7 Days…

And just like that we are in the final week of the season. As we said last week: it’s been weird.

As expected, it’s going to be a wild final week for Major League Baseball. Unlike the American League, where there are some seeding positions still up in the air, but it’s pretty clear who the best 8 teams are, the National League is WIDE open.

Right now the Marlins (that’s right, the MARLINS) are the 5th seed. They could also not make the postseason depending on how this week shakes out. Meanwhile, the Rockies seem buried under a pile of mediocre teams, but a hot week could see them leap the field and sneak in. It’s that crazy.

What does this all mean for the Giants? Well, they are very much in the mix and will be at home all week.

Quick side note, the Giants road/home splits this year are fascinating and troubling. On the one hand, dramatic road/home splits in a year like this are not surprising. In a pandemic it makes a lot of sense that a team would be better at home than on the road. On the other hand, in such a short season can we even read into any of this? On a third hand, seeing the Giants recover a dominant home presence has been a passion of this blog for several years, so we are pleased in a strange way.

Perhaps the most fascinating part of this phenomenon is that the Giants have scored so many more runs at home. For years, Giants fans have longed for road trips because that’s where the bats seemed to come to life. This year it’s the total flip. Their offense has been disappearing on the road.

They’ve scored 5.5 runs per game at home, and 4.5 on the road (a number aided by the fact that they just put up 14 in Oakland yesterday).

Now, look at MLB standings and you will see that only elite teams are good on the road (with the exception of the MARLINS who are the only team with a winning record on the road and not at home). Outside of that, it’s the Dodgers, White Sox, and Rays with nice road records, and those are the 3 best in baseball this year (record-wise).

The Giants are not in bad company per se, but it’s been weird to see them crush the ball at home and then the offense disappears when they leave SF.

Now, to the question of the day: can they actually make the postseason?

Let’s look at some schedules:

  • Miami Marlins: 7 games left, 4 against the Braves and 3 against the Yankees. On paper, that’s a tough week. The Braves series should be really tough. The Braves will want to clinch the division and start to set things up for the tournament. But the Yankees may or may not be super motivated. They are in, it’s just a matter of positioning at this point. Either way, we are Braves and Yankees fans this week.
  • Philadelphia Phillies: The Phillies are currently in as the 7th seed. They close out the season with 4 games agains the Nationals and then 3 against the Rays. The Rays may or may not be motivated in those games. They’ve clinched the division, but may be fighting for top seed in the AL. I’m not sure how much of a big deal that it is, but either way the Phillies end the season on the road for 7 games against teams with talent. It might be backwards race to the finish line for second place in the East. Either way, keep an eye on both the Phillies and Marlins this week!
  • St. Louis Cardinals/Cincinnati Reds/Milwaukee Brewers: I include them all here because they are in the same division. One of these teams is going to finish second, get an automatic bid, and not really be competing against the Giants. Currently, that team would be St. Louis and they start the week against the very bad Royals, and then play the Brewers. So, in many ways it would be great if they could have a strong week, pull away from the pack and beat down on the Brewers this weekend. The Brewers start their week with the Reds before facing the Cardinals. The Reds end their season against the very good Twins (who might not be motivated this weekend…they are close to first in the division but if that’s decided by Thursday they might coast). Bottom line: root for the Cardinals, hope the Brewers split their series with the Reds, and then both the Brewers and Reds get bulldozed in the final weekend.
  • The Mets and Rockies are behind the Giants and have an outside chance at the tournament. The Rockies play 4 with the Giants to start the week, so the Giants hold a lot of their fate in their own hands. If they throttle the Rockies, not only do they improve their own position but they will knock out a competitor in the meanwhile. The Mets play Tampa (an elite team) and then Nationals (bad record, but talented as we said) so it seems they have the longest of odds.

While that outlines our rooting interests for the week, the challenge for the Giants themselves is quite simple: they have to win games. As things have shaped up the magic number in my mind to get into the postseason has been 32 wins. For about a month I’ve had this sense. The Giants currently have 26 wins, and 8 games left. A 6-2 week is not out of the question, BUT they have to get them agains the pesky Rockies and the Padres who have dominated them so far this year.

The best way forward would certainly be to sweep the Rockies, keep the pressure on everyone else, and then hope for the best against the Padres (who may also be coasting this weekend with their postseason positioning locked up).

But, baseball is weird, and this week will undoubtedly provide a number of ups and downs as we wrap up an already weird season.

Weird Week, Weird Season, Weird World

I feel like this is all my fault. Which is probably how every fan feels when things start to go a little wrong. Last week I gushed about how fun the 2020 Giants are, and “isn’t this great this little engine that might be?!”

And then this week was not so fun.

Although, it started out pretty fun. (One of the weird features of the year of COVID is that a week feels like a month and a month feels like a year, so it is important to remember some good things happened this week/month…haha).

All the way back on Monday the 7th the Giants’ defeated Zach Gallen (who set a record for most starts NOT allowing more than 3 runs to begin a career) and completed a dominating season series against the Snakes from Arizona.

They backed that up with two spirited wins against the suddenly surging Seattle Mariners, and all we could think about was how good the offense is and potentially being a lock for the 7th seed in the postseason tournament. I will even admit to thinking about second place in the NL West. The Giants were 5.5 games back of San Diego as they head south on Wednesday, but they also had 7 games left against the Padres. Going, say, 5-2 would eliminate half the lead and then if they got some help, it was not out of the realm of possibility.

But then, everything literally went south. The Giants got battered by the Padres, the offense disappeared, and any sort of momentum was completely derailed by the positive-false-positive COVID test that wiped out Friday and Saturday.

Which was a jolting reminder that the world is not right and this season was, and always was going to be, a bit of a mess, and get-a-hold-of-yourself-man, thinking about second place in the NL West!

Furthermore, Kevin Gausman is hurt, and this is really bad news for a pitching staff that was a weakness to begin with.

So, for a week that started off golden and gave birth to grandiose dreams, we are now back to the point of simply hoping for the best/that these guys can just hold on long enough to get a crack at the Dodgers in the first round.

The Giants have some days off this week, which is a blessing, and could help them recuperate a bit. Drew Smyly returned and looked awesome, which would be a huge add if he can throw like that over the final two weeks.

The reality remains, for all the fun and good vibes, the Giants are still, very much, behind the Padres and Dodgers in terms of talent and those are just two teams in their own division.

The rebuild is definitely not over because they have found some offense.

This is a critical week: only 11 games left, 5 this week all on the road (although 3 are in Oakland), against a decent team (Seattle) and a very good team (Oakland). If they want to feel a bit more secure going into the final week of this weird season, they will need to pull out some big wins during this stretch.

Two-Thirds

Well, we are 41 games into this strange, short, 60 game mini-season. One of the great mysteries of 2020 is how teams are going to evaluate what happens this year. 60 games is not nothing, but it is also a far cry from the normal 162 games worth of data points. In addition, the minor leagues are not happening in the same way, which makes everything even more difficult.

So, for example, does Farman Zaidi and the Giants’ brain trust look at the first 41 games of 2020 and say: this team is good, and it is getting better every day. More specifically, do they look at Brandon Belt, who is on fire right now, and say: we fixed him! Or do they say: this worked out well, let’s trade him while his value is high?

Then there’s the issue of how other teams will value these games. Back to the Belt example: do they see this as a short season fluke, so no thanks to the $17.5 million price tag? Or do they see the opportunity to get a cost-controlled first basemen for a year?

Those are questions for another day, so back to our present moment: what do we make of the Giants so far? I’ve delved into this a bit in the last few weeks, but today I have a very important announcement to make:

Who cares how “good” this team. This team is fun.

Which, all things considered, is about all we could ask for from 2020. Is this team perfect? Nope. Is this team dominant? Not really. Do I worry a lot about the state of the pitching, especially the bullpen? Oh yes, yes indeed.

But they are so fun.

And really, that was my one great concern about the “new” Giants. That any joy and fun would get buried underneath all the analysis and data. Nope, this team is fun.

A short list of fun things:

  • Brandon Belt playing with big time Swag is fun

Trade Deadline And Other Thoughts

Well, the 2020 trade deadline, such as it is, has come and gone and the Giants did basically nothing. In fact, most of the beat writers spent the day tweeting about former Giants who moved around (most immediately Derek Rodriguez, but also Kevin Pillar, Josh Osich, and others).

Now, on the one hand, doing basically nothing doesn’t mean a lot, especially this year. This was always going to be tricky given the COVID constraints on the season. How are teams supposed to know what to do after 30 games and with only 30 games left?

The Padres went all in on this deadline, and that makes sense (something I hope to explore soon because it is an interesting comp with the Giants).

But most teams are in much murkier waters.

As we said last week, the Giants might be good?! They certainly have some good things going on right now, and a stable of exciting young players on the way. While they could add more good players (FOR SURE) there isn’t a compelling reason to bet the farm on the players that were most readily available.

And so, it sure seems like they are going to give it a good go with what they have and see how it plays out.

On the other hand, you have to think that there were some opportunities to exploit. The Padres, once again, are a great example. They got Mike Clevinger, a young, relatively cheap, stud of a pitcher who they will have for next season as well. And they got him because he was an idiot regarding the COVID policy.

I’m not trying to make any sort of point there, other than to say weirdness creates weird opportunities, and the Padres took advantage.

But weirdness also makes it hard to get stuff done, which I totally get at many levels.

I don’t think we can pass too much judgment on the Giants or make any declarations (Zaidi will NEVER do anything big). The big moves are coming, at some point, now was not the time to force the issue.

But you do have to wonder.


So, for the final month we have basically this same team, with a slightly easier schedule, competing for either the 7th or 8th seeds and a chance to make some noise in the playoffs.

This also allows the Giants a little while longer to evaluate guys like Kevin Gausman and decide if he’s worth keeping into the future.

And it mostly (and this is my point of today’s article) allows Giants’ fans to appreciate a few players a little bit more.

Evan Longoria is a very good major league baseball player who, in his 30s, has struggled with injuries. But, let me reiterate, he is a good player. And Giants’ fans have not had the opportunity to appreciate that fully until now.

The data driven nature of today’s baseball has squelched some of the personality out of the game. But there are still some gems and maybe the biggest gem of all is Johnny Cueto. He’s an artist and we need to appreciate him more.

Brandon Belt is eternally frustrating and I get all the reasons why he’s been hard to watch for many people. But the base line skills for a dominant modern player have always been there, and maybe, in 2020 bizarro world, we are finally getting to see what a lineup with a good Brandon Belt looks like. (It looks pretty good.)


Giants treaded water this week: 3-3, but the first game of the week may turn out to be the game of the year. They Giants came back several times and finally walked it off in the 11th

Then they dropped 3 in a row, then won 2 nice ball games to end the week.

And now, on to the final 24 games. The Giants are a half game out of the final playoff spot. If nothing else, can 2020 please give us a Giants-Dodgers playoff series, short and strange as it may be? That’s what I’m rooting for!


Added after original post: a couple of clarifying tweets:

Half-Way Through The Bizarrest Of Seasons

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.