Good to see Barry Zito is still earning his paycheck

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Barry Zito reacts after walking home a run against the San Diego Padres during the first inning of their MLB baseball game in San Francisco, California October 2, 2010. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

Barry Zito’s contract continues to be the biggest rip-off in sports history.

Since arriving from Oakland and taking $126 million of the Giants’ money, the only thing Zito has done is strum a few notes on his guitar and lose ballgames.

After Matt Cain got his teeth kicked in by the Padres last night, it would have been nice if Zito stepped up for a change and won a huge game for his club. Instead, he allowed four runs (three earned) over three measly innings of work as the Giants once again fell to the Padres in San Fran. It wasn’t entirely his fault of course, as the Giants’ offense has reverted back to the Jose Castillo days, but he put his team down 2-0 in the first and sucked the life out of them.

In case you haven’t been paying attention, that means San Diego is now just one game behind the Giants in the NL West. These were the same Padres that couldn’t score a run against the Cubs two days ago and looked completely hopeless. But square them off against the Giants and all of a sudden they’re the 2009 New York Yankees.

If I sound like a bitter Giants fan, it’s because I am. Did I expect Zito to win today? No. But again, considering he’s done nothing for that team on the field, I was holding out hope that maybe he’d surprise me. I was holding out hope that he could put it all together, overcome all the struggles he’s had in San Francisco and just rise to the top one time. Just one time.

But no. In the end, he was Barry Zito.

If the Giants somehow overcome the greatest team in baseball history and magically make the playoffs, here’s hoping Madison Bumgarner makes the starting rotation and not this John Mayer wanna be.

Giants Baseball: Torture.

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It’s now or never for Padres

San Diego Padres third baseman Chase Headley holds his head as he hands at the dugout fence as he stands with teammates in the ninth inning during a loss to the Chicago Cubs in their MLB National League baseball game in San Diego, California September 30, 2010.  REUTERS/Mike Blake (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

August 19th seems like a decade ago.

That’s when the San Diego Padres, who had just won five straight, had a commanding six-game lead over NL West rivals the San Francisco Giants. The Friars were 26 games above .500 at that point and given the strength of their pitching, they seemed destined for a playoff spot.

It’s October 1st and now the Padres are clinging to desperation after losing three of four to the second-to-last-place Cubs. With just three games to play in the regular season, they’re three games back of the Giants in the West and two games back of the Braves in the Wildcard (who will take on the Phillies’ scrubs over the next three days). They’re just 5-5 in their last 10 games, while San Fran is 8-2.

Six days ago they were just a half game back of the Giants and with the lowly Cubs coming to down, they had an opportunity to potentially take the division lead back. But with their season on the line, the Padres only mustered five runs over a four-game stretch and the Cubs took three of four at Petco Park.

The Padres now have to sweep the Giants and hope to win a one-game playoff in San Diego on Monday. It’s hard enough to beat a team three times in a row and four times seems nearly impossible. The good news is that the Padres have swept the Giants twice this year, but those were different teams back then. All you need to know about that San Francisco team was that Bengie Molina was still the cleanup hitter.

There’s still hope for the Padres, but the time is now. Two of their top guns, Clayton Richard and Mat Latos, will take the hill in two of the three games, but the key is the offense. The Giants had the best team ERA in the major leagues last month and if the Cubs’ pitching could shut San Diego’s offense down, what do you think San Fran’s will do to them?

If the Padres are going to make the playoffs, they’ll have to erase a month and a half of poor play in four days. But for them, the only way to approach this situation is one game at a time, starting tonight in the “City by the Bay.”

Giants’ magic number down to 3 thanks to Lincecum

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Tim Lincecum throws a pitch against the Chicago Cubs during the third inning of their MLB National League baseball game in San Francisco, California August 10, 2010. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

Even with a head cold, Tim Lincecum was able to reduce the Giants’ magic number for making the postseason down to three games.

Despite being sick Wednesday night, the Giants’ ace allowed just one run over seven innings and struck out 11 in a 3-1 win over the Diamondbacks. He allowed a home run to Stephen Drew on the first pitch of the ballgame, but then settled in to dominate Arizona’s strikeout-friendly yet dangerous lineup the rest of the way. Unless he’s needed in a playoff-clinching start on Sunday or Monday, “The Freak” will finish the regular season with a 16-10 record and a 3.43 ERA.

Offensively, Pat Burrell took Arizona starter Ian Kennedy deep for a three-run shot in the fourth inning to give the Giants all the runs they would need. The 33-year-old has been rejuvenated in San Francisco, as that was his 20th homer since becoming a Giant.

The Padres beat the Cubs 3-0 last night, so the Giants couldn’t bring their magic number down to two games, but with only four remaining San Francisco is certainly in the driver’s seat. That said, San Diego comes to town for a three-game set starting on Friday, so the Giants can’t slip up now. If they lose to the Diamondbacks today in the series finale and the Padres beat the Cubs, there will only be one game that separates the NL West rivals with three games left.

This is what September baseball is all about.

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