The San Francisco Giants have been the most unpredictably competitive team in Major League Baseball this season.
Yes, we’re talking about a 15-16 ballclub. A rebuilding team off to a mediocre start doesn’t typically pique one’s interest because they’ll eventually fade into the dark. Well, we’re in the midst of a 60-game regular season where such a team is in the playoffs at the halfway point when zero expectations were placed on them.
Why were there no expectations on the Giants?
The following has taken place over the last 10 months: Gabe Kapler took over in the dugout for franchise royalty Bruce Bochy, homegrown hero Madison Bumgarner signed with the rival Arizona Diamondbacks in free agency, perennial All-Star catcher Buster Posey opted out of the 2020 season, and the Giants began an analytical movement with a slim major-league roster.
The Giants were the unmitigated worst team in the National League West in summer camp. The D-Backs, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres, and Colorado Rockies all had better rosters.
Their stop-on-a-dime rebuild began with close to nobody to build around. Their lineup is a forced combination of fundamentally sound veterans (Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, Evan Longoria, and Wilmer Flores) and unsung youngsters (Mike Yastrzemski, Donovan Solano, and Mauricio Dubon).
Their starting rotation has some reeling veterans (Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, and Kevin Gausman) and unproven, young arms (Logan Webb and Tyler Anderson). The bullpen has taken a step back talent-wise, trading/losing Will Smith and Mark Melancon to free agency over the last 13 months.
So, the season began; the Giants stumped people.
The Giants were obliterated by the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium in their first two games, getting outscored 17-2. Then they eeked out two wins against a loaded Dodgers offense that acquired the 2018 American League Most Valuable Player Award recipient, Mookie Betts, in the offseason.
Then the Giants came back to earth a bit, losing series the baseball world expects from a team of their caliber; they lost 12 of 15 earlier this month. But a funny thing has happened over the last week: the Giants have won seven in a row.
Over this run, they’ve averaged slightly above seven runs per game, kept the Los Angeles Angels dynamite offense at bay, handled the rival D-Backs, and pulled off an extra-inning walk-off victory against the Dodgers.
The Giants are second in MLB in hits (273), tied for fifth in runs (159), seventh in batting average (.257), and 12th in slugging (.433). Yastrzemski has a 1.022 OPS with seven home runs and 23 RBIs to his name; Solano, who didn’t play big-league ball from 2017-18, is hitting .351; Flores is hitting .291 with seven home runs to his name; Longoria is hitting .292; Belt sports a .313 batting average and a 1.007 OPS.
This is one of the best offenses in MLB.
Concurrently, Webb and Anderson are establishing themselves as reliable starting pitchers. Webb is building off his brief time in the big leagues in 2019, posting a 3.29 ERA across six starts this season; Anderson, who struggled with the Rockies in years past, is turning a corner, as he owns a 3.45 ERA across seven appearances, five of which have been starts.
Neither starter has been an innings-eater, if you will. That said, they’ve been efficient and are giving their offense a chance to hit their way back into games. This duo is better than a handful of one-two pitching punches in the sport. Plus, they have veterans accustomed to pitching in high-leverage games/situations.
While it has been a hit-and-miss unit, Tony Watson, Jarlin Garcia, and Sam Selman have been shutdown arms out of Kapler’s bullpen.
There’s something for the Giants to be positive about across the board. When’s the last time you could say that? They’re making progress and in the playoff hunt admist a climate where such a development makes no sense. Literally, it makes zero sense.
The NL West has been arguably the best division in baseball this season. The Dodgers have been their stellar regular-season selves; the D-Backs are a young team on the rise; the Padres have made enormous strides; the Rockies had a hot start and are in playoff contention; the Giants are in the playoffs with their divisional foes playing like this? By the way, 67 percent of their schedule is playing those teams.
The Giants have a better record than the defending World Series-champion Washington Nationals, Milwaukee Brewers, Cincinnati Reds, New York Mets, and Philadelphia Phillies. Those teams are more talented at face value than the Giants.
This is why they play the games.
The Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers, and Kansas City Royals have been plausibly competitive; the Miami Marlins are an incredible story. No one matches up to San Francisco in terms of playing through minimal expectations against all odds.
The San Francisco Giants embody the 2020 MLB season. They make no sense, and yet that perfectly encapsulates a 60-game regular season with no fans in the stands.
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