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Giants' confidence in loaded NL West grows after 60 games

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Brandon Crawford Steven Duggar

Just as everyone predicted, the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers are on a collision course for what would be a highly anticipated October matchup.

But it would take place in the NL Wild Card Game.

That's through little fault of their own, as they own the second- and third-best records in the NL but continue to look up at a surprising Giants team that has played good baseball from the start and hasn't shown any signs of letting up. With Tuesday's thrilling win in Arlington, the Giants pushed their lead over the Padres to 2 1/2 games in the NL West, with the Dodgers another half-game back.

This is not where anyone expected them to be, but as they approached the 60-game mark, they were starting to let their internal confidence seep out publicly. When Buster Posey said this spring that winning the NL West is always the first goal regardless of what outsiders think, it seemed like simply the right thing for a team leader to do. But over the last week, others have joined the chorus and made it clear what the first goal is over the next four months. 

"We're competitive. We believe that we can really push and win the West and that's been our goal from the start and we never thought that was ridiculous to say," Alex Dickerson said over the weekend. "We plan on being there all year."

It's looking more and more like they will be. There are hallmarks of good teams, and the Giants have shown them all while going an MLB-best 38-22, nine games better than their surprising run during last year's shortened schedule. 

 

They're successful in all three facets, ranking sixth in runs scored, sixth in team ERA, and second in Outs Above Average, a comprehensive measure of defense. They are winning at home (18-9) with strong pitching and on the road (20-13) with an offense that has 56 homers as the visitor, nine more than the next closest MLB team. 

The Giants are beating up on the bad teams and holding serve against the good ones -- they are 11-9 against the Dodgers, Padres and Cubs, the three playoff-caliber clubs they've played. They are 10-9 in one-run games even with an inconsistent bullpen, getting a lot of those coin-flip wins that are so important over the course of a long year. 

It all adds up to staying power, and the confidence is growing in the clubhouse, where veteran leaders have taken a seemingly endless trickle of newcomers under their wings. 

"Winning definitely helps that. When you try and speak something into existence and then go out there and actually do it, it definitely helps," Evan Longoria said. "I do sense that in the clubhouse, in the dugout, I do think that there's not really a sense of urgency when we're down. There's always a belief that we can come back, and when we're ahead there's kind of this extreme confidence that we can continue to put runs on the board and win games. 

"It's a good feeling. It's a great clubhouse to be in right now, the guys are in a good spot."

Longoria, Posey, the Brandons and all the rest of the veterans have been around long enough to know that there are a lot of hurdles remaining. The schedule will get tougher -- they finish this month with A's/Dodgers, and then have 15 games in July against the Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros -- and injuries will continue to test this group.

The Dodgers have made a habit of going on summer runs to put the division away, and for all the talk about injuries in San Francisco, the other two atop the NL West haven't been close to healthy, either. Former NL MVP Cody Bellinger has just 50 at-bats and one homer this season, and the Dodgers will be without Corey Seager until July. 

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You still won't find many picking the Giants to win the West, but their confidence is growing in large part because they know they'll be able to attack those hurdles. They have proven they can play with good teams, and "next man up" has become the motto through all the injuries.

Tuesday night's win was just the latest example, with Mike Tauchman hitting the go-ahead grand slam and LaMonte Wade Jr. and Steven Duggar combining to reach base five times.

 

"The last couple of years it seems like no matter what new guy it is, they come in and step up in a big situation," Brandon Crawford said. "Whether it's a hitter or pitcher, it seems like our front office has done a good job of going out and finding guys that fit well within our team, and they come in and kind of fit into the puzzle right away."

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