San Francisco Giants playoff chances plus thoughts on the incredible Joe Panik

This year's San Francisco Giants season has been one of the strangest I can remember. They started off looking like the team to beat in the National League, and just as suddenly during June and July looked like the worst team in the NL. Somehow, some way, the Giants are currently only 3.5 games behind the rival Los Angeles Dodgers for the division lead.

It sounds like the Giants are close, but they are no closer to LA than they were back on August 7th. The Giants have failed capitalize recently, most notably the lost weekend in Kansas City. Lately though the Giants are playing better baseball, unfortunately so are the Dodgers.

Including the suspended game the Giants only have 34 more games left in the season. Yes the division is something to shoot for, but the Giants might be looking at playing that Wild Card coin flip game this year. As of today the Giants are in the second Wild Card slot, a game behind St. Louis for home field in that game. The Braves are just a game behind the Giants for the second spot and the Pirates are hanging in there at 2.5 games back.

Do I think the Giants can catch the Dodgers? I really don't know. If they continue to play .500 baseball when the LA does the same, then obviously not. It's going to be tough to gain a game every week with only 5 weeks left in the season. The good news is the Giants still control their own fate as they face off against the Dodgers 6 more times this season (3 @ home, 3 in LA).

I've been on hiatus (family stuff) for the past month or so and just want to get rolling today with a few thoughts I've built up over that time about the Giants. For the rest of the season you can find me here writing about the pennant races and whatever else happens to come along.

Joe Panik belongs 

I was surprised to learn when I looked up Joe Panik on Baseball Reference that he was a 1st round draft choice in 2011. I just didn't know. I'd heard his name before this season but didn't realize the fan base had high hopes for him. After going to Spring Training this year I was more interested in seeing how Adam Duvall and Andrew Susac developed. I never thought Joe Panik would be a revelation.

Going in to this season the second base position was a black hole. With his fielding and his bat, Panik has proven he can hang with the big boys. I think it's time for him to be moved to the second spot in the lineup and Hunter Pence gets dropped back to the 5th slot. Pence has 42 multi-hit games in 128 games this season. He's second in the NL in that category. I can think of a time or two that Giants could use a hit out of the middle of their lineup. Michael Morse hasn't been able to stay consistent for the whole season.

Another reason I like Panik in the 2 spot is he is more likely to work a count than Pence. There's been a lot of times that we have seen Pence expand his zone, especially on that high fastball. Panik has already shown the knack for fouling off close pitches to get the pitch he can handle. He lets the game come to him which is a great attribute for a #2 hitter.

By the way, when Panik went 4-for-5 against Washington last night, all 4 hits came with 2 outs.

The bench is stronger

It's been a lot of fun to watch the return of Travis Ishikawa. He continues to give the Giants quality at bats off the bench. That's something the team has lacked all season. He's already 4th on the team with 4 pinch-hits. That's in only 10 at bats. Gregor Blanco has also been swinging a better bat and leads the team with 6 pinch-hits.

Overall the Giants are hitting .194 as a team in pinch-hit situations. Hector Sanchez is still tied for second on the team with Joaquin Arias and he's missed considerable time with his concussion. Depth was an issue but with Susac's recent good hitting (6-for-16 with 1 HR and 6 RBI in his last 4 starts) the Giants are finally starting to have a stronger bench.

Pablo Sandoval deserves all the money

Nobody likes to admit when they are wrong. For the first month and a half of this season it looked like I was right about Pablo Sandoval. I've always questioned why he's so streaky and if it's a sign of concentration. I don't have these questions anymore. He deserves whatever he asks for in free agency, and I want to see the Giants give it to him.

Sandoval is hitting .400 on this road trip so far and has thrived with runners in scoring position lately. He's 17 for his last 38 (.447) with RISP. Pablo's average has risen to .284 overall after his rough start to the season. He's doing it with the glove too and should get some consideration for a Gold Glove award at the end of the season. Sandoval hasn't committed an error in his last 73 games and is second in the NL with a .982 fielding percentage.

Pablo and I are good buddies now that I've come around.

I've got some other thoughts from the past month but you're probably tired of reading. I'm going to hold on to some of them as I expect to be writing something every day. Thanks for coming back to the party folks and let's all enjoy the last 5 weeks of the season.