It’s February, 2017. You’re handed a slip of paper that reads, “The Giants start the season by losing four of their first five games.” The slip of paper smells of verifiable truth, and you trust it completely. You don’t worry too much because, look, it’s just five games.
But when you turn the slip of paper over, it reads, “Also, these games will confirm all of your worst fears about the team.”
Your job is to guess how they lose these four games.
YOU, IN FEBRUARY: By blowing a bunch of leads?
Accurate! The Giants have blown eight different leads in five games this season. It’s not mathematically impossible to do that because there can be multiple save opportunities in a game. It’s just very, very hard to do.
To be fair, the Giants have blown just one game in the ninth, but that’s because they’ve had only one opportunity.
Alright, remember the slip of paper. Confirm all of your worst fears.
YOU, IN FEBRUARY: Matt Cain is bad?
Accurate! The Giants have endured four straight seasons of Matt Cain not being effective. He had one quasi-decent start toward the end of spring training, with a whole lot of misery preceding it. It’s hard to describe just how little evidence there is to support the idea that Cain can be an effective starter in 2017. The last four years don’t offer it. March didn’t offer it. This game certainly didn’t offer it.
Remember, his contract isn’t evidence that supports this idea. That’s evidence that supports a thesis of, “Boy, oh, boy, I really hope this works because I want it to,” which isn’t the best way to build a baseball team.
I respect Matt Cain as much as I’ve ever respected a homegrown Giants player, and in 20 years, when the kids pay too much attention to his down years, I will be there to smack their knuckles with a ruler. There’s just no evidence that he can be good again, other than that he was good in the past. That’s the same argument for trying Juan Marichal, technically, just on a different scale.
The “Boy, oh, boy, I really hope this works because I want it to” thesis is absolutely seductive, I get it. It has to be doubly so if you know the guy and have interacted with him every day for the last decade. But the location is bad, and the stuff can’t make up for it. This is year five of that description.
I love a good comeback story, but this is sure piling it on before the end of the second act.
Hit me with your worst fears, February.
YOU, IN FEBRUARY: Uh, no one playing left field can get a single hit?
Yeah, I’m not going to blame the slow start on left field, but it’s at least worth mentioning. You thought the left field arrangement was a mish-mash of desperate options? Well, it’s been worse than that through five games.
(Again: Five games. Deep breaths. We’re just talking about perception, here.)
YOU, IN FEBRUARY: The offense can’t buy a hit?
Ah, no, that’s the thing. The lineup is kind of rolling. They’ve averaged more than 5½ runs per game. They’ve now lost two games in which they’ve scored six runs. Their record since 2000 when scoring exactly six runs is 180-60. Three-quarters of the time, they win this kind of game every time. Just not in the first week of the season.
More fun facts: Since the start of 2013, the Giants are 13-3 when one of their hitters hits two home runs in a single game. Two of those losses have been in the last week.
Wait, don’t go: This is the first time the Giants have lost a game in which they’ve hit a grand slam since 2007, when Randy Winn hit one against the Dodgers. Here, check my work. It makes sense, though. Grand slams are worth, let’s see, four runs. Spotting any team four runs in a query will make them victorious more often than not. Teams are supposed to win their grand-slam games.
Go through that list. When Marlon Byrd hits a grand slam? Giants win! When Hector Sanchez hits a grand slam? Giants win! When Casey McGehee hits a grand slam? Giants win! When Miguel Tejada hits a grand slam? Giants win!
When Brandon Belt hits a grand slam and then follows that up with another homer? Sorry. Bullpen. And Matt Cain. Also, bullpen.
I don’t want to belabor the first-five-games thing, but it’s legitimate. There will be one-run wins the Giants don’t deserve. There will be games where they score 10 runs and win 10-9, and there will be games where they score one run and win 1-0. Long season. Crack of the bat, smell of the grass.
But if you were to explain just how the Giants have lost to a poor slob in February, it wouldn’t have sounded to his or her ears. It doesn’t sound good to us, here, in the future.
I can’t believe I wrote this in the only winning recap of the season:
My working theory is that his wild-card cement-mixer slider is like a knuckleball, and it spits on your FIP and DIPS theory. When the hitter hits it, it goes a long way, but when it’s mixed in with perfect sliders, it’s unhittable.
Just a working theory for now. If he wanted to throw more perfect sliders, that would be cool, but I’m coming around on these hangers. They’re sneaky-smart in the right spot, and when it works, I’m a fan.
When it doesn’t work, I’ll be right back here to tell you about it, friends.
Friends, it is with a heavy heart that I must inform you ...
Nothing about Kontos makes sense. He stopped missing bats years ago, but he’s never stopped limiting runs. When he struggles, it looks horrible. No one hangs a slider like Kontos*. No one. He does it so often, his career ERA really defies rational explanation.
*The good news is that when Kontos hangs 10 sliders, you get a free hanging slider.
Five games, don’t pile on the poor guy after a walk-filled outing that isn’t like him, I get it. But the Giants are tethered to Kontos in a way that teams aren’t normally tethered to their fourth and fifth options out of the bullpen. He’s in commercials. He’s credited for brightening the clubhouse mood. He is, by all accounts, a swell guy, one of the best.
I’m just worried that FIP is right. Games like this don’t help those worries.
Update: The Giants haven’t come back in the ninth inning to win a game since May, 2015. That was the game against Steve Cishek and the Marlins, and it was the last one in recorded history.
There are two caveats: One is that the Giants came back in the ninth inning against both Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel later in 2015, but they lost both games. The other one is that they came back and won against Kenley Jansen in the 10th inning of a game last season, and it was extremely satisfying.
We’re talking about ninth innings, though. Since Cishek blew that save in May, 2015, closers facing the Giants are 81 for 83 in 9th-inning save opportunities. The Giants are 0-for-83 in games that opposing closers attempt to save during the ninth inning over the last two years.
I won’t get over that, I’m sorry. The Giants lost a game this week in which there were two outs and nobody on, with Jeff Mathis and Daniel Descalso coming up, and they can’t stumble into a blown save in the ninth inning.
I promise you that I will keep updating this throughout the season. And when they finally do it, I will FREAK THE HELL OUT with all of you, and it will feel oh so satisfying.
Until then, sit in a corner and think about the contrast in now other teams have felt in ninth innings during Giants games, and how you’ve felt.