SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants' schedule, as well as those of their chief rivals for a postseason berth, remains constant. Yet the way the stretch drive appears to set up changes by the week for the Giants and other National League contenders.San Francisco has positioned itself well entering Monday in a virtual tie with San Diego for the NL West lead and trailing Atlanta by one game in the Wild Card race. But, to re-establish themselves, the Giants had to post a 7-3 record on their recently completed three-city trip while the first-place San Diego Padres staggered to the conclusion of their 10-game losing streak. Before the Giants hit the road, three games separated them from San Diego, which then appeared to be a postseason shoo-in. "We came here in second place and we're leaving tied for first. That's pretty big," Giants right-hander Sergio Romo said. Now, with San Diego having lost 13 of its last 17 games, including three of four to the Giants last weekend, the NL West picture looks decidedly different. Excluding Cincinnati, which led St. Louis by six games in the NL Central entering Monday, five teams occupy the field of legitimate NL contenders: San Francisco, San Diego, Colorado, Atlanta and Philadelphia. The Giants possess the most favorable schedule among those teams by far, being the only one to have more home games (12) than road games (six) left in the regular season. The Giants open a three-game set on Tuesday against the Los Angeles Dodgers, who were still on the fringes of postseason contention when the teams met on Sept. 3-5. Then the Giants started the Dodgers on a six-game losing streak, making this series suddenly look less compelling -- though given that the Dodgers will use the formidable trio of Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly to pitch at AT&T Park, this won't be an easy series for San Francisco.
Schedule COMPARISON OF NL POSTSEASON CONTENDERS entering MondayExcluding NL Central leader Cincinnati
|Team||Home games left||Away games left||Strength of schedule||Off-days left|
|Atlanta||nine remaining||nine remaining||nine games vs. teams .500 or above||two scheduled off-days|
|Colorado||nine remaining||10 remaining||10 games vs. teams .500 or above||two scheduled off-days|
|Philadelphia||nine remaining||nine remaining||nine games vs. teams .500 or above||three scheduled off-days|
|San Diego||seven remaining||13 remaining||13 games vs. teams .500 or above||one scheduled off-days|
|San Francisco||12 remaining||six remaining||six games vs. teams .500 or above||three scheduled off-days|
The Padres' slump makes their finish look even more grueling than before. Of their final 20 games, 13 are on the road -- a 10-game trip due to start Monday at Colorado and three at San Francisco to end the season. Moreover, San Diego has just one off-day in that stretch.The Rockies, whose 10-game winning streak has moved them just 1 1/2 games out of first place in the NL West, still have home series against both the Padres and the Giants. Many observers believe that Colorado soon will surge into the NL West lead. But the Rockies finish the season with four games at St. Louis, where the Cardinals are unlikely to concede anything. Don't forget Philadelphia and Atlanta, the top teams in the NL East, which also are involved in the Wild Card chase. The involvement of so many teams increases the possibility that the complexion of the races could change yet again by the weekend. So when the Giants say they're simply trying to win each game -- one at a time, of course -- and not dwell on other teams' fortunes, they're being more commonsensical than cliched. "Realistically, win, win, win, win, win -- that's all that's in our heads," Romo said. Scheduled off-days could help the Giants, who are idle on the regular season's final three Mondays. Surging teams like the Giants, who have won nine of their last 12 games, typically dislike interruptions and would rather keep playing. But this particular Monday could help the Giants. Second baseman Freddy Sanchez limped out of San Diego's PETCO Park on Sunday with a sore left knee, though manager Bruce Bochy expects him to be ready for Tuesday's series opener against the Dodgers. "When you're playing well, you hate to see off-days, but we have a couple of guys that have gone pretty hard," Bochy said. "At this stage of the season, you're going to be a little bit beat up and tired, so [the off-day] is probably coming at a good time."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.