On the morning of last year’s LGBT Pride Night at AT&T Park, Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal wrote a lukewarm exposé on the Giants’ clubhouse and team chemistry. Bruce Bochy said of the piece: “It’s pole vaulting over mouse turds.” The crux of it was that the bullpen members didn’t get along. Beyond that,
Things are different around the San Francisco Giants, and not simply because the three-time World Series champions are on pace to lose 100 games for the first time since 1985.
The clubhouse, once populated by outspoken veterans and compelling eccentrics, is quiet to the point of being boring, some with the team say.
The Giants were bad and boring, which we already knew. They were 27-51 when the article was published, Bumgarner had already been lost to dirt bikes, Cueto to blisters, and Matt Moore had just lost his 8th game of the season and raised his ERA to 6.04. Of course Rosenthal would be able to find a story of some kind.
In response, Grant wrote:
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 you know a lot can change in just a year, and in this case, less than a calendar year. They’re certainly a lot less painful to watch and they’ve got some interesting, but never-to-be-tapped talent down on the farm to go with All-Star seasons from Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt.
Rosenthal’s report brought into the light the idea that Mark Melancon might be a killjoy and/or sourpuss — his offseason comments to Andrew Baggarly and “disrespecting the game” remarks the other day certainly support this — which we didn’t know before, mainly because we rarely got to see Mark Melancon pitch. But the rest of the article was just players and executives saying some variation of, “Man, it sucks to be bad and sucks a lot more to not know why.” Which, hey, we’ve all been there.
And, as Grant pointed out:
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.
Rosenthal’s closing notes suggested — by heavy implication — that the winning culture was gone and that the Giants were doomed (which, hey, that was my shtick):
Change, then, was inevitable — and the new landscape in the bullpen is one part of the transformation in the Giants’ overall vibe.
The current team is much less animated than the championship clubs were, many with the Giants say. Some of that, undoubtedly, is a product of losing.
It’s a hard environment. It’s a different environment.
On and off the field, the Giants have changed.
Some element of that might be true — it’s hard to sustain success in baseball over a decade — but probably not for the reasons Rosenthal suggested. Again, getting that background on Melancon was interesting and useful then and now, but his personality alone can’t possibly speak to a “rot” at the core of the organization.
Using Grant’s brilliance as a baseline, let’s see just how much has changed since The Rosenthal Report, and if those changes alone were enough to make us forget this extremely low point from last season.
The article also hints at a suggestion that the Giants miss the gregariousness of Pablo Sandoval, which seems extremely questionable.
We all agreed with this at the time, which is why the Pablo Image Rehab Tour has been one of the top 2 or 3 stories of this season. His return to Pablo Sandoval: Good Giant has been remarkable, and head-spinning, and... confusing.
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.
The team missed having a reliable bullpen. They don’t quite have that yet, but Tony Watson, Will Smith, Reyes Moronta, Sam Dyson, and Hunter Strickland have been far more reliable than what they got in bulk last season.
Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto were supposed to be a pair of aces that made the rest of the world jealous. They weren’t.
Okay, they still aren’t, but the caveats here are the Cueto absolutely was before his elbow started barking and even though Bumgarner won’t ever be Chris Sale, he’s still a pitcher a lot of teams would want to have at the top of their rotation. He bounced back from the dirt bike injury enough to show that he’s not done, and he’s likely to return to his more familiar ace-ish level in just a few starts.
Brandon Crawford was supposed to be one of the better two-way threats in the majors. He isn’t.
He now has the 4th-highest among all players total in All-Star voting and is having a career-best season.
Hunter Pence was supposed to hit. He isn’t.
Still true, but they also traded for Andrew McCutchen and gave Mac Williamson a longer leash than before... oh, and Gorkys Hernandez is a home run hitter now.
The bullpen was supposed to be improved. It’s not. The entire roster is filled with these disappointments.
It is better and the roster has some surprises. Which leads me to the final point:
(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.)
Where to begin? Brandon Belt leading the team in most offensive categories is an expected development, but Crawford’s huge year is a surprise, particularly when you compare him against 2017. But even beyond Gorkys Hernandez, there’s Alen Hanson, Chris Stratton, Andrew Suarez, Derek Holland’s first 5 innings, and Pablo Sandoval.
The Giants were so bad last season that a 180 probably won’t mean they’ll make the playoffs this year and win the World Series, but in less than a year, they’ve still managed to do a 180. That’s a story.