Madison Bumgarner has thrown 27 innings this season over four starts, which puts him among the league leaders. He has a respectable 3.00 ERA and a dominant 2.35 FIP. He’s struck out 28 batters and walked four. He is, by every available metric, having a strong start to his season.
The Giants have not won any of the games Bumgarner has started this season.
Hello, and welcome to the 2017 Giants, the team that whispers "odd year" into your ear.
YOU: Look, we’re not doing that. It’s not a thing anymore.
GIANTS: [Eric Idle face] Odd year!
YOU: Come on. Give it a rest.
GIANTS: Odd year, eh?
This is as optimistic as I can get, and it’s entirely, 100-percent true: The Giants scored two runs in 20 innings, and they should feel blessed that they weren’t swept.
For the third time in their last four games, the Giants went three full innings without a single baserunner. They were 15-for-72 in the series with three extra-base hits (two from Nick Hundley). After hitting home runs in each of their first five games (and losing four of them), they’ve hit home runs in two out of their last nine games.
It’s an unwatchable lineup right now. Any one of those home runs, well-timed, could have given them the sweep. But I’m not going to fall back on the ol’ luck excuse. This was the story of the entire second half last year, when the Giants outscored their opponents by 11 runs and finished 12 games under .500. There’s something missing. Specifically, swings of the bat that automatically produce runs. It’s all fun and games for an average-dependent team when the hits are strung together.
It’s absolutely miserable when they’re not.
There’s enough blame to go around. Aaron Hill is hitting leadoff and playing left field, which is almost like a team using Aaron Hill to hit leadoff and play left field in 2017. He looked okay defensively, playing caroms well and getting to a weird, in-between pop-up without any issues, so give him credit. But he’s not a leadoff hitter, and he’s not a corner outfielder.
Buster Posey is hitting .367, and I swear it’s the softest .367 in recent memory. He looks lost, taking Votto-vs.-Lopez swings against pitchers he should crush. Hunter Pence is chasing when he’s ahead in the count. Eduardo Nuñez and Brandon Belt are both slumping.
Gorkys Hernandez is hitting .067, but don’t worry: His OPS is .225.
I want to write that this should all improve, but it doesn’t have to. Posey has a .455 batting average on balls in play, which is at least 100 points higher than it should be. There are four other regulars with an OPS above .750, and there are never any guarantees that they have to stay that high. This could get worse before it gets better, and the shutouts will continue until morale improves.
But, yeah, it could get better, too. The Giants actually averaged more home runs last year, which is a sobering thought, but that also means there’s room for growth.
On the other hand, this is one of those times where it’s probably appropriate to mention there was another team playing in this baseball game, and that the other team was allowed to use a pitcher, too. Jason Vargas struck out nine Giants without walking any, and while we’re used to this team looking like a bunch of feckless lumps, that’s not how they usually do this. Even when they struggle, this Giants team usually works a few walks. They usually make contact. Vargas limiting both is probably a sign that he was pitching about as well as he can pitch.
I wouldn’t be so sensitive if it didn’t come after all the other feckless showings, though. It would be nice if the Giants could hit a bunch of homers, really, and get quick runs that didn’t hinge on exceptional timing and a run of sweet luck.
Just like the second half last year. But don’t worry. This year is different because
The last five times the Giants have come from behind in the ninth inning to win a game:
- May 10, 2015 (vs. Marlins)
- April 23, 2015 (vs. Dodgers)
- July 22, 2014 (vs. Phillies)
- July 5, 2014 (vs. Padres)
- June 7, 2014 (vs. Mets)
That means there was a six-week stretch when the Giants had more ninth-inning comebacks than they did over the next 90 weeks. Those were good times. Which brings me to my next point ...
I enjoy nostalgia more than the average bear. Always game for a Manny Trillo retrospective, even when the team hadn’t won a championship since moving to San Francisco.
That written, I’m pretty comfortable suggesting that year three is when the nostalgia starts to become a little bittersweet. Of course, we haven’t had a year three before, ha ha, he says, winking and adjusting his ascot, so this is new ground to cover. But while the highlights were a constant stream of Panik-to-Crawford and Bumgarner coming out of the bullpen, and they were definitely welcome and lovely, there was a much stronger sense of "Play better, you dorks" that came with it.
If that’s spoiled, well, I’ve admitted to being spoiled several times already. You are not breaking news. At the same time, I’ll fall back on the idea that three hours is a long time to watch a sporting event, and three hours every single night can get you grumpy when things don’t go your way. And when you’re icing a sore back and getting calls from collection agencies, there’s only so much that reminiscing about your prom can do for you.
The Giants aren’t there yet. Their back isn’t anything a little ibuprofen can’t handle, and their credit is in the 700s, at least. That doesn’t mean it helps to think about the prom every night.
Also, at the prom, you were given the power of flight and $1 million.
Also, there were three of these proms.
Which probably does help a whole lot.
But not always. And there was something about the nostalgia that was necessary but odd when juxtaposed with the limp bats and boring baseball. Your mileage may vary.