The Giants had a 6½-game lead at the All-Star break. One of their pitchers was starting the All-Star Game, but only because one of their other pitchers couldn’t. They had built their lead without their heart-and-soul rightfielder, and they kept pace without two of their young infielders. They had the best record in baseball, and they were only going to get better as their health improved.
The All-Star break was four weeks ago.
The Dodgers are currently beating the Phillies, bad team, because the Dodgers can beat bad teams. The Giants, for whatever reason, cannot right now. Which means they’re hopeless when they have to face a halfway decent team like the Marlins. Just get out of the way when they have to play a good team like the Nationals. And in the last four weeks, the lead has dwindled and dwindled and dwindled. And the NL West is about to be tied.
If you can remember as far back as six weeks ago, you might remember this post about the Giants’ historically large lead. It was up to eight games, and that’s just not a lead you see in any season. It was worth writing about, even though I was well aware that some of you would screech "JINX." If I had the telepathic power to affect other human beings and how they played baseball, I wouldn’t waste it on you dorks, but I still made every effort to appease the baseball gods.
The second goal is to make you look around, nervously, like a camper hearing a twig snap in the middle of the night, desperate for closure, knowing that you’re probably fine but also knowing all the different what-ifs that can ruin you.
... you know better than to celebrate. You’re terrified. The higher the cliff, the farther there is to fall when your ACME-brand products fail. You’ve seen these tumbles of hubris before, and they’re not pretty.
The Giants haven’t been here very often, but don’t get too comfortable. History suggests that when the Giants get a lead this big, this early, they make you pull your hair out before the season is over.
All of those were shots of rum to Jobu. I whispered the words aloud as I lit votive candles. I should have known. The Giants were not to be spared. I should have saved the rum for right now.
There have been three times since 1958 that the Giants had a similar lead before the All-Star break: 1971, 1993, and 2014. That’s two teams that collapsed and sank into second place, setting up several seasons of darkness, and a team that won the World Series. That’s about right. It’s much more likely that the Giants screw this up then surprise us and keep the even year jokes going. Two-to-one odds would be really generous, really.
All there is to do, then, is pretend the season starts now. Forget everything that came before, the lead that the Giants left in their other pants. Look at the roster. Pretend that Matt Duffy had to fight crime, and that we respect his decision, but give a good, honest look at this roster.
Does it look like the kind of roster that gets dominated by Tom Koehler because he’s the superior baseball player? Or because it’s a roster that’s dramatically underperforming right now?
If you believe it’s the former, well, pal, that’s your prerogative. And you might be right. This might be a sad sack of a team after all. It wouldn’t be the first time I was optimistic about a roster, only to look back in 10 years and wonder what I was possibly thinking.
I’m choosing to believe that Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford are two of the very best players at their position. That Brandon Belt is excellent and has been for a while, and Hunter Pence will eventually get his timing back and reclaim the good work he was doing before his hamstring tore. That Joe Panik can’t possibly be this unlucky forever, and that some of his line drives will start falling. That even though Eduardo Nuñez isn’t our dearly departed, but still a solid contributor to a contending team. That even though Denard Span has wavered between meh and okay, and that even though Angel Pagan might be several years removed from his prime, he’s a player who can still help.
That the Giants just might, oh, win a game started by Madison Bumgarner.
Matt Moore gave us the Jonathan Sanchez heebie-jeebies again, walking more batters than he normally does, but he settled down and gave the Giants a chance to win. He wasn’t acquired to be a Cy Young contender. He was acquired to give the Giants a better chance to win every fifth game, and the early returns are mostly positive.
And the two runs he gave up were set up by this swing:
WITCHCRAFT. And I’m not going to use it as a referendum on Moore or his contributions. The Giants would take six innings and two runs from Moore every time, and they would win far more games than they would lose in those starts.
No, I’ll add Moore to the positive side of the ledger. He’s a better starting pitcher than the Giants had, and that’s going to help. Heck, I’ll even add Jeff Samardzija to the positive side. He should be average! Not completely incompetent and awful! Average! Oh, that would be a sight to see, that average pitcher returning to the promised land of happily mediocre.
Until it all clicks, this will remain one of the more frustrating teams I’ve ever followed. They’re better than this. They’re not as good as they were in the first half, perhaps, but those wins were in the bank. Regression isn’t supposed to build up like an overfilled water balloon of sadness, bursting all over the place right when you’re feeling comfortable.
But it sure can! It did. And here we are. The Giants are in the second week of August, and they’re (going to be, give it an hour) tied for first place. It’s a scenario I would have taken in March. It’s a scenario that would have made me hide under the bed in July. It’s here now, though, and all we can do is ask that the Giants stop playing like goobers.
Stop playing like goobers, Giants. Don’t make me turn this season around. Cut it out. Don’t get shut out by Tom Koehler and a tired, beleaguered Marlins bullpen. Stop it.
Play better? Play better, Giants. Because maybe I’m a big ol’ dummy, but I’m pretty sure they can play better. No time like the present. Or last week. Or maybe three weeks ago. But specifically the present.
(This is fun. This your hobby. You had a choice to continue pursuing this hobby, and you took it. What a fun hobby! Enjoy this hobby. Pennant fever!)