We’ve reached the bleakest part of the off-season, folks. The moves have been made, the players are vacationing, and we’re now counting down the days until the start of the season. In the meantime, we thought we’d check in with some other local sports teams and I drew the short straw of trying to explain the conundrum that is the 2016 San Francisco Giants.
First of all, let me address the elephant mascot in the room: I recognize that there are two beloved baseball franchises among Warriors fans, so I highly encourage A’s fans to give us an update on the team in the Fan Post section! That said, I’m a Giants fan and I’m staying in my lane, so try not to give me too much crap in the comments.
As summer draws to a close and we get further into the hunt for October, it’s hard to look at the Giants right now and see a playoff caliber team. Truth be told, it’s hard to look at them at all lately. The first-half Giants were a juggernaut, but since then they have come to a slow, painful crawl through shards of glass and sea salt. The truth is, the first-half Giants seriously over-performed. They should not have done as well as they did and a lot of that was ease of schedule and flatout luck. Adversely, the second-half Giants should not be as bad as they have been. But no one said sports have to make sense.
The team upgraded its starting rotation during the off-season with pitchers that had question marks hanging all over them. Johnny Cueto had a rough second half last season and Jeff Samardzija had given up the most home runs in baseball, but it was working out very well to start the season. Cueto had three complete game wins against the Padres in the span of a month, Samardzija was lights out and Madison Bumgarner was Madison Bumgarner. The offense gave fans faith that the team could generally find a way to overcome an early deficit, no matter how large. And the bullpen was... well, that’s not important.
It wasn’t all sunshine and daisies in the first half, though. The Giants had two very embarrassing games where they set records for the worst reasons. Jake Peavy started an inning where they gave up 12 runs to the Mets in New York in late April. Not to be outdone, Matt Cain started an inning where they gave up 13 runs to the Rockies, less than a week later. I know what you’re thinking: Coors Field is an offensive cesspool and no baseball should ever be played there. But this was at home. The Giants set the AT&T Park record for most runs allowed and the Rockies’ record for most runs scored in an inning at the same time. Think about that. The Rockies, who play at the pitching purgatory that is Coors Field, set their single-inning offensive franchise record at AT&T Park. Yeah, in hindsight, we really should have seen the meltdown coming.
May and June found the Giants to be unstoppable. They were winning games they had absolutely no business winning, despite losing players to injury faster than they could be replaced. They were down to the backup, backup, backup guys and were still winning with the most questionable of lineups. They played (backup infielder) Kelby Tomlinson in left field once, on purpose, and it worked. That kind of luck just couldn’t last an entire season, but it was fun while it was happening. (Tomlinson, who clearly knew I had written this, singled in the game-winning run last night just to spite me. Classic Kelby.)
Just before the All-Star break, the Giants were playing the Diamondbacks, who had been owning them at home for quite some time. Nevertheless, I had tickets to the last Friday game before the break and I was not going to let that, coupled with a recently struggling Samardzija, deter my optimism. It took several hours to get to the ballpark, and during that time Brandon Belt won the fan vote for the last spot on the All-Star team and the love was just flowing at AT&T Park. That day was peak arrogance for the first-half Giants, in my opinion. Samardzija gave up a home run on the first pitch of the game, but it didn’t even matter because they came back to win 6-2. Things were still rolling along in their favor and they swept that series to close the first half with the best record in baseball.
Then, the All-Star Game came to San Diego, and with it, the Giants.
Presumably as revenge for Tim Lincecum’s two no-hitters against them, the host team secretly replaced all of the Giants with the Junior Giants Little Leaguers. They were swept by the Padres to open the second half and it hasn’t gotten any better. They have had the worst record in baseball ever since. They have been incapable of winning more than two games in a row. And they just keep finding new and impressive ways to lose. Hitting into a triple play? Sure! A walk-off balk? Why not! A two-run lead in the 9th? Here’s a three-run homer, courtesy of the bullpen! These second-half Giants are considerate like that. Just two days ago, the Giants were shut out by the Rockies’ Chad Bettis who threw a complete game, allowing only two hits. AT COORS FIELD. Now, that... that is rock bottom, guys. Or at least it would be if they didn’t keep re-defining rock bottom every other week.
Yes, Giants fans can be whiny. But you can sort of see why, right now. This team, while not the best in baseball by any means, is not as bad as it is performing. On paper, this team should be at least capable of .500 ball; all the pieces are there. In theory, they have pretty good starting pitching, great defense, good offensive potential, and a bullpen that seems to be able to cobble together a lot of great innings — but only when it doesn’t particularly matter. The problem is that no more than two aspects show up at a time. There have been games with excellent starting pitching gone to waste because the offense couldn’t buy a hit with runners in scoring position. There have been games where the offense was on fire, only to have the bullpen implode and give the runs back as quickly as possible. Then the bullpen would be immaculate the next day but the starting pitcher already gave up five runs, sometimes due to inexplicable defensive mistakes. It’s like a science project from hell trying to figure out why it isn’t working.
The “Even Year” thing — the expectation from the media that the Giants will win the World Series because it’s an even year — has made me nervous for about three years now. I never bought into it. My first memory is of the A’s sweeping the Giants in the 1989 World Series. I still get catatonic at the mention of 2002. Just the year, it doesn’t even have to be more specific. With a series lead going into Game 6 of the World Series, the Giants were up 5-0 in the 7th inning. All they had to do to win it all was get through three innings without giving up six runs. They could not do that. They lost the game and, ultimately, the series.
For me, the pain of that loss was the closest comparison I had for this year’s NBA Finals loss, which left me in the fetal position until the morning of July 4th. I can never be complacent in my sports fandom because any team can fall apart at any time, no matter how good they are. Every team is always just one injury away, one bad coaching decision away, from a meltdown. So, be cautious with your arrogance. Before getting too caught up in your Steph Curry wishes and Kevin Durant dreams, consider that you can have everything going for you, but it can still fall apart for reasons that make absolutely no sense.
Have I sufficiently depressed you? Good.
The counter-jinx was my plan all along.