When discussing just how the Giants dropped their car keys into the bottom of a houseboat bathroom and were forced to rummage around, arm extended, for several months if they wanted to leave the lakeside resort, the 1993 Giants often come up as a comparison. It makes sense at first. The Giants had a nine-game lead on Aug. 11. They were 81-40 through Aug. 19. Then they lost nine of 10, including eight in a row, in the beginning of September, and they missed the playoffs entirely. It was a brutal letdown.
Except that version of the story misses a few points. The first is that the Giants were still 44-29 in the second half, even with the eight-game losing streak. That’s about a 98-win pace. They also won 14 out of 16 before the fateful final against the Dodgers, which is unfortunately remembered as the Salomon Torres Game, even though there’s a better argument to be made for the Dave Burba Game, the Dusty Baker Game, or even the Ugh, C’mon, That’s Kevin Gross Out There Game.
The most important part, though is that the Braves were 54-19 in the second half. That’s a 120-win pace. So even though the Giants had one of the best second halves in franchise history, the Braves had one of the best second halves in baseball history. They were undead, but they weren’t those slow zombies like The Walking Dead. They were big ol’ kitty cats, running 20 mph and bringing you down by your ankles. It took a nearly perfect team to play flawless baseball (along with a tax-deductible from the Padres, the jerks) to catch the ‘93 Giants. In retrospect, well played. Got heeem. Fine work, really.
That’s not what the Dodgers have done. And that’s the worst part. On the date the Giants moved their lead to eight games, June 26, the Dodgers had a .532 winning percentage. Their expected winning percentage was .561, but they were playing like an 86-win team.
Since then, the Dodgers have had a .597 winning percentage. Their expected winning percentage has been just .554, which means they might have actually played better in the first half, but they’ve still been playing at a 97-win clip. That’s great, but they’re no ‘93 Braves. They’re not even better than the ‘93 Giants in the second half. They’re not an unstoppable T-1000, always in the rear view mirror, no matter what you try. They’re just a team having a good half of baseball.
Assuming the Dodgers were always going to win 60 percent of their games after the Giants’ high-water mark, all the Giants needed to do was play .500 ball to win the division. That’s how big the lead already was. Instead, they’re 14 games under .500 since the All-Star break, percentage points behind the Twins for the worst record in baseball during that stretch.
It’s time for a very fun aside. The third-worst record in baseball in the second half belongs to the Padres, who are 17-36 when they haven’t played the Giants in the second half. Good talk.
Long digression short: These aren’t the 1993 Braves chasing down the 1993 Giants. This is much different, a team collapsing like few others have in baseball history. And it’s the Dodgers’ good-not-great half that’s killing me. They’re going to be winners by default, the two ugliest words in the English language.
Let’s watch the visualization of the 2016 Giants in the second half:
The pillow factory represents the first Padres series. The marshmallow truck represents the second Padres series. Really, I can go on for pages, but I’m short on time.
The Dodgers lost Clayton Kershaw, which should have been a disaster. They traded some of their better prospects for Josh Reddick and Rich Hill. The former has hit like an injured Gregor Blanco, the latter immediately missed five starts with a blister. The entire organizational plan was to accumulate 14 oft-injured starting pitchers and hope that four of them would stay healthy. Instead, almost all of them were injured, including the ace they were absolutely counting on.
Except for the pitcher who agreed to a contract with 1983 salaries and incentives because he had injury concerns. That guy’s been healthy all year. Good talk.
This was a beatable team. This was a team that should have come up just short, even if the first-place team was merely average. If the Giants played at their expected record in the second half, this would be the best, most heavily anticipated series of the season. Now, it’s ... well, it’s not an afterthought. But it’s not the best, most heavily anticipated series of the season.
Before we go and sink into the couch, dejected and regretful, to watch Clayton Kershaw, let me offer you a small kernel of optimism. Let’s assume that the Giants have a 45-percent chance to win any given game against the Dodgers on the road. I know it feels like a five-percent chance, but we’ll go with the statistics, and this probably undersells the Giants’ chances, really. That would mean the likelihood of each series outcome would go something like this:
Dodgers sweep: 16.6%
Dodgers win series, 2-1: 40.8%
Giants win series, 2-1: 33.4%
Giants sweep: 9.1%
The missing .1 percent is either because I rounded up weird, or because that’s the asteroid. Which is probably what we all deserve.
With a sweep, the Giants are just two games back. Not ideal. Not bad, considering. With a series win, the Giants are four games back. Their chances are still slim. Beyond that, forget it. The Giants will have conceded the NL West, essentially.
So it’s that series sweep that we’re irrationally hoping for, that roughly 1-in-10 chance. But re-read the legacy of second-half shame up there, the parts that detail just how unlikely and hard it was for the Giants to blow this lead. They had to play substantially worse than their expected record, and they had to be a sub-.500 team instead of a merely average one. They would have to do this despite better injury luck than the team that was chasing them.
What kind of odds would you have given for that to happen at the time? Better or worse than 9.1 percent? I’d say worse. Substantially worse. And yet it happened.
So that’s what I’m rooting for. A series sweep, starting with the Bumgarner/Kershaw matchup. Because something even more unlikely happened to get the Giants where they are right now.
And if the Giants get that series sweep, you know what that sets up? The Dodgers’ sweep of the Giants at AT&T Park for the last three games of the season. That’s not rank pessimism. The Dodgers have swept the Giants at AT&T Park in 2010, 2012, and 2014. This is what’s been missing the whole time, you gotta believe me. And if the Giants sweep here, that will set up a way for the Dodgers to sweep with the Giants still crawling into the postseason on the final weekend of the season.
It’s how it has to happen, I’m sorry. It starts with this series, this one right here. Give me that nine-percent chance of still having hope. It’s all I ask. Well, that, and another championship. It’s not too much to ask.