SAN DIEGO, CA - SEPTEMBER 05: Madison Bumgarner #40 of the San Francisco Giants pitches during the first inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park on September 5, 2011 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
No one really knew the Giants were going to melt into a puddle of goo after Steve Finley's grand slam in 2004. That's oversimplifying things. Almost every Giants fan was somewhat optimistic entering 2005. Maybe that was just because of how familiar it was for the Giants to contend -- for eight straight seasons, the Giants were in some sort of race until September. Most of the same crew from 2004 was back in 2005. It wasn't crazy to hope for another season of above-average baseball.
But there was a sense of urgency. There was an expiration date on the Giants with Bonds, and it was past. You knew about the expiration date, but you saw that Oprah one time where there were tips on how to stretch your budget, and they said that a lot of foods stayed fresh for a week past their expiration dates, so they explained that you didn't need to throw those foodstuffs away needlessly and run to the store. It was like that, but with baseball players. Also, Edgardo Alfonzo smelled weird. You didn't need the date.
This game, then, was the opposite of that. The Giants almost certainly aren't going to make the playoffs this year. But there's next year, and just like 2009, you don't need to take a shot to believe the wait-'til-next-year tidings. This game was the perfect example of why. Bumgarner bumgarnered. Sandoval sandovaled. Belt ... walked and singled. No belting, really, but you could see how he'd be good.
For 2011, there's only one position that I'm certain is going to be below average offensively, and that's shortstop. I'm pretty sure first base will be too, but there's a chance of Belt starting, or Huff rebounding to something more than wretched. And there are pie-in-the-sky ideas on how the Giants can help the offense even more -- re-sign Beltran, make a push for a premium shortstop like Rollins or Reyes, or trade some of those championship ingots in for Albert Pujols -- but for the most part, I don't think next year's team is going to look a lot difference. And that's not as obviously horrific as it reads.
The biggest question in the offseason had to do with Pablo Sandoval. He was otherworldly when he was 22, but he slumped a bit when he was 23. So did the Giants have a youngster with preternatural hitting ability, or was the whole thing a mirage? I'm pretty comfortable assuming that Sandoval is going to be a hitting machine for a few years yet. This game was an extension of what we'd already figured out this season.
The biggest question for this offseason, then, is if they'll have to build some sort of containment unit for Madison Bumgarner's awesome. It's leaking all over the place. Old ladies are slipping on the stuff. Young players are flailing at it, but that's sort of the point. It's kind of weird that a start like this from Bumgarner can make me optimistic in ways that a good start from Lincecum or Cain can't. Those guys are known quantities. I don't think they'll get much better than great.
I do think that Bumgarner can get better, and that's scary. He's already good, of course -- up there with any of the Giants pitchers if you go by FIP or xFIP. But when you watch him effortlessly mow down a team with command, control, movement, break ... and you realize he's just a few weeks from getting his driver's license, you get excited.
So last month stunk. Really, it did. But there aren't a lot of teams that I'd trade spots with for 2012, and a two-homer game from a 24-year-old and a career-high in strikeouts from a 21-year-old helped put that in perspective.
Of course, it'd be a lot cooler if they were contending right now too, dang it.