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Giants take care of business, keep pace in Wild Card race

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It didn't really matter where the Giants played this game. What mattered, this late in the season, was that they took care of business. 

As the Giants sat in Seattle for a couple of days and then traveled back to San Francisco, the Cincinnati Reds finally got into gear, sweeping the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates to vault back into the playoff race. The Miami Marlins stayed hot, beating the disappointing Boston Red Sox to further solidify their position in the NL East. 

It's that time of year when the teams who want to play in October need to beat up on the teams who are booking tee times, and the Giants held up their end on Wednesday night. At 22-27, the Seattle Mariners aren't quite dead in the water yet, with faint hopes of catching the Houston Astros for the second spot in the AL West, but they had been outscored by 44 runs entering this two-game series, and you don't need to watch them long to see that they're a team that playoff contenders should beat. 

The Giants have taken advantage, winning all three matchups at Oracle Park, including a 9-3 victory Wednesday as the "road team" that was a blowout early. Drew Smyly struck out eight in his first start in six weeks, both Brandons homered, and Evan Longoria added his own as the Giants got back to .500. With 12 games remaining, they're tied with the Philadelphia Phillies for the first Wild Card spot. They have a half-game lead on the St. Louis Cardinals. 

 

After all the weirdness in recent days, the Giants were happy to sit back and enjoy a baseball game, and continue their push. 

"It's still a playoff race, we're still right there in it," Smyly said. "We're trying to hang on and just win these games down the stretch. The adrenaline has definitely picked up. I think everybody feels it. We're in the home stretch and it's just up to us. We're in the driver's seat. We just have to go out and win and hold on to that Wild Card."

The Giants have a tough stretch ahead of them, with 13 games over their final 12 days, including four against the Padres and three against the A's. They're in this spot because of the postponements, but when he spoke to the media in the afternoon, manager Gabe Kapler tried to focus on the positive. He said his players might be a little rusty, but he also hoped they got a chance to catch their breath. 

It certainly looked like that early Wednesday, particularly when it came to the veterans. Brandon Crawford, who is having a career year in terms of rate stats, had two doubles and a homer. Brandon Belt snapped a mini-slump with a shot to right-center that might have hit the top of the wall a year ago. Longoria immediately tacked on with his sixth. Combined, the three veteran infielders have 19 homers through 48 games. 

Kapler has found ways to rest them up to this point, but he admitted that the road ahead is "tricky." He wants to keep players fresh and bats up to speed, but every plate appearance is ramped up this time of year. He'll need to lean more heavily on his best guys. 

"I think there's going to be judgement on a night-to-night basis, or in some cases, night-to-day basis," he said. "We'll see how these guys come in."

Perhaps adrenaline will override all else. Smyly and Tyler Anderson took to the field at 12:30 a.m. after Tuesday's flight to play catch, hoping to stay loose for the two starts in this series. Belt, who started his summer with a foot injury and a slump, had a huge smile as he crossed the plate in the third inning. 

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This is a veteran group that hoped to stay in the race and has. After a nightmare stretch, the Giants were able to get back out there and celebrate a win for the first time since last Thursday. Belt said the last few days haven't been easy, but the Giants are happy to be home, and they're excited about what's ahead of them.

"We put ourselves in a good position to make the postseason," he said. "We all know anything can happen when you get there."