San Francisco Giants: Friday May Point to Momentum Shifts in NL West


In sports, momentum can be a team’s best friend. Take last year’s World Series for example. Both participants, the San Francisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals, kicked off their postseason run with a wildcard, win-or-go-home game victory. For both, that was the beginning of a huge tidal wave of momentum, as they eventually collided in the World Series.

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As the baseball season is coming to the home stretch, nearing the last week of August, there may be a momentum shift occurring in the National League West. Friday’s events may have been the biggest factors yet.

The Giants, like so many times in the past few years, were led by their ace left-hander, Madison Bumgarner. The country strong pitcher did his best to hold down a potent Pittsburgh Pirates’ offense, allowing three runs in 6.1 innings, recovering nicely from a rough initial pair of innings. He earned his 15th win of the season, tying him for the Major League lead with Cubs’ hurler Jake Arrieta.

His biggest blow came, yet again, at the plate. Already well-established as the best hitting pitcher in baseball, Bumgarner upped his ante by hitting his fifth home run of the season, the most since Carlos Zambrano hit six back in 2006. It was also the second consecutive start in which he hit a home run (not including his pinch-hit appearances, obviously), becoming the first pitcher since the Colorado Rockies’ Alex White in 2012. Coincidentally, one of White’s home runs came against the Giants.

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Bumgarner was booed before that at-bat. He returned the favor by shutting the Pittsburgh crowd up, as Alex Pavlovic pointed out on Twitter.

Bumgarner has been doing this for years now, but it took only one at-bat for newcomer Marlon Byrd to endear himself to the Giants’ faithful. After being acquired on Thursday, Byrd made his Giants’ debut on Friday, hitting fifth. He came to bat in the first inning with a runner on and two out, and crushed a two-strike breaking ball for a home run, becoming the first Giant to hit a home run in his first at-bat after a trade since Kenny Lofton in 2002.

Byrd followed with a single to right field in his next at-bat, and then a double in his third chance. Byrd’s former teammate-turned-teammate again Mike Leake returns on Saturday. His arm can be a huge boost as the final month of the year closes in.

The Giants are still chasing the Los Angeles Dodgers in the West, but momentum is on their side right now. While momentum can be your best friend, it can also become your worst enemy, when it’s not on your side. For the Dodgers, “the Big Mo” is definitely not on their side.

Their downslide began on Monday, when they kicked off a short two-game set with the Oakland Athletics. The Athletics, who own the worst record in the American League, took both games, and even the Dodgers’ stable of announcers were openly questioning the team at that point.

After a day off on Thursday, the Dodgers had a chance to wash the taste of that A’s series out of their mouths, and get back on the right track as they started a series with the Houston Astros. Instead, things got worse.

On Friday, the Astros sent Mike Fiers out to the mound, and all he did was hold the Dodgers without a hit for nine innings, throwing the fifth no-hitter of the season, and shutting down the richest team in baseball history.

In a stark contrast to Byrd’s Giants’ debut, Chase Utley was much, much worse in his first game after being traded from the Philadelphia Phillies. He was part of the Dodgers’ lineup that couldn’t muster a hit, going hitless in four at-bats as the designated hitter. Maybe that was a bit of sweet karma for Giants’ fans, as Utley spurned the Giants to head to the Dodgers.

Momentum can be the difference between making the postseason and being on the outside looking in when October rolls around. The momentum seems to be shifting in the National League West. And we all know what can happen when momentum is on the Giants’ side.

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