…until meaningful baseball. Something we have not experienced since, roughly, April 21 2017. That’s how bad it was last year.
And while things were looking hopeful this winter and spring, the events of the last couple days have left a dour pall over 2018. SI released their predictions today and not one writer picked the Giants to make the postseason.
While it seems virtually impossible to imagine the Giants remaining competitive without Madison Bumgarner (see 2017), every Championship Team the Giants have put together featured some aspect of the “they-could-never-win-without-that-guy-but-then-did” storyline.
If you had told me before the 2010 season the Giants would win the World Series without a significant contribution from Pablo Sandoval I would have laughed you out of the room. Partly because the Giants did not win World Series’ at that point, but also because the 2009 Giants were HORRIBLE with the bats, the Panda as the lone exception. There was no way they made the jump from mediocre to competitive without another big year from Sandoval.
In 2012, if you had told me the Giants would (a) lose Brian Wilson for the year, (b) have to send Tim Lincecum to the bullpen, and (c) rely on Barry Zito to pitch significant postseason games, I would have laughed you out of the room. (Not to mention, this team lost Melky Cabrerra half-way through the season, which, with the year he was having, seemed absolutely devastating at the time).
Finally, if before the 2014 season you would have told me the Giants would win the World Series without a major contribution from Matt Cain, essentially no closer, no Angel Pagan, and Travis Ishikawa starting meaningful games IN LEFT FIELD during the postseason I would have laughed you out of the building.
Please note that in each case you would have been exactly right.
In all three instances the Giants were able to overcome through some luck, their depth, timely acquisitions during the season that panned out well, and then the emergence of young studs (Posey and Bumgarner in 2010; Crawford and Belt in 2012; Panik in 2014).
So, crazy as it may seem, I am reaming hopeful to begin the season. The Giants are deeper than they were a year ago. There is still the possibility of mid-season aquisitions, and they are going to see if some young guys can emerge (looking at you Chris Stratton, Steven Duggar, and Tyler Beede).
The Giants need several things to break their way, but if they can stay a couple of games over .500 into June, they could be in good shape to make a push for the Wild Card.
I am also of the mind that the Dodgers are due for a regression. That may mean they “only” win 93 games, instead of 103, but they do not scare me the way some other teams do (namely the Astros and Yankees).
A massive key will be getting off to a strong start. I do wonder, again crazy as it sounds, how the Giants season would have been different last year if they had simply won that first game against Arizona. The way that they lost, with the bullpen meltdown, placed them too quickly back into the same conversation of the year before. I wonder, if they are able to hold on and win that game, how different things may have turned out. Probably not all that different with what we know now, but baseball is weird like that.
In the same way, if the Giants get off to a losing start in 2018, if the pitching is not sharp, and the defense kicks the ball around, and the offense sputters, the whispers of “nothing has changed” will turn to shouts and this thing could go into the tank before it ever gets off the ground.
Moving mast those mixed metaphors, let’s take a quick look at what a good start might entail:
- Game 1, March 29th, at the Dodgers: Ty Blach vs. Clayton Kershaw…let’s be honest this is probably an L. But there are different kinds of L’s. Let’s assume the Giants score a few off Kershaw, maybe even take him deep a few times (Pence and Longoria, for example), and Blach is good enough to keep it close. That would be a good start in my opinion. Giants lose 3-2.
- Game 2, March 30th, at the Dodgers: Johnny Cueto vs. Alex Wood…here’s where the Giants really need to make a statement. Alex Wood dominated them last year but I am still not impressed. They need to get to him early and often and Cueto needs to be on point. Giants win 7-2.
- Game 3, March 31, at the Dodgers: Derek Holland vs. Kenta Maeda…Maeda is a nice pitcher, but the Giants know him and should be able to hit him. Derek Holland keeps the tradition of Giants’ lefties doing well against the Dodgers. This is the first game of the season the bullpen is really called on to seal a win. Giants win 5-4.
- Game 4, April 1, at the Dodgers: Chris Stratton vs. Rich Hill…I’m not super excited about this matchup. It seems to favor the Dodgers in every way. But, here is where the Giants can really make hay to start the season well. Andrew McCutchen has a big day, Stratton’s curve ball is better than Hill’s curveball, and the Giants steal the series with a 5-2 victory.
- Game 5, April 3, home against the Mariners…Ty Blach will get the opening day daily double, pitching the home opener too. I have no idea who will be starting for the Mariners, but again, here’s a significant opportunity for the Giants to make an early season statement. They skip the 5th starter position, and utilize a day off and the energy of their home crowd to get off to a 4-1 start.
- Game 6, April 4, home against the Mariners…Johnny Cueto keeps the dominance going and the Giants move to 5-1.
- Game 7-9, April 6-8, home against the Dodgers…yes, the Dodgers again. We will see them oh so much right out of the gate. Notice, there has been another off day, which again shields the Giants from using a 5th starter. The downside to this series: no Cueto. The upside, the Giants will throw two lefties, and potentially miss Kershaw! That being said, I feel like the Dodgers end up taking two of three, and the Giants fall back to 6-3. That is a fantastic start before they even have to call upon a Tyler Beede or Andrew Suarez.
The rest of April is no cake walk. The Giants will get the D-back six times, a 4 game series in San Diego (which always feels like a week), plus they see the Nationals and Angels, and THE FREAKIN’ DODGERS AGAIN at the end of the month. If they can go 10-10 over those games, they could be 13-10 by the time Jeff Samardzija returns.
If they can repeat a .500 month in May (27 games, so let’s say 13-14), they could be 26-24 by the time they can start expecting Madison Bumgarner back.
It may be a long shot, but something to root for!