At this time last year, the Giants had the best record in baseball. There were not columns about clubhouse chemistry, even though this is roughly the same team. Eduardo Nuñez is in for Matt Duffy, Austin Slater is in for Angel Pagan, and Mark Melancon is in for Santiago Casilla. Three of the four relievers from the Golden Era left, replaced by an assortment of different arms. Other than that, this is the same team.
Just, you know, awful.
So if people are wondering what’s different with this year’s team, it’s only natural to focus on those changes up there. Ken Rosenthal’s latest column addresses what’s going on with the Giants, and most of the changes up there made the cut.
But Melancon, sources say, rubbed some teammates the wrong way early in the season by putting an end to the bullpen’s 3:30 p.m. stretching session before night games, a practice that the relievers began in 2012.
The biggest change on the Giants roster is clearly going to be the focus of any “what’s different?” article. It’s a big, glowing sign that reads, “LOOK HERE, WRITERS. LOOK HERE.” It’s almost remarkable that Nuñez escaped unscathed.
Melancon’s listed transgressions include:
- Not stretching with the team
- Hanging out in the clubhouse until the seventh inning
- Making lots of money
As far as articles in the Crumbling Team genre go, these are exceptionally mild transgressions. It’s almost as if they wouldn’t be a story if the Giants were merely bad instead of awful, and to Rosenthal’s credit, he included that viewpoint:
As one person with the Giants put it, “If we were 15 games over .500 and he was pitching well, people would be like, ‘Ah, this guy’s the best. He’s got his routine down, blah, blah, blah.’”
Without spending time in the Giants’ clubhouse, it sure seems like that’s the only salient point, here. The Giants are losing, so there’s a tendency to look for what’s wrong in the clubhouse. It’s a backwards search for correlation, and the search didn’t exist last year at this time, when everything was just splendid.
What this is, then, is what happens when a team is inexplicably bad. When the Phillies crumbled, it was easy to see that it was because Ryan Howard stopped hitting, Jimmy Rollins was older, and Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee fell apart. There weren’t any mysteries. The same goes for the Braves’ descent into the abyss. There won’t be a similar column about the Padres because they’re right where they were supposed to be.
With the Giants, though, this is the logical result of the same team going through different struggles. Melancon’s contract and routine isn’t the reason Matt Moore has the worst ERA in the National League. It isn’t why Jeff Samardzija is having rotten luck and a continuation of previous dinger problems. It isn’t why Johnny Cueto’s ERA is over 4.00, why Madison Bumgarner likes dirt bikes, or why Brandon Crawford and Hunter Pence stopped hitting entirely. It isn’t why Brandon Belt is slumping or why Denard Span is playing like the achy player in his mid-30s that he is. Melancon’s contract didn’t stipulate that the Giants had to aggressively ignore the hole in left field, and he probably didn’t hint that he would like limited bullpen support around him.
It’s just that Melancon is one of the most noticeable differences. The article also hints at a suggestion that the Giants miss the gregariousness of Pablo Sandoval, which seems extremely questionable. It also suggests that the bullpen misses Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez, and Sergio Romo, which is much more likely, even if all three of those pitchers struggled last year, and the two of them who are still active are struggling again this year.
Heck, there’s even a tongue-in-cheek mention about Angel Pagan mixed in there:
Some with the Giants muse that the team even misses Angel Pagan, who created an odd sort of unity because most of the players disliked him.
Yes, that is funny. No, that is not the reason the Giants aren’t having a lot of fun in 2017.
The story of the 2017 Giants is this: The players they expected to be good, aren’t. Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto were supposed to be a pair of aces that made the rest of the world jealous. They weren’t. Brandon Crawford was supposed to be one of the better two-way threats in the majors. He isn’t. Hunter Pence was supposed to hit. He isn’t. The bullpen was supposed to be improved. It’s not. The entire roster is filled with these disappointments.
(And it’s worth mentioning that the Giants are a team that’s completely devoid of surprises, too. Where is their Scott Schebler, their Aaron Altherr, their Eric Sogard? This is a roster with only one kind of luck, and it’s not the good kind.)
That’s the only story I need for right now. I don’t need to ruminate on what Melancon’s contract means to the team dynamic, or what Bruce Bochy’s famously relaxed attitude means for a quiet clubhouse of hard-working veterans. I just need to figure out why all of these guys are lousy at the same time.
Anything else is ex post facto reasoning that’s obscuring what’s really wrong with this team.
This awful, awful team.