Where Have All the Rabbits Gone?
How important is this series with Atlanta? There is little difference between this one and the recently completed series against Philadelphia, because they are all important. As far as playoff implications, that requires discounting Arizona, and as much as the Giants would like to, they cannot afford to.
The Giants haven’t reached the playoffs yet. Last October, they stormed through Atlanta like General Sherman, and marched on to Philadelphia. Like the Phils, the Braves have not forgotten that fact. Moreover, Atlanta has armed itself in a similar manner as the Giants, with solid pitching.
In addition to excellent pitching and motivation, the Braves have Dan Uggla. He is currently tearing up the league, having just ended a thirty-three game hitting streak. A .179 hitter going into the streak, Uggla added fifteen home runs to his total during those thirty-three games. That kind of offensive output is highly contagious, and was exactly what the Giants had last year. The Braves also have a rookie by the name of Freddy Freeman, who is vying for National League Rookie of the year, the same way that Buster was competing last season.
If Uggla were one of the big guns, or had already been hitting .300, then no big deal. It’s just that the hungriest teams find the most innovative sources for necessary offensive infusions. Last year, Aubrey Huff would have run out that liner to Michael Bourne, that Bourne misplayed, thus allowing Huff to end up at second base. This year, he chose to settle for a single. Is this an example of complacency? Let’s keep it rhetorical for the moment.
I sense a theme here: the best have created their teams around solid pitching. They must have picked up a pointer or two last fall, while watching the Giants pitch their way to a championship. However, this year, the problem the Giants have is that they keep losing 1-0 and 2-1, wasting superb pitching performances of their own.
In the first inning of last night's game, the Braves gave the Giants two free outs. In the fourth inning the Giants loaded the bases with no one out on an error, a walk and a hit batsman. It was a gift on top of that of the first inning. After a pair of sacrifice flies by Orlando Cabrera and Eli Whiteside, Kruk observed, “If they are able to score two runs without any hits, imagine what they could do if they started hitting.”
In Atlanta, it is critically important to keep the crowd out of it, and not just because the tomahawk chop is so offensive. The home team crowd very much becomes the tenth man on the field. The Giants benefited from that all last season, as their fans filled AT&T Park and voiced their collective opinion.
Nate Schierholtz silenced the crowd very effectively, leading off the sixth inning, with a stinging home run, over the 390 mark in deepest right field. One hit, one run. Mike Fontenot did it again, leading off the eighth with a solo shot. After setting the all-time major league mark for consecutive solo home runs the other day, at 21, the Giants have begun a new streak. Though Cody Ross stopped the streak on Sunday, in Florida, that streak has already reached five solo shots again. Where have all the rabbits gone? Why are the bases always empty for the home runs?
Until Brian Wilson gave up the game-winning base hit to Freddy Freeman, in the bottom of the ninth, last night’s game was everything that the Giants had hoped it would be. I am reminded of the series in April, set in San Francisco, when the Braves swept the Giants. They culminated the ambush in the Easter Sunday finale, in which the Braves defeated the Giants in ten, after San Francisco had gone ahead in the eighth inning. Brian Wilson also gave up the game-winner.
At the time we were satisfied enough, because the Giants’ bullpen breaks down so rarely. Even after last night’s defeat, we are still 49-2 in games we are leading after the eighth inning, both losses to the Braves. I also remember in last year’s playoffs, the Braves, behind Eric Hinske’s eleventh inning jack, shocked the Giants in similar fashion. What are you going to do? I am not going to blame Brian Wilson, because he has come through so consistently in the past. He leads all major league pitchers in saves over the past four seasons.
As expected, Bruce Bochy would not pay heed to any nay-saying. “I refuse to. I better not ever hear the players talking like that. We’re in the thick of things. There’s a lot of baseball left. This is a tough loss, sure, but we’re in August. We have time to make this up.”
That is the final statement of fact. There is time left, and the Giants cannot afford to panic, but they also cannot afford to dawdle. The Braves are like the Phillies, in that they have a lot to prove. Unfortunately, they demonstrated that last night. If San Francisco is going to be able to recover its magic of last season, they better begin to demonstrate that, right now in Atlanta, or get ready to be tomahawked right out of the playoffs. Stop the chop, or watch it cut the lifeline of our season. The time is now. Otherwise the Giants are going to end up like Aubrey Huff, watching from first base, as the other teams pass them by.