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Problem? We Have a Houston.

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Well, at least that's over. The mighty Astros are off the Giants' schedule, and the defending World Series champs can get back to business. What kind of business might that be?

Dammit. I knew you were going to ask.

How about gaining a game on the Diamondbacks in the next three days then another head-to-head over the weekend? The Giants have three against the Cubs while Arizona hosts Colorado. Winning two of three against anyone right now seems an improbable task for the Giants unless their pitchers throw a couple shutouts. I don't think I've ever seen a team so inept at scoring runs in so many (few?) ways. In fact, I don't think any of my baseball-watching ancestors have seen one, either. There is nothing more to do. The pitchers cannot pitch any better. Brian Sabean is almost certainly done trading. Eric Surkamp is a member of the rotation. Bruce Bochy has installed Brandon Belt as the everyday left fielder. He can keep tinkering with the lineup, but at this point Orange Julius couldn't squeeze more runs out of this roster. I can scream as much as I want about Mike Fontenot starting at shortstop against right handers, but really -- deck chairs, et cetera, folks. 

There's clamor for Brett Pill, minor-league RBI king, to come up in September (and claim a 40-man roster spot). I guess it couldn't hurt, but if they had any faith that his Triple-A numbers would translate, I think the brass would have given him a shot by now. They've had ample opportunity, what with all the holes to fill in the second half.  And...Gary Brown? Wow. Does anyone really think Brown would do better than Andres Torres for a month leading off and playing center field? Reality check time: The Angels' Mike Trout -- the best prospect in baseball not named Bryce Harper -- was called up from AA this summer for a brief stint, went back to the minors, and has been back in the bigs since August 19. His totals: .230 / .284 / .426. He is younger than Brown and better in every aspect of the game. Sure, Brown might insanely defy all expectations for a month, and sure, I might handle Andy Baggarly's job just fine if the Mercury News asked me out of the blue to cover the Giants down the stretch. (Hey, once you've interviewed a hostile Bill Gates about a confusing mobile OS strategy, how tough could a naked, angry Brian Wilson be?)

Hector Sanchez might also steal a few at-bats in September from the current catching tandem, but again, he's not exactly tearing up Triple-A. To be honest, I think Chris Stewart's run prevention behind the plate -- throwing out nearly 50% of base stealers -- is more valuable to the Giants right now than the marginal improvement with the bat Eli Whiteside offers.

And whatever talk we can amuse ourselves with, be it a month of sudden Beltranpalooza, or of Aubrey Huff rising from the depths like a thonged Poseidon, or even of Brett "The Thrill" Pill, it won't matter if the D-Backs keeping doing the do like they do. The Padres ran into a foul-smelling gale of a headwind last year, but Arizona this year? Do the baseball gods love the Giants that much?

Dammit. You knew I was going to ask.

Players of the week: Carlos Beltran, who has quietly had multi-hit games in four of the five he's started since his return, and Tim Lincecum, who strangled the Padres in a must-win Tuesday night. I should probably pick the entire pitching staff for having the forbearance not to strangle their own hitters,but I'll simply go with honorable mentions to Madison Bumgarner, Eric Surkamp for a tightrope act in his major-league debut, and Santiago Casilla for three lights-out late-game appearances. 

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