5 keys for Giants to secure a Wild Card spot

5 keys for Giants to secure a Wild Card spot

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants must scale certain obstacles along their path toward securing a National League Wild Card berth.

Those challenges include the obvious: scoring more runs and allowing fewer of them against the Colorado Rockies, whom the Giants open a three-game series against on Tuesday at AT&T Park. Then comes a trio of weekend games against the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have clinched the NL West title the Giants once believed would be theirs.

Of course, if upgrading the offense and tightening up the pitching were simple, the Giants would have accomplished both goals by now. Instead, they own the NL's worst second-half record (25-41) and must focus on overcoming their Wild Card rivals, the Mets and Cardinals. San Francisco began the final week of the regular season trailing New York by one game for the top spot and leading St. Louis by a half-game for the second spot.

Here's a look at five issues facing the Giants as they embark on the biggest week of the season.

1. Bring the bats
Pitching determines success. It's baseball's oldest axiom. But the Giants' struggles at the plate have obscured all other facets of their game. Last Saturday's nine-run, 12-hit eruption at San Diego ended a stretch in which they had scored 12 runs in seven games.

Not surprisingly, the Giants entered Monday with 84 runs scored in September, the NL's second-lowest total.

2. Bolstered bullpen
San Francisco's bullpen has stabilized somewhat since that stretch earlier this month when the relievers seemingly blew leads daily. Sergio Romo has converted three consecutive save opportunities, Hunter Strickland appears to be on the brink of becoming a shutdown reliever and Steven Okert has looked sharp since yielding a crushing homer to the Padres' Ryan Schimpf on Sept. 13.

It still bears remembering, if only for cautionary purposes, that the Giants have lost a franchise-record nine games this season in which they led entering the ninth inning -- and five of them have occurred this month.

3. These guys again?
The Giants must elevate their overall performance to thrive against the Rockies and Dodgers. They're 8-8 this season against each team. Moreover, Los Angeles has outscored San Francisco by the mere margin of 59-58. The proverbial little things will mean a lot this week.

Giants pitchers have plenty to contemplate. Three of the top nine hitters at AT&T Park this year are Rockies: Mark Reynolds (.409), DJ LeMahieu (.379) and Nolan Arenado (.333, two homers, seven RBIs). A trio of Dodgers also have been productive by the Bay -- namely Adrian Gonzalez (.367), Chase Utley (.346) and Joc Pederson (.320, two homers).

4. Feel at home
The Giants' 40-35 record at AT&T Park is barely adequate. They must capitalize on finishing the regular season with six consecutive home games. Score early to get the crowd in the game. Show some emotion to sustain the excitement. Fans spoiled by three recent World Series conquests might feel blase about the club's struggle for a Wild Card spot. But most of the Giants' faithful remember that this was the route the team took to its last Fall Classic triumph in 2014.

5. Look in the mirror
The Giants have played with virtually no swagger. That comes simply from losing too often. They need to remember that Buster Posey and Hunter Pence remain capable of taking over a game, that Brandon Crawford is a big-time shortstop, that Angel Pagan, Denard Span and Eduardo Nunez (if healthy) are legitimate threats and that Joe Panik is an ideal second baseman.

Among the current Giants, 16 played for the 2014 champions. Dwelling on the past would accomplish nothing. However, figuratively and perhaps even literally, they need to hold their championship rings to the light and let the reflection guide them along this week's path.

Chris Haft has covered the Giants since 2005, and for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.