It could’ve been worse. That’s the good news. The better news is that Jeff Samardzija’s baseball career is not in immediate jeopardy after receiving the results of an MRI last night.
MRI On Shark actually not bad. Strained pectoral muscle. Won't throw for a week then, Bochy says, "he'll crank it back up." #sfgiants— Henry Schulman (@hankschulman) March 23, 2018
Jeff Samardzija led the National League in innings pitched last season and was a somewhat reliable starter for the Giants in that he struck out batters with regularity and made his scheduled starts without incident. The league leader bit was the result of industry trends (no starter lasts 5 innings these days), and the strikeout totals would’ve been matched or surpassed with healthy seasons from Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto. All that to say the Giants have better starters in the rotation already but the rotation is far worse overall without a healthy Samardzija in it.
Let’s take a moment to reflect on how cool a “strained pectoral muscle” injury sounds. It sounds like something Apollo Creed bragged about after beating Rocky in their secret fight at the end of ROCKY III. Like something that would happen to a gladiator. Of course, it also sounds like something a drunk in the bleachers would translate into “strained boob.”
Cool or funny, it’s not the doomsasterous shoulder injury we all feared last night (okay, that some of us feared last night. Fine. That I feared last night.), which means that the Giants’ season might not already be dead before it starts. There’s a chance that Samardzija’s terrible spring numbers and the strained pectoral muscle are related. He’ll be eligible to return from the disabled list just 7-8 games into the season. The Giants have four days off in April. There’s time for him to heal and get up to game speed before too long.
This matters because Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto have to be adequate this season if the Giants have any chance of doing anything. And adequate performances from both of them only really matters if the offense carries the weight. I’m getting some 2003-2004 vibes off this year’s squad, and maybe that’s only because my subconscious registered that this 2018 season might be the end of the line for this particular group of players, just as 2003-2004 was for that group of players. Those teams were basically Barry Bonds, Jason Schmidt, and getting lucky, and this year’s team is basically Madison Bumgarner and the hitters single-ing the other team to death. Stranger things have happened, but they usually have occurred when the rotation had some solid performers.
And to be very clear: yes, I’m saying that a slightly below/slightly above league average Jeff Samardzija is valuable to the 2018 Giants. It’s all psychological. I’m not arguing against the fact that Jeff Samardzija was a below average major league pitcher last season, but I’m saying that the Giants consider him to be better than what the numbers say. They don’t have very much in terms of depth, so if whatever they do have performs within an expected range, they’ll feel like they’ve succeeded. That’s positive thinking. And there’s power in positive thinking.
But does the rotation nexus of Chris Stratton, Derek Holland, Ty Blach have at least 5 solid innings per start talent? Will the bullpen hold up to early exposure? These are variations on questions every team has heading into the season, but as the 2018 Giants are perhaps searching a bit for their identity (they had to shed that 2017 skin hastily, without care for or attention given to what replaced it), figuring they’re not going to be able to bank on having even the potential for 3 straight quality starts in a series or week has to be a mental setback at the very least.
Any team’s season can be disrupted by a few key injuries. That Jeff Samardzija is a key injury for the Giants says a lot more about the Giants than it does about Jeff Samardzija.
Finally, I do wonder how much Jeff Samardzija’s strained pectoral muscle actually hurts. Is it just a really sore feeling in the pecs? Is it a tingly burning sensation? Is it hard for him to eat, drink, drive, brush his teeth, play video games, take off his pants, etc.? Obviously, it hurts enough that he can’t pitch, but if the majority of us measured the intensity of pain by how difficult it was for us to throw 97 mph, then the majority of the population would be in constant agony.