If Madison Bumgarner gave up just one more extra-base hit at the wrong time, if the Giants couldn't solve an ordinary Opening Day starter, if the first game of the season ended in a loss, the hook of this recap would have written itself: Don't worry too much, there are 161 games left. After the welp-filled bottom-of-the-first, it was going to be an easy game to write off. Just one of those days. Don't read too much into one game. It's just one game.
Instead, Bumgarner got the double play at the right time, and the Giants hit. And hit. And hit and hit and hit and hit. The Giants hit four home runs in their 12-3 win on Monday, including a back-to-back-to-back streak from Denard Span, Joe Panik, and Buster Posey in the eighth inning.
Which is all a plea to read too much into this game. Please, it isn't just one game. This probably means something.
At least, you can see the template of what we're hoping is a familiar 2016 Giants win in this one. Maybe not this extreme, this lopsided, but in the sense that there isn't a weak spot in the lineup until the pitcher comes up, and maybe not even then. Pretend this wasn't a start from a flu-addled, rusty Bumgarner but a starting pitcher who might allow three runs in five innings in a normal outing.
Call this hypothetical starter "Jack Porvy." It used to be that if a starting pitcher didn't absolutely shut down the other team, the Giants were going to lose. That's where the term "caining" came from, as Matt Cain would seemingly lose every game in which he had the audacity to allow a single run. Bumgarner had seasons like that, himself.
The hope of the '16 Giants, then, is that they can pick pitchers up more often. No, that they'll have to pick pitchers up more often, and that they're more than capable. The wonkiness of an ill, rusty Bumgarner can't tell us much, but at least the lineup aligns with our expectations so far. If the '16 season is going to be a long movie, and the offseason was an exciting trailer, this game was a heckuva opening sequence.
Not that we should anticipate this kind of offense in every game, mind you. It might not show up again for months. It doesn't have to show up at all. You probably saw the broadcast note that this was the first time the Giants went back-to-back-to-back in a game since 2006, when Barry Bonds, Ray Durham, and Pedro Feliz went deep in consecutive at-bats.
While that's a neat factlet, it's probably more impressive to focus on the sheer number of homers and runs. The Giants didn't hit four homers in a game last year until August 1. They did it twice all season. The Giants didn't hit four homers in a game in 2012 at all. Like, the entire season and postseason combined.
Here, in our first sniff of baseball that counts, the Giants hit four dingers.
If you want to go back to that spot where we talk about how Opening Day doesn't really mean anything, that's fine. You're right. Tuffy Rhodes isn't in the Hall of Fame, and the Giants somehow managed to overcome a sweep to begin the season in 2012. It's just one game is probably the smartest thing to remember in almost every baseball-related scenario before September.
But I'm still a believer in the lineup in general, and while this is an extreme example of a high-scoring game, it's not a total coincidence that the lineup is supposed to propel the team this season and they scored 12 runs in their first game. Just like it wasn't a coincidence that the 2008 Giants never scored 12 runs in a game. Just like it wasn't a coincidence that the 2009 Giants did it just once. This lineup isn't going to do it every game, but on the rare occasions they do it, you won't wonder what in tarnation got into them. It will feel organic, like they're due for one of these games every so often.
The Brewers are in a, uh, transitional phase right now, and that certainly helped the cause on Monday, but don't use that to take away from that fabulous game. The Giants got some whompin' pitches in bad locations, and they whomped them. That's how the game is supposed to work.
And for a game, it worked just like we had been dreaming all winter. This Opening Day win doesn't guarantee as much as we want it to, but it's at least hinting that we're not misguided to have high hopes for the lineup.
Hinting, yelling. Pick your own verb.
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Giants with five runs batted in on Opening Day:
- Denard Span, 2016
- Barry Bonds, 2002
- Matt Williams, 1994
- Bill Terry, 1927
So either the Giants will win the pennant, baseball will go on strike, or the economy will collapse and you'll be forced to sell apples on a street corner. They're all two sides of the same coin, really.
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It's easy to ignore Bumgarner's poor outing because of the offensive explosion and extenuating circumstance, sure. He was ill, and he's still probably not quite 100 percent after his foot and rib cage injuries. Add in the rust those injuries saddled him with, and you have a perfectly logical way to explain away a poor start.
While Bumgarner's final line was something off the dust jacket of the novelization of Jonathan Sanchez's last season with the Giants (a walk and a strikeout for every inning pitched), there's still a way to put a positive spin on it. I'll try.
Watching Bumgarner struggle like this reminds you that there is far more finesse to his game than he usually gets credit for.
It's true! You think of Bumgarner as a large human quarry of strength and domination, which is certainly understandable. But he's not just herk-chucking 100 mph fastballs all over the place, stymying hitters who lack the physical tools to catch up. He needs to hit his spots, too. He needs to avoid the middle of the zone, too. Just like the regular losers.
He usually doesn't. And whether it was the virus or the lingering rib cage injury or just one of those days, it's probably safe to assume he'll get that finesse back. Let this game remind you that Bumgarner puts his quality starts on one pitch at a time, just like the rest of you. There is more guile to his game than we might remember.
His Opening Day start was a dud, sure. He was frustrated enough to make him eat his glove on live television.
But it wasn't anything that can't be explained away in an honest, convincing fashion. And the Giants won anyway.
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As a germophobe, there is nothing more horrifying to me than the thought of a gigantic, flu-ridden human being forcibly expelling contaminated mucus out of his nostrils in a small area for several hours. This recap will be shorter than usual because I need to shower for the rest of April.
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Brandon Belt's first swing of the 2016 season:
It didn't work out. But let me be clear about this: I am very much in favor of shift-related bunting. Belt ended up doubling in this PA, which makes it easy to discourage taking the easy base, but he won't double in every at-bat. When the other team is giving you a free base, take it.
Later in the game, even after Belt's post-bunt-attempt double, Brandon Crawford tried the same thing. I am unabashedly for this concept, and I hope the Giants are making something of a strategy out of it.
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Matt Duffy hit the first homer of the Giants' season, an arcing, cloud-seeder of a home run. This was after he drove in two runs, giving the Giants a lead they figured they might not ever have after Bumgarner walked in a run the inning prior.
And you thought, say, what if Duffy isn't just as good, but better?
Indeed! However, I kept coming back to Angel Pagan, happy-go-lucky #9 hitter, doing all the little things and looking like a new player. He's not stiff and ailing like he was for most of last year. His body isn't a paper bag filled with thumbtacks, like it was last year. So while it was easy to dream about a Duffy-led offense after his huge day, I kept thinking what if Angel Pagan is good this year? Not acceptable, not good for his age, and not good for a #8 or #9 hitter, but legitimately good.
It's still just the first game, and Pagan was hitting .322 toward the end of May last year, so there's a lot of evidence to gather. But what if he's rejuvenated? What if he's as good as he's ever been? He passes the eyeball test so far. What if he's an asset?
Well, then the Giants would have a shot at an absolutely absurd lineup. And I don't see why you shouldn't take some time this Opening Day to reflect on that potentially absurd lineup.
The Giants are on pace for the greatest season in baseball history. Run with that optimism. Take it wherever you'd like. Happy Opening Day, everyone. The Giants got you a present.