It’s been 72 days since the Giants last trailed in the National League West standings and in that time, plenty has changed about how the team is viewed by the rest of the league.
The Giants went from being one of baseball’s best stories in the first two months of the year to a legitimate World Series contender with a serious chance to end the Dodgers’ reign of supremacy atop the division by sustaining their early-season success and relying on one of the deepest rosters in the majors to wear down opponents.
After entering the All-Star break with a major-league best 57-32 record, the Giants have won two series against the Dodgers, one against the Astros and another against the Brewers in the last month and given fans every indication a division title is within reach.
By navigating through one of the most difficult portions of their second-half schedule without faltering, the Giants are now facing a critical opportunity to potentially create more separation in the NL West standings.
Since taking over the division lead on May 31, the Giants have stretched their advantage to as many as 4.5 games (June 26-27), but have never pulled away from the Dodgers and Padres. With only 50 games remaining, it’s still likely the race for a division title will be settled in the final week of the regular season, but the Giants now have one of their best chances to make the road ahead much steeper for Los Angeles in San Diego.
As the Giants begin a nine-game homestand at Oracle Park on Tuesday, they’ll play the lowly Diamondbacks and a Rockies team that has MLB’s worst road record while the Dodgers will travel east to face a surging Phillies team and a Mets club that has enough pitching to shut down even the most capable offenses.
The Giants have feasted on the Diamondbacks this season, winning 12 of their 14 matchups, including a series finale last Thursday in Arizona where San Francisco trailed 4-0 entering the ninth inning. The Giants and Diamondbacks will only play two games at Oracle Park this week, but Gabe Kapler’s club will miss ace Madison Bumgarner, who threw seven innings of one-run ball against his former team last week.
The Rockies have ranked among the best in the majors at home this season but been historically bad away from Coors Field at just 13-40 on the road this season. The Giants will still have to contend with shortstop Trevor Story and starter Jon Gray, who the Rockies did not deal away at a puzzling trade deadline, but there’s no question San Francisco is the better team and is easily more equipped to win inside Oracle Park.
With the Dodgers hitting the road to play a three-game set against the streaking Phillies who have won eight in a row and three more against a Mets team that’s fallen from first place to third place in the span of a week, the Giants must take advantage of one of the softest weeks of their schedule if they hope to grow their four-game lead over Los Angeles.
A three-game series between the Giants and Dodgers over Labor Day weekend still looms large, but San Francisco can put more pressure on its rivals by extending a division lead almost no one outside its own clubhouse thought would exist this late in the season.
The Giants probably won’t gain a much greater edge over a Padres team that hosts the Marlins and then travels to Arizona to meet the Diamondbacks this weekend, but they already hold a seven-game advantage over San Diego. Creating any additional separation in the standings over the Padres would bode well for the Giants come September, especially because the two sides meet head-to-head in 10 of the Giants’ final 19 games.
As the Giants prepare to play at full strength for the first time in months, they’ll have a great opportunity to show the rest of the league why winning the franchise’s first NL West title since 2012 is an increasingly realistic goal.