The View from the Rear
The San Francisco Giants and the Arizona Diamondbacks have squared off in the National League West, a race featuring two teams with strong pitching and decisive leadership. The D-Backs are a most formidable opponent for the Giants, who overcame last year’s foe, the San Diego Padres, on the last day of the season.
Aside from Juston Upton, and the very capable pitching staff, Arizona poses the biggest threat to the Giants for three reasons, the first being Kevin Towers, their first-year general manager, who formerly wore a Padres hat. Towers worked with Bruce Bochy in San Diego to mold winning teams. “I want to somehow be ahead of Boch...I don’t like being on his bumper,” said Towers during his team’s last visit to AT&T Park. Since The D-backs picked up a half-game Thursday and another Friday, and are now two full games ahead of the Giants, Towers has obviously attained his goal-for the moment.
Kevin Towers wants to beat Bruce Bochy, but he still must rely on his players to accomplish the feat. What he has done is instill a sense of urgency within the organization, fueled by the fact that last year, Arizona finished the season in last place with a 65-97 record. He has hired Kirk Gibson to be the manager, upgrading his position from interim status, and he has made timely deals at the trade deadline to counter those made by Brian Sabean.
The second reason Arizona poses a threat is because any team finishing last in a division, already has a powerful motivation to succeed the following year. Add to it the fact that the Diamondbacks have assembled a very talented assortment of players, at the core of which is pitching, and you have adequate reason to respect their club. Adding pitchers Jason Marquis and Brad Ziegler at the trade deadline strengthened this view.
Though the Giants have to respect Kevin Towers, and the Giants have to respect the D-Backs’ climb up out of the cellar, the single most important obstacle may be Kirk Gibson, Arizona’s manager. Kirk Gibson is a key cog in the machine that would like to derail the Giants. Never mind his epic, gutsy performance for the rival LA Dodgers in the 1988 Series, just watch the guy. He exudes attitude, and he appears adept at infusing it into his team. The man is a menace to the Giants. He is to be feared, but no more so than Bobby Cox last October.
I must confess to thinking at the time, that if the Giants got past the Braves, and I was loathe to under-estimate the venerable Mr. Cox, it would mean that we had genuine moxie. We proved that to be the case, last year. Now the Giants must get past another fierce leader, whose actions have been viewed with awe, at one time or another, by all professional ballplayers. Everyone has seen Gibson’s gimpy home run trot. If he could pull that off in that limited capacity, what must he have been like at full strength?
The Giants must respect the combination of factors, which presents such a challenging team. However, the Giants have no reason to fear these factors. We are not the 2010 Padres, and we are not this year’s D-backs. We are the reigning World Champs. Our starting pitching has proven excellent, and our bullpen has been the best in baseball. We have outfield defensive prowess, and our available help from Fresno must be factored in.
What is not readily available is a consistent offense, but that wasn’t available last year either. In how many two-game sets last season, besides the two first games of the 2010 Series, did the Giants score as many as 20 runs? How many late inning jacks did Giants players provide? Erratic offense is problematic, but not insurmountable. “We’ll bounce back. We’ve got a lot of heart and a lot of fight in our team,” Cody Ross said. “Nobody in here has forgotten that. Other people might have, but we don’t.”
The D-Backs are vital to the Giants this season, for the same reason the Padres were last year; we entered the postseason primed for competitive baseball, and that edge was just what we needed to bulldoze our way through the Series. Some people may have forgotten that the Giants have a lot of heart, and others may believe that their heart took a break, when Buster got hurt, but there are large numbers of fans, who agree with Cody Ross. The Giants have been kicked around like a well-worn baseball lately, but they’ll bounce back. And with a little bit of luck they’ll regain that rider on their bumper. Hop on, Kevin Towers; there’s plenty of room in our rear view mirror.