benefited from as division winners for the past eight years. (OK, OK, I know 2020 was different.) An MLB.com writer was bemoaning that the “best team” could come in second and carefully lining up the excuses for if the Dodgers come up short: Well, Kershaw’s elbow and Bellinger’s shoulder and Betts’s whatever. (He did not, however, mention a certain disgraced Cy Young winner. I guess we’re not supposed to feel sorry for them about that.) Yeah, about that: The word “best” does not include “finished second” and “lost the season series to the team that came in first.” Sorry, folks.
But enough about them. If the Giants take care of their own business, we don’t have to spare another thought for the Bums in Blue unless we meet them in the NLDS. Let’s bask a bit in last night’s historic win. Here are the high points in what turned out to be a lovely, enjoyable evening.
- Another shutout: The Giants have won seven straight, and this was their second shutout this week. The Giants have 18 shutouts this season, one fewer than the Brewers and one more than the Dodgers.
- A nice outing for Anthony DeSclafani: “T-Bone” pitched five tidy innings and threw 71 pitches. He’s had a rough second half, injury-wise, but he finished strong, and if all goes well, he’ll get a bit of rest before his next start. I don’t think we talk enough about what a great year DeSclafani has had for the Giants. He finishes 13-7 with a 3.17 ERA in 167.2 innings and 31 starts. We knew he could be good, as he had a very nice 2019 with Cincinnati, but his 2020 was injury-marred, and we didn’t know how he’d hold up over a full season. He’s in the top 10-13 in the National League in all the important stats (wins, ERA, WHIP, batting average against).
- Camilo Doval: Young Mr. Doval got his third save in the last four games (3 for 3) and barely broke a sweat doing it. His success in the ninth inning this week made Grant Brisbee write a twitchy piece about “of course Jake McGee should still be the closer.” McGee is expected back this weekend, and Gabe Kapler was noncommittal about what his role and Doval’s would look like. (Not that anyone’s likely to ask my opinion, but I’m #TeamK-milo.)
- Just enough hitting: The Giants were actually out-hit 9-6, and I’m still worried about Evan Longoria, but they got a first-inning homer from Darin Ruf, an RBI single from Mike Yastrzemski, and a “mid-game LaMonte” sacrifice fly to provide a bit more breathing room. (Say what you will about what a train wreck the Padres have become, but they still have some guys who can hit.)
- Clean defense: The Giants won Thursday night’s game 5-4 on a dramatic walk-off single by LaMoney, but the game was a mess until that point. They were playing the team with the worst record in baseball, so they still escaped with a win. The manager seemed to learn something from that experience, as the starting outfield of Wade Jr., Yaz, and Ruf was way more competent than the night before, and he doubled down by inserting Duggar for defense late in the game. There were no errors, there were a couple of great plays by Longoria in particular (he may not be hitting, but boy is he valuable at 3B), and the game stayed a shutout because Yaz robbed a homer. He couldn’t catch it and it turned into a double when he knocked it back into play, but it was a tremendous effort, and DeSclafani pitched out of trouble. Yaz reminded us, between gritty ABs and all-out defense, why he was last year’s Willie Mac Award winner.
- LaMonte Wade Jr. and his mom: LaMoney was presented with the coveted Willie Mac Award last night, and how right did that feel? Not only was #44 up there watching (as Wade Jr. put it in his brief but classy speech), I bet he was smiling and fist-pumping. Then LaMonte’s awesome mom, Emily, threw the ceremonial first pitch to her boy, and she wasn’t half bad. I’ve seen way worse, and so has she.
Congratulations to the 2021 Willie Mac Award Winner, LaMonte Wade Jr. pic.twitter.com/9yhv7o2qyi
— Oracle Park (@OracleParkSF) October 2, 2021
Padres at Giants, 1:05 p.m. at Mays Field
Joe Musgrove (11-9, 3.22 ERA) vs. Kevin Gausman (14-6, 2.87 ERA)
This is the day it could get done, but it won’t be easy. Musgrove has been the Padres’ best pitcher this season, something no one was predicting back in January, but good for him. Gausman’s last start was excellent, and he said he figured something out mechanically to get his wipeout splitter back in action, but he’s had a tough second half. Meanwhile, Cy Young candidate Corbin Burnes (who may have the inside track after a couple of late bad outings by Max Scherzer) will pitch for the Brewers down in LA tonight…but hopefully that will just be nice for him and we won’t care.
The Leftys (me and the Mr as well as BrotherLefty) will be at the park tomorrow. We are hoping that we’re just relaxing and celebrating the Giants’ great season, not biting our nails, but who knows? This is one of those times I wish I could look 48 hours ahead and know what happened. Nonetheless–we all should be so very proud of this amazing team and so grateful for this unforgettable season. Lefty out.
P.S. I almost forgot. Andres Torres didn’t get or ignored the memo about the mustard-colored polo shirts that the former Willie Mac winners would be wearing. (And why were our WMA winners wearing Padres colors, anyway? SMH.) Anyway, Andres Torres says hi. OK, now I’m really out!