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How Giants can learn lessons from three surprise NL playoff teams

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USATSI

How Giants can learn lessons from three surprise NL playoff teams

SAN FRANCISCO -- It wasn't hard to predict that the Red Sox, Yankees, Indians and Astros would make up the final four in the American League. The Dodgers needed an extra game, but they made good on their status as preseason favorites in the NL West. 

The rest of the remaining postseason field includes some surprises, though. The Brewers and the Braves upset much bigger spenders in their divisions. The Rockies bounced back from their NL West disappointment to stun the Cubs on Tuesday night. 

As the Giants aim to get back into the October mix, here are some things they can learn from three franchises that took different paths to the postseason: 

From the Brewers: Be ready for the right time to strike 

Christian Yelich would have been the perfect fit for the Giants. At 26, he's certain to be the National League's MVP, and he has the kind of approach that would have fit AT&T Park's gaps beautifully.

Alas, the Giants have had a weak farm system for years, and when the Marlins went into fire sale mode, the best the Giants could do was offer to take on Giancarlo Stanton's massive contract. Yelich was the much better fit, but the Giants couldn't put together an appropriate package.

They should be careful about continuing to trade away prospects, because at some point -- maybe next offseason, maybe in two years -- another Yelich type will become available, and this time the Giants should be ready with an appropriate offer. 

From the Braves: Go international 

Pablo Sandoval is the last real contributor developed by the Giants' international department. So yeah, it's been a while.

The Braves won the NL East behind Ronald Acuña Jr., a 20-year-old signed out of Venezuela in 2014, and Ozzie Albies, a 21-year-old signed out of Curacao in 2013. Sure, there were other reasons for their success, but these two young players changed the entire timeline of a rebuilding franchise.

The Giants are excited about Marco Luciano and others, but given their resources, there's no excuse for them not to be a perennial power on the international market. They've missed the boat for a decade. 

From the Rockies: Develop pitching 

The Giants know how to do this, or at least they used to.

The dynasty was built on homegrown starters, but they're going through quite the drought. Dereck Rodriguez will be in the rotation for years to come, but he was a free agent addition, not a Giants draft pick. Andrew Suarez is a former second-round pick, but after him, what do you have?

Chris Stratton isn't locked into the rotation, Tyler Beede was sent to the bullpen in Triple-A, Phil Bickford was traded and seems like a bust, and on and on. 

The Rockies, playing in the worst pitcher's park in the majors, groomed a Cy Young candidate in former first-rounder Kyle Freeland, the standout of the Wild Card Game. They traded for German Marquez two years ago and he looks like a budding star. Tyler Anderson, another first-rounder, was worth three WAR for the second time in three years. Antonio Senzetela, signed out of Venezuela, had a solid second season and is just 23.

This isn't a dominant group, but it's a pretty good one, and there's no way the Rockies should have more homegrown talent in their rotation than the Giants do. 

Giants drop San Francisco-record 11th straight game

Giants drop San Francisco-record 11th straight game

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO — The latest loss came with some controversy. 

The Braves scored the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth inning when Brandon Belt was ruled to have inched off first base on what would have been the third out of the inning. Belt was adamant that he stayed on the bag and a replay appeared to show that he did, but after two minutes and four seconds of looking, the umpires in New York upheld the original call. 

The 2-1 loss to the Braves was the 11th in a row, the franchise's longest streak since 1951. The Giants are still looking for their first victory of September. It is as bad as it sounds. Anyway, here's what else happened Wednesday at AT&T Park ... 

—- Derek Holland has quietly been one of the best lefties in the National League. He gave up fewer than three runs for the sixth consecutive start, lowering his ERA to 3.46. That ranks 12th among qualified NL starters and third among lefties. Holland had a shutout going until the sixth, when Ozzie Albies doubled with one out and cruised home on Freddie Freeman’s bouncer up the middle. 

—- The Giants had a shot to hand a lead over to the bullpen in the sixth. Nick Hundley singled, took second on a grounder and third on a wild pitch. But Hunter Pence popped up to first, ending the inning. 

—- An inning later, they had one of their more creative failures. With a runner on first, Alen Hanson bunted and pitcher Jesse Biddle threw the ball down the right field line. But Hanson was out after the umpire ruled he attempted to advance to second, Belt struck out, and Brandon Crawford was robbed of the go-ahead single by Albies. 

—- Tony Watson had one of the best escape acts of the season in the top of the seventh. Reyes Moronta, pitching for the first time in eight days, loaded the bases with no outs. Watson entered and got Adam Duvall to pop up before striking out Ronald Acuña Jr. Albies grounded out to short and Watson walked off to a standing ovation.

Bruce Bochy meets with free-falling Giants ahead of 10th straight loss

Bruce Bochy meets with free-falling Giants ahead of 10th straight loss

SAN FRANCISCO — Bruce Bochy doesn’t like admitting that his team is out of the race no matter how many consecutive losses might pile up. He doesn’t like admitting that they’re playing poorly, and on three consecutive days he has talked about how many of the last 10 losses could have easily flipped the other way. 

But Bochy did make a concession to the reality of the situation on Tuesday afternoon. He met with his team, talking for about five minutes about the importance of playing hard and holding each other accountable. That is not a meeting you have when you’re trying to clinch a playoff spot. It’s the type of meeting you have when you’re losing every night and looking flat, as the Giants have while dropping 10 straight for the first time in 22 years. 

“This is a tough time of year when you’re going through something like this,” Bochy said after a 4-1 loss to the Braves. “It’s about character right now. You get in these tough times, it does build character.”

Bochy pointed out that there are only 16 games left, and while this season was long ago lost, the Giants are evaluating on a daily basis. It’s not just about hits or scoreless innings. He is looking for passion, effort, and fight. 

“This tells you a lot about players,” he said of the final three weeks. 

At the very least, the Giants have learned a bit more about two of their better ones. A night after Dereck Rodriguez took a brutal loss, Andrew Suarez gave up three runs over six innings against a tough lineup and had no chance of winning. He took the 11th loss of his rookie season, watching hard-throwing righty Mike Foltynewicz throw a 108-pitch complete game with relative ease against the coldest lineup in baseball. 

The Giants handed Foltynewicz his worst start of the season in May, but that was a different team. Andrew McCutchen hit second that day. Buster Posey hit third. Brandon Belt hit fourth, and on Tuesday he was limited to a pinch-hit appearance because of a knee that likely will require surgery. 

Without his stars, Bochy started five young players. The result was predictable, but the rookie pitcher took it in stride. 

“We really can’t do anything about that,” Suarez said of the lack of run support. “We’ve got to go out there and try to keep the game close.”

This is where Bochy has learned something. He is looking for character, and he sees it in Rodriguez and Suarez. On Monday night, Rodriguez asked to go out for the seventh inning despite a high pitch count. A night later, Suarez worked around plenty of traffic to try and keep his team in the game.

“They’re doing great,” Bochy said of the two, the pride clear in his voice. “They’re handling everything fine. Both of them are good kids, good competitors.”