Giants takeaways: An early look at their NL wild-card tiebreaker scenarios

It’s hard to imagine a more satisfying conclusion to a Giants homestand.

The hitters rapped out a San Francisco-era franchise record 10 doubles in Sunday’s 14-7 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Right-hander Spencer Bivens, a 30-year-old rookie, amplified his tremendous story, delivered a desert spring of five innings in a spot start, and sent a ripple of energy through the waterfront ballpark while striking out Shohei Ohtani. The Giants won a home series against their archrivals for the first time in three seasons.

For once, the infiltration of Dodgers fans in the stands had little to cheer about. And strange as it might seem, those fans won’t be back until 2025.

The Dodgers won’t visit San Francisco again this season. It’s the first time in the West Coast history of the rivalry that the Giants played their final home game against the Dodgers before July 1. That’s life under the balanced schedule in which the Giants play their National League West rivals 12 times instead of the previously prescribed 19 meetings. Major League Baseball adopted the reconfigured schedule last season while expanding interleague play and ensuring that all 30 teams will play one other every year.

Balancing the schedule had one other important and intended impact: creating greater equity among contending teams in an expanded postseason field that includes a third wild card. It was hardly fair for teams like the New York Mets and Cincinnati Reds to compete with the Giants for the same playoff spot when they were playing vastly different schedules.

One other change necessitated by the expanded postseason: The compressed playoff schedule left no time to break ties on the field. If two wild-card contenders finish with identical records, the season series will determine which of them advances.

So as satisfying as it might have been for the Giants to take two of three from their archrivals, for practical purposes, it’ll be even more important that they win series against the other eight NL teams that are tightly packed around .500 and continue to harbor wild-card aspirations. The simplest analysis is that the Giants should win as many games as possible. Beyond that, it’ll benefit them greatly to finish the season holding as many tiebreakers as possible.

Here’s a look at where the Giants stand with a little more than half the season in the books:

So far, so good

The NL playoff picture makes Guernica seem like an 8×10. Take out the Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers, all of whom have created a bit of separation atop their divisions, and nine of the remaining 11 NL clubs have a realistic shot at a wild card. Only the Miami Marlins and Colorado Rockies are pretty much cooked.

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The good news for the Giants is that they have completed the season series with three of their fellow wild-card hopefuls and they’ve won all three. They will hold potential tiebreakers against the Mets (4-2), Cubs (4-3) and Pirates (4-2)

Much to be decided

The Giants are halfway through their season series with the Padres, Diamondbacks, Cardinals, Nationals and Reds. Nearly all of them are tossups.

They are 4-3 against the Padres with six games remaining: three at San Diego Sept. 6-8 and three at San Francisco Sept. 13-15.

They are 3-4 against the Diamondbacks with six games remaining: three at San Francisco Sept. 3-5 and three at Arizona Sept. 23-25.

They are 2-1 against the Reds with three games remaining at Cincinnati Aug. 2-4.

They are 1-2 against the Nationals with four games remaining at Washington Aug. 5-8.

(Yes, that road trip in early August to Cincinnati and Washington will be a potentially critical one.)

It’s probably not too early for Giants fans to root against the Cardinals. That’s because the Giants are 0-3 against them after losing the game at Rickwood Field on June 20 followed by both games in St. Louis. The Cardinals won’t visit San Francisco until the final weekend of the regular season Sept. 27-29. It’d be a daunting task if the Giants enter that series trailing the Cardinals by one game for the final wild card but essentially must sweep them to keep from getting edged out by the tiebreaker.

The Giants are trusting that their rotation will come together and that they’ll play their best baseball in the second half. With a slew of tiebreakers still to be decided, they’d better.

Just win, baby

The Braves are the only NL wild-card hopeful that the Giants haven’t played so far this season. That’ll change this week when the Giants begin a three-game series Tuesday at Truist Park.

As easy as it might be to assume that the Braves will waltz to the top wild card, this is not the same roster that opened the season. Reigning NL MVP Ronald Acuña Jr. is out for the year with a torn knee ligament, right-hander Spencer Strider underwent Tommy John surgery and the Braves haven’t gotten the production that they expected from Matt Olson and Austin Riley on the infield corners. So there are no guarantees that the Braves will separate themselves from the pack.

Even if the Giants get swept in Atlanta, they’d still have a chance to win the season series. That’s because the Braves will play four games in San Francisco Aug. 12-15.

Of course, none of these tiebreakers will matter if the Giants cannot start piecing together series victories regardless of opponent. They haven’t been better or worse than three games of .500 in any calendar month this season. Any momentum that they’ve managed to generate has been fleeting. It’s a miracle that they’ve overcome their extreme rotation issues to remain within shouting distance of .500. But they’ll need their rotation Voltron of Logan Webb, Robbie Ray, Blake Snell, and Kyle Harrison to come together in the second half.

At some point, the Giants must toggle from surviving to thriving. Even in a plodding NL wild-card race, finishing with one of the three spots will require a finishing kick.

(Photo of Michael Conforto against the Padres earlier this season: Orlando Ramirez / USA Today)

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