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Giants looking for familiar 'late-season magic'

DENVER -- On the Giants' bus, en route from Dodger Stadium to LAX as Wednesday turned into Thursday, there was an admission that the Giants had a major challenge ahead of them to return to the postseason this year.

"And," one of the veterans proclaimed, "we have the talent to get the job done."

Nobody disagreed.

The job isn't easy. Swept in a three-game series at Dodger Stadium to start the week, and losing all three games by one run, the Giants suffered an 11-3 loss in the opener of a four-game series against the Rockies at Coors Field on Thursday night. They fell seven games back of the Dodgers in the NL West, pending their outcome at San Diego late Thursday, and seven back of the Cubs in the NL Wild Card race.

"It's uphill time," manager Bruce Bochy said. "It comes down to us having to win games. We had a tough series in Los Angeles. It's not what we wanted, but it is what happened. There's enough baseball left."

In the 20 years that the Wild Card has been part of the postseason, 166 teams have advanced -- including 10 in each of the last three when a second Wild Card for each league was added. Only three times has one of those teams been more than five games back in the postseason hunt with 29 or fewer games to play.

The Giants would like to make it a foursome.

"We are where we are," said Bochy. "We are not going to break. Things can happen fast. If we get on a roll, we can be back in this thing."

Hey, it worked for the Cardinals and the Rays in 2011, and for the Mariners in 1995, the first year of the Wild Card. All three, however, needed a little help from above (in the standings).

Those Cardinals were 8 1/2 out with 21 games to play, and won 16 of their final 21 games. Meanwhile, their Wild Card competition, the Braves, went 7-16 in that stretch, with a five-game, season-ending losing streak capped by a 4-3, 13-inning loss against the Phillies in Game 162. The Cardinals went on to win the World Series.

The Rays, meanwhile, were 7 1/2 games back of the Red Sox in the AL Wild Card race with 21 games to play on Sept. 6. The Red Sox lost 20 games, a franchise record for September. The Rays won 14 of their final 21 regular-season games to claim the Wild Card.

In 1995, the Mariners were 8 1/2 back of the Angels in the AL West with 29 games to play, and went on a 20-7 run that gave them a two-game edge on Angels, who won the final two games of their regular-season schedule, forcing a one-game playoff in Seattle. The Mariners won that, and the Angels went home while the Mariners went on to the postseason.

Can the Giants find that type of late-season magic?

They feel they can, and they're well aware that they'll be at home for the final week of the season, hosting the Dodgers for four games and then the Rockies for three.

"We've gone on some pretty good winning streaks and we got a good team here," said first baseman Brandon Belt. "We're definitely not out of it."

These Giants have won three of the last five World Series. They were 6 1/2 games back of the Padres with 34 games to play in 2010, and ended up winning the division. And, in 2012, they won six elimination games in the postseason, rallying from an 0-2 deficit against the Reds in the best-of-five NLDS, and a 1-3 deficit against the Cardinals in the NLCS.

Video: Must C Clinch: Giants are headed to the World Series

"Strange things happen in this game," said Bochy.

This season has certainly been a strange one for the Giants.

With the loss to the Rockies, the Giants have lost 13 of their last 15 on the road, 12 of 14 against the Dodgers and the NL Central hierarchy, the division-leading Cardinals and the two NL Wild Card leaders, the Pirates and the Cubs.

Facing the last-place Rockies would seem like a nice break, but there is a caveat. The Giants are now 3-4 this season with three games remaining at Coors Field, and won the season series in Denver only five of the previous 20 seasons of the ballpark's existence -- and their four projected starters were a career 12-13 with a 5.29 ERA in the Mile High City, compared to 10-5 with a 2.44 ERA against the Rockies elsewhere.

"We've dealt with challenges," said Bochy.

Hours before they opened the four-game weekend series in Denver, Tim Lincecum underwent hip surgery in Vail, Colo., a two-hour drive west on I-70, leaving his career in limbo. And shortstop Brandon Crawford missed his third game in a row because of a swollen calf, suffered when he was hit by a pitch from Dodger reliever Chris Hatcher on Monday.

But Angel Pagan did return to center field on Tuesday, after a 20-game injury absence, and second baseman Joe Panik, who has missed the team's last 31 games, began a rehab assignment on Thursday that puts him on schedule to be activated on Monday in Arizona.

"We've got a tough team here," said Bochy. "We know what's ahead of us. You don't back into the postseason from where we are. We have to win games."

Sounds so simple.

It is, however, so challenging.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for
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