Off days are precious in late August, and not just for players headed for the September fires of the stretch run.
The Giants moved into the lead in the NL wild-card chase this week before taking a break Thursday, which surely made the coaches as happy as the players at this point. Not long ago, a couple of their coaches calculated how many ground balls they hit to infielders in need of work each season.
I don't know the exact formula used, but the number they came up with was 44,000 ground balls a year.
"Then you go, 'How many years?'" third-base coach Tim Flannery says.
He's been coaching 15 years, so, multiply that by 44,000, and by this baseball math, Flannery figures he's slapped 660,000 or so fungoes during his career. He's had six or so cortisone injections in each elbow. Thanks to ulnar nerve issues, his right pinky and ring fingers currently are numb.
"Some might argue that my head is, too," Flannery jokes.
Giants bench coach Ron Wotus has hit so many fungoes he's had surgery to re-attach a tendon to his elbow.
"Thought it was tendinitis at first," Wotus says.
Flannery was wearing an elastic compression brace on each elbow after first smearing them with Tiger Balm.
"A lot of Advil, a lot of ice," he says.
Which pretty much is the prescription for everybody at this point in the season. There aren't many off days left. The Yankees have just three (Sept. 9, 16 and 30). Trying to catch the Twins, the White Sox have just three as well (Sept. 2, 13 and 23). The Twins have four -- one on Monday, then identical dates with the Sox.
First-place San Diego has the biggest grind, with only two remaining the rest of the season -- Sept. 2 and 20. The Giants have four (Sept. 2, 13, 20 and 27). In the NL Central, Cincinnati has three (Sept. 2, 13 and 27) and the Cardinals, having slipped to four games behind the Reds in the NL Central, have only two (Sept. 2 and 20).
On to 3 to watch:
1. In a place they never thought they'd be after having swept three in Cincinnati Aug. 9-11, the Cardinals enter the weekend looking to make up some serious ground before getting one last shot at the Reds head-to-head in St. Louis next weekend. Trailing the Reds by four games, right-hander Jaime Garcia takes the ball first in Cardinals at Nationals, Friday night (7:05 p.m. ET) in Nationals Park and, when he does, maybe it'll hearten Washington fans blue over Stephen Strasburg's impending elbow surgery. Garcia is a Poster Boy survivor of Tommy John ligament transfer surgery, to the point where he's a leading contender for the NL Rookie of the Year award. It's a weirdly busy weekend in D.C. -- not only will this series be played under the Strasburg pall, but Cards manager Tony La Russa and slugger Albert Pujols are scheduled to appear Saturday at Glenn Beck's highly controversial rally in Washington.
2. Last time out, Tampa Bay's Matt Garza hooked up with Oakland's Dallas Braden in a battle of pitchers who have thrown no-hitters this summer (a perfect game, in Braden's case). Now, in Red Sox at Rays, Saturday night (7:10 ET) in Tropicana Field, Garza faces another pitcher with a no-hitter on his resume, Boston's Clay Buchholz, who did it in September, 2007. Being that Buchholz's 2.26 ERA leads the AL, the middle game of this series should sizzle as the Rays work toward holding Boston off in the playoff race. Tampa Bay enters the weekend tied with the Yankees for the AL East lead, and the Red Sox, clinging to playoff hopes despite missing Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis (among others), are 5 1/2 back. Boston has six games left against Tampa Bay heading into the weekend and three remaining against the Yankees.
3. The Giants offense bludgeoned its way back to life against the Reds this week (38 runs, 53 hits over three games), but if Bruce Bochy's club is going to hang on to the NL wild-card lead, Tim Lincecum is going to have to become The Man again. Loser of four consecutive starts for the first time in his big-league career, the two-time Cy Young winner pitches the opener of Diamondbacks at Giants, Friday night (10:15 ET) at AT&T Park. Lincecum hasn't won in a month, since July 30. Now is a good time to start.