Critical stretch coming up for the San Francisco Giants 

The next two weeks will be critical for the Giants if they are going to have a chance to repeat as World Series champions.

For openers, they’re going to face possible playoff teams in their next nine games, a weekend series at AT&T Park against Milwaukee, then two three-game series on the road against Philadelphia and Cincinnati.

Then, they return home to face the Arizona Diamondbacks before playing another four games against the Phillies and three against Pittsburgh — the surprise team in the National League this year.

That stretch of games will define who the Giants are. Unless they get significant help through trades or free agency, I think that stretch will show that they aren’t quite a top level-team this year. Oh, they’ll be in the playoffs because they don’t have much to beat in the NL West, but they won’t get far in the postseason.

General manager Brian Sabean made one trade this week, for second baseman Jeff Keppinger, but that was a marginal upgrade. Keppinger is a good, average hitter who has little power and seldom walks. He’s certainly a better hitter than Emmanuel Burriss, but he doesn’t have much range in the field and lacks Burriss’ speed, which has been instrumental in some Giants wins. His acquisition does say one thing loud and clear, though: The Giants do not expect Freddy Sanchez to return this year.

The big prize continues to be Carlos Beltran. Sabean hinted this week that if the Mets only want to dump Beltran’s salary, the Giants might be willing to assume it. But there will be other clubs willing to do the same and, if the Mets want young prospects in the mix, the Giants won’t part with their tops ones.

So, Beltran is probably out of reach, which leaves the Giants with more questions than hitters.

They currently have three almost-certain outs in the lineup: the pitcher’s spot, shortstop Brandon Crawford and catcher Chris Stewart. Crawford is hitting .199. Stewart, somewhat unbelievably, got two of the three Giants hits off Clayton Kershaw in Wednesday’s game, so he’s at .206.

Though they’re deadweights in the lineup, both start because of their defense. Crawford is much better than either Miguel Tejada, who started the year at short, or Mike Fontenot, who should be nothing more than a backup infielder. Stewart has never been a hitter, even in his minor-league career, but he’s very quick behind the plate and has a strong, accurate throwing arm.

The Giants brought up catcher Hector Sanchez but used him in only one game before sending him back to Fresno for more seasoning. Sabean has declared that there is no market for a catcher and the only shortstop who might be available is Jose Reyes, another Mets player with a large, expiring contract. But Reyes has had injury problems this year and, if he’s deemed healthy, would be a target for other clubs.

So, if the Giants are going to get more offense, it probably will have to come from somebody on the roster now.

Perhaps Aubrey Huff will come out of his slump. Perhaps Brandon Belt will fulfill his promise.

Otherwise, the Giants will have to settle for a division title.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at glenndickey36@gmail.com.

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Glenn Dickey

Glenn Dickey

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Thursday, Sep 29, 2016

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