A day off and an ace in the hole is exactly what the San Francisco Giants needed after a long and problematic road trip.
Fresh off their 3-7 roadie, and at the front end of a 26-game stretch facing postseason contenders, the Giants now stare down their postseason aspirations.
Coming out of a much needed off day, and sending ace Madison Bumgarner to the hill, the upcoming two-game series against the AL West leading Houston Astros could serve as either a launching pad or roadblock on the route to October baseball.
The recent 10-game trip included a series loss to the sub-.500 Atlanta Braves and a four-game sweep at the hands of a Chicago Cubs team who the Giants had just moved past for the second wild card spot.
And even more than the toll put on by such damaging losses was the inability of the starting pitching keep the offense or even themselves in the game.
The best start turned in by a starter in Chicago was Jake Peavy’s five innings of two-run ball on Sunday’s finale. After that start he put the coming stretch into perspective:
“We have a long way to go. We’re not going to panic, I can promise you that.”
An already worn bullpen was forced to eat a grand total of 15 innings over the weekend in north Chicago. And the Cubs not needing to take their ninth at bat in any game is the only reason there wasn’t an even greater workload put on the group.
That workload has put an even greater demand on Bumgarner and rookie Chris Heston — who will pitch Wednesday’s game against the Astros.
The 4.38 ERA posted by the bullpen was enough for a potent offense to make a serious threat having the tying run either on base or in the batters box as three of the four games in Chicago ended.
A suddenly home run happy Giants offense averaged a robust 4.8 runs per game on the trip.
And that offense will look to remain active with the upcoming stretch, starting with getting Bumgarner some support against a very tough Scott Kazmir.
The non-waiver trade deadline acquisition’s 2.08 ERA is good enough for second best in the American League, so their work is cut out for them.
With the division leading Dodgers and Cardinals as well as the top three fellow wild card hopefuls on the immediate horizon, the road to the postseason weighs heavily on this series with the Astros.
A sweep would go a long way in getting the Giants back into strong contention for both the division and wild card — especially with the Dodgers also struggling.
But, if Bochy’s boys are unable to muster at least one victory in the quick set, it may spell doom for the reigning champs’ season.