Giants’ top takeaways, key considerations heading into final two weeks of stunning season

With the Giants’ stunning season down to the final two weeks, here are some takeaways and story lines to consider following their penultimate homestand and in advance of their final regular-season trip of 2021:

The fun factor: These guys are having a ball. It’s not just a business, after all. Kevin Gausman turned into a 12-year-old boy when he hit a medium-deep fly to right field Friday night, good for an 11th-inning, walk-off sacrifice fly.

The pitcher’s joyful exuberance radiated into the night as the Giants celebrated an unlikely victory, one of the most memorable in 2021. It wasn’t atypical. Fun stems from winning but also the confidence of believing in winning.

“I think laughter and having fun playing this game in a pennant race is an indication of confidence,” said manager Gabe Kapler, citing Brandon Belt recently wearing a electrical-taped C on his jersey as the self-proclaimed team captain.

“That sort of playfulness and taking the game lightly and not getting too wound up is an indication the players are confident. It’s very hard to be smiling, laughing and enjoying yourself if you’re lacking confidence.”

The MVP: The deeper into the season, the louder and more pronounced the chants. “MVP … MVP … MVP.” No player is more responsible for the Giants’ success than Brandon Crawford, who deserves a place on all voters’ 10-man MVP ballot.

“I think they’re inspiring and encouraging,” Kapler said of the chants. “I have no doubt Craw appreciates them, hears them and uses them as motivation and fuel.”

At 34, the shortstop is at the top of his game both at the plate and at shortstop, where he used to make an incredible play once a series, and now it’s once a day. Like Friday, when he dived into the hole and threw a laser to first base, earning a tip of the helmet from Austin Riley, who hit the ball. Sometimes twice a day. Like Saturday, when he twice ranged deep in the hole to register outs.

Plus, the man brought a .900 OPS on the season into Sunday’s game, especially remarkable for someone who never had an .800 OPS season in his previous 10 years in the majors. His single on a 3-0 pitch Saturday set up Curt Casali’s game-deciding, two-run single.

The schedule: The Giants have 12 games left, half on the road and half at home. Kapler said, “Between now and the rest of the season is sort of a mini-lifetime.”

Fortunately for the Giants, they needn’t travel too far east. The final trip starts Tuesday in San Diego, home of the tailing-off Padres, and finishes in Colorado, home of the also-ran Rockies.

The focus is avoiding letdowns, maintaining a distance in front of the second-place Dodgers and considering every foe a legitimate challenge. And never mind the strength of schedule. Or lack thereof.

“The Rockies have played good baseball recently and have all season long played very tough at home,” Kapler said, “and the Padres are as tough as any group in baseball. They have a nasty bullpen. We don’t have to touch on how good the middle of their lineup is. Everybody knows it.”

The new guy: Kris Bryant, the Giants’ prized trade-deadline acquisition, has been consistent on offense (reaching base 18 straight games) and is as versatile as advertised. He started in center field Friday, at third base Saturday and in right field Sunday.

Recently, he has taken grounders at second base, where there’s already plenty of depth with Tommy La Stella, Donovan Solano and Wilmer Flores. Bryant playing there would be more of an emergency situation.

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