It’s been a minute!
Let me begin by saying my silence in this space has been due to a variety of factors, not the least of which was/is this question: “why are we even playing baseball right now?”
When MLB started to ramp up in July I said to myself: “Self. Don’t get excited. This is a bastardized season that may not even get off the ground or finished. People are sick and dying. You have plenty of other things to worry about. Move on.”
And so it was with great reluctance that I half-heartedly kept my eye on things as the season launched. The Giants got off to a bad start. Several teams got COVID. It seemed like all my concerns were valid and my lack of interest rewarded.
And yet…they kept playing games. And teams got better (health wise), and the games kept coming, and then the Giants started to win.
And so here we are: 30 games into a 60 game weirdo season, and I have to humbly admit: I kind of like it.
Sure, it helps that the Giants have won 6 in a row, but even before this week I felt like it was time to start writing again once we made it to the half-way mark. And here we are.
Let me summarize where we’ve been and where I think this is going. First, some themes from the early games:
- Bad veterans: the Giants’ old regime players (Belt, Crawford, Longoria, Panda, Pence, Samardzija, and Cueto) did not got off to great starts. Buster Posey opted out. It seemed pretty damning to watch the old core struggle so much.
- Bad bullpen: there are some arms in this bullpen that are pretty exciting (Selman for closer in 2020), don’t get me wrong, but this has been a struggle all season, and old’ Gabe Kapler’s managing of the pen certainly fit all the inherited narratives about him.
- Weak starting pitching: my early season assessment was that Farhan Zaidi seems to have a great eye for position players, but the lack of pitching, especially starting pitching was alarming.
- Ok offense: Mike Yazstremski, Donovan Solano, and many others have been revelations. It feels like the Giants can score 5 runs in any game, which is not something we’ve been able to say for years.
It really felt like this was just going to be an exercise for the Giants and then we’d all move on. But now, a full 30 games in, some things have changed.
- The veterans: Samardzija was hurt and is on the injured list where he might stay for the rest of the year. Pence is gone (sad to see, but makes sense). Cueto and Longoria have been totally solid. Crawford and Panda are waking up and looking much better. And, maybe the biggest news of all: Brandon Belt is looking like a stud right now. He has always been super streaky and can get hurt just by looking in the wrong direction, but there’s no reason to assume this is flukey. He got a later start than everyone else, and sure seems to be in form now.
- Bad bullpen: Yes, the bullpen has had some spectacular mess ups. Yes, I do not trust Kapler in this area one bit. BUT, there are some very intriguing arms and everyone is still very much learning and figuring out who is trustworthy right now. Plus…
- Improving Starting Pitching: This is huge. (A) Good starting pitching makes any bullpen look better, and (B) we are starting to see that Zaidi may know what he is doing here too! Right now Cueto and Logan Webb look solid. Kevin Gausman looks like an ace when he can locate his nasty stuff. Tyler Anderson is doing a fantastic vintage-Kirk Reuter impression. I have always loved Trevor Cahill and he is rounding into form after an early season injury. AND, the Giants best starting pitcher early on was Drew Smyly. Who knows where he fits once he is ready to return! All of this to say: the rotation suddenly looks like a place of strength, maybe the strongest “unit” of the team.
- Really ok offense: Let’s get real. The platoons are working. With the call up of Joey Bart there isn’t a major hole in the lineup. Wilmer Flores looks like a steal. This is a team that doesn’t have a true masher in the middle of the lineup, but 1-9 can give a good at bat and make solid contact in any count or situation.
Conclusions and Forecast: The Giants are a couple of blown saves away from being 17-13. You can’t get those back though, so 14-16 is still a pretty great achievement. Keep in mind that the Giants first 30 games were brutal, arguably the hardest schedule in all of baseball. So, things are looking up.
This is clearly still a work in progress. Even 60 games is not enough to make a true assessment of where the franchise is at.
But recent success aside, the thing that has been true from day 1 of this season is that this team is interesting. There are a lot of intriguing pieces here and every day that passes the franchise is less stuck with some of the old and bloated contracts.
At some point Farhan is going to make (need to make) a signature move. I have no idea what that should be. This off-season’s free agent list is certainly uninspiring. But, for the first time in a while, it is possible to see the future and the future is relatively bright.
Now, what will happen the rest of the way? Who knows, of course, but the primary reason for hope, for me, is that this cadre of starting pitchers is looking very solid. There is no true ace…yet. But the Giants have five healthy guys (and 6 total) that are suddenly very trustworthy, and that fact makes everything else about the game a little bit easier.
There are bullpen concerns. There are defensive concerns. There are managerial concerns.
But the end of the story is that it will be interesting. No question about that. And that’s about all we can ask for in this crazy time.