Taking Care of Business in Houston
Matt Cain made his first start vs. Houston since his perfect game in June on Tuesday, and he again gave the Astros lineup trouble. Unfortunately Cainer didn't get the decision in his solid 7 inning, 2-run performance as he left in a tie game, but he did more than enough to give the Giants a chance to pull out the late inning victory (thanks to some fine defensive plays behind him). Barry Zito had a tougher go of it Wednesday, getting knocked out in the third and almost surrendering the Giants' 4-0 lead. The biggest part of that game though, in my mind, came before Zito even took the hill. Hunter Pence finally made an opposing pitcher pay for walking the red hot Buster Posey. With Pence struggling and Posey scorching, pitchers were starting to feel a lot more confident in walking Posey to get to Pence, but Wednesday's big fly will hopefully stunt that plan a bit. Pence launched a 3-1 breaking ball up near the train tracks at Minute Maid Park, something that had to feel good for the former Astro and Texas native. I said on twitter before this series that this would be a great chance for Pence to catch fire. With the Astros beatable pitching, the extremely live yard, and a place where Pence has a huge comfort level, it's the perfect remedy for the slumping slugger.
Speaking of hot hitters, nobody on the Giants has been more dialed in at the plate lately than Joaquin Arias, even Pagan and Posey. The versatile infielder has really come alive since the Giants lost Melky Cabrera, hitting .476 in his last 16 games, and now has his average closing in on .300. He had arguably the two most important hits in both Giants' victories in this series, and he could be starting to put the pressure on Brandon Crawford for playing time at short. For a while there, Arias was getting starts vs. lefties only, but with the way he's taxing pitchers right now, he may find his name in the lineup much more often going forward.
The bullpen also really stepped up to help ensure a Giants' series victory. It was very re-assuring to see the late relievers come in and close the door on Houston the first two games, as Sergio Romo got the save in game one, and Javier Lopez came in to get the tough lefty and lock up the save in game 2. Santiago Casilla had impressive 8th innings in both games as Bochy has stayed true to the closer-by-committee depending on matchups. It would definitely be a positive if the Giants are able to get some roles defined as they enter the stretch drive, but for now, it appears to be working. In the middle, George Kontos really stepped up big in game two, stopping the bleeding that Barry Zito started and retiring all 8 hitters he faced. He kept the Giants in front after the Astros came charging back from that 4-run deficit. With Zito KO'd early, Bochy went through his arms Wednesday, and Guillermo Mota was able to get his feet wet for the first time since his suspension on May 7th. He was a little wild, but his arm looked live and rested. If he can harness that, he'll likely regain his spot as one of the first options amongst Giants mid-relievers.
This Astros team is one of the worst teams I've seen in a while, and the Giants really shouldn't be happy with just the series win in this one, they need to go for the sweep. The advantage they have on LA down the stretch is their schedule and they need to take full advantage of that.