Yesterday’s game was quite a rollercoaster ride, as illustrated by the win probability graph.
The Giants couldn’t have gotten off to a better start, as Barry Zito set down the top of the Diamondbacks’ lineup in order in the first inning, striking out Aaron Hill and Justin Upton. It was the first time he had recorded two strikeouts in the first inning of a start since July 16, 2010. And then the Giants nearly batted around in the bottom half of the first inning, scoring four runs on five hits. Barry Zito came back out in the second inning and struck out the side. Through two innings, he had five strikeouts — already tied for the second-most of any outing he’s had this season. He was getting whiffs left and right, and he had no trouble throwing strikes. In other words, he looked as sharp as ever.
It had that feel of an easy Giants win, until things gradually fell apart. Zito surrendered a two-run homer in the fifth, and after back-to-back singles to lead off the sixth inning, his day was over. The Giants still had a 4-2 lead at that point, when Guillermo Mota came in to protect the lead. And protect it he did not. By the end of his day, the D’backs had taken a 5-4 lead. George Kontos was then called in to put out the fire, and eventually did, but not before giving up another two runs.
The Giants battled back though, scoring in the seventh, eighth, ninth, and eventually the tenth to win it all on a walkoff single.
I thought at this point in the season, the Giants and D’backs would be neck and neck in the division race. Arizona was the favorite to win the NL West before the season started. Even as recently as late July, I thought Justin Upton would start to find a groove, and late-season call-ups Trevor Bauer and/or Tyler Skaggs would bolster Arizona’s rotation. I figured Arizona, stupidly enough, would pose a bigger threat to the Giants than the Dodgers would. And I was completely wrong.
There’s a lesson to be learned here, and I think it’s somewhere along the lines of: don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched. Injuries happen. Slumps happen. Even the best of prospects can come up and fail to make an immediate impact (despite what this season’s excellent track record of prospect debuts might have you think). Today, Arizona is eleven and a half games out of first place. Justin Upton’s second-half numbers are virtually identical to his first-half numbers. Stephen Drew and Ryan Roberts are elsewhere. Trevor Bauer is not on the team’s active roster. Baseball.
Aubrey Huff led off the seventh inning with a pinch-hit single. It was the first hit he’s collected in nearly three months. He’s had a wretched season, but I have a sneaking suspicion that he’ll have a decent September. That’s my bold prediction of the month. I don’t think Huff has much left in the tank, but I think he’s certainly got something left; and as we’ve seen time and again, pretty much anything can happen over the period of a month.
With 27 games left on the schedule, the Giants have a 4.5 game division lead. Their magic number has been whittled down to 23. Any combination of 23 Giants wins and Dodgers losses, and the Giants clinch the NL West title. Baseball Prospectus has the Giants’ playoff odds at 94.2%. Cool Standings has ’em at 92.1%. However you slice it, the Giants are in a really, really good position right now.