Back in the good old days, when the Giants were pitching no-hitters/perfect games annually, Grant would put together a really swell 50 Awesome Things About [Pitcher’s Name]’s No-Hitter list after each one and we’d sit around the digital campfire to enjoy them.
Since this is baseball, we’re never too far away from one of these events happening again, no matter the team’s record, but given the Giants’ record, we are in a precarious moment of the season — are they buyers or sellers? Contenders or pretenders? Brandon Belts or Thomas Neals?
That’s the sort of uncertainty we’ve rarely seen from the Giants this century, and so I think it’s worthy of one of these new lists. Not to celebrate the mediocrity, but to recognize that despite their flaws, there are still many good things about the team we can cheer for now and, possibly into next season and beyond.
1. They were a total disaster at last year’s All-Star Break.
After 90 games, the Giants were 34-56, last in the West, 27 games out of first place. They returned for the final 72 games with nothing to play for and, my goodness, did they continue that trend the rest of the way (30-42), finishing up a 234 game stretch from the 2nd half of 2016 through the end of 2017 (excluding playoffs) where they went 94-140.
2. They’re probably going to wind up with around 80 wins.
That’s important because, well, you know: they won only 64 a season ago. There were plenty of jokes that the additions of Longoria and McCutchen weren’t going to make the Giants 20 wins better, but somehow, the additions of Longoria, McCutchen, and Tony Watson along with the emergences of Rodriguez, Suarez, Will Smith, and Alen Hanson have been more than enough to cover the lack of bounce back years from Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Joe, Panik., Johnny Cueto, and Jeff Samardzija, all performances the Giants came into the season planning on. Again, an 80-84 win team isn’t inherently exciting, but given where they’ve been and given how they’d get to that 80-84 win range, there’s enough there to be excited about 2019.
3. Dereck Rodríguez
He’s talked about now in the same breath as Bumgarner and Cueto — he’s just expected to be a contributor out of the starting rotation now, on the basis of 46.2 innings pitched. He saved the day pitching out of the bullpen last week, and his size, versatility, and mental fortitude all have the team raving and in a way they never really did when it came to Cain, Lincecum, and Bumgarner. That’s mainly because he’s been such a pleasant surprise and such a shot in the arm it seems like it caught the entire organization off guard. It’s not about if he can keep it up, it’s about welcoming the surprise.
4. Andrew Suárez
As much as the Giants love Rodríguez, I love Suárez. His innings will be limited down the stretch, but before he’s shutdown completely, we’ll get to watch him continue to make adjustments. He gives up home runs, but it’s rare when he walks hitters and his aggressive sequencing really matches up nicely with his skill set. He loses his command for an inning in every start, but he always seems to battle back. I don’t think he’s a front of the rotation starter, but in a rotation with very little depth, he’s more than serviceable at the back end.
5. Madison Bumgarner
You know he’s going to factor into something — a game, a playoff race, a fight — before the season’s over and seeing his professionalism within his redneck countenance has been a really interesting experience. He doesn’t want to Country Hardball everybody, he wants to get them out and he wants to dominate them by pitching. He’s had two starts this season that were some of the best he’s had in his entire career, and the rest of them have been bleh to meh. We’re going to get some more of those starts, sure, but there’s still a lot more good left to watch, too.
Of course, there’s also the whole will they trade him? scenario. It won’t happen, but it’s fun to think about. Even if you think that doing so would rip out the heart of the team, at least consider the comedy potential of watching other teams and fanbases twist themselves in knots to spread rumors or explain why the Giants should give him up for nothing.
6. Steven Duggar
Rather than making Steve Finley comps, I hope he plays well enough where we just start making Steven Duggar comps, but in the meantime, I’ll take a plus-plus defender in centerfield who can work a count, draw walks, and hit doubles. He’ll have his slumps, but we’re already seeing what he can do, and if it doesn’t impress you, it has to at least give you a sigh of relief — the Giants have a centerfielder.
7. Ray Black
When he’s not throwing 100-102 mph, he’s throwing 97 mph with movement. He’s also got a wicked breaking ball. We don’t know if the 28-year old fireballer will be able to throw back-to-back games very often, but his mere presence and general competence gives the Giants some options, both in-game and in-trade market.
8. The trade deadline.
Whatever they do over the next couple of weeks will tell us about the next 18 months. They’re in a position to declare a new direction (PLAY THE KIDS), reinforce their old direction (WIN NOW!), or go off in a radical new one (TANK TANK TANK). It’s the Giants, so, a combination of all three feels most likely, but even a mixed approach would be a huge departure from WIN NOW!
9. They could still surprise us.
They’re 4 games out of the NL West and the Wild Card with several teams to compete against for the latter and 3 teams for the former. But the Brewers’ collapse in 2014 helped the Giants ramble across the finish line into the Wild Card Game when they had no business being there and the 2010 Padres gave the division to the Giants. The 2016 Cardinals could’ve unseated the Giants but their post-All Star Break performance was too mediocre to knock out the Giants’ terrible 30-42 mark. Same goes for the 2016 Pirates.
With luck, Bumgarner, Cueto, and Rodríguez/Suárez will pitch more rotation innings than Blach, Stratton, and Holland, who all more or less led the Giants’ rotation in the first half. That should be better. Whatever you think about Hunter Strickland, the bullpen will probably be better served by his return, too. The lineup, of course, is a huge question, but maybe The Magic Cortisone Shot will help fix Buster Posey’s power and Evan Longoria’s return will give the lineup a fighting chance against left-handed starters the rest of the way.
10. Disrupting the Rockies.
But even if they don’t surprise us, they can still surprise the NL West. Maria Bamford says it best:
11. Disrupting the Diamondbacks.
Play it again, Bamford:
12. Evan Longoria returns.
For the season, he has an .882 OPS in 94 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers. For his career, it’s .878 in 1,761 PAs. This season, the Giants have a .693 OPS against LHP as a team. That alone will help them.
13. Pablo Sandoval will play all nine positions in a game.
If they do fall out of the playoff race, Bruce Bochy and Pablo Sandoval have already planned for this. It very well could happen. If you can’t win, you might as well have fun.
15. Brandon Belt had a 21-pitch at bat.
16. They have 8 walk-off wins already.
They had 9 last season and lost 10 games via the walk-off as well. They only had 6 such wins in 2016. But they’re on a nice pace this year, and it’s to the credit of the pitching staff that we’ll see more shirt ripping.
17. Chase d’Arnaud’s walk-up music is Pony by Ginuwine.
He’s just a bachelor, looking for a partner. Jump on it, let’s do it.
18. Johnny Cueto: back or doomed?
Within the next 60-90 days we’ll know if Johnny Cueto will miss the 2019 season with Tommy John surgery or if he’ll become the new Masahiro Tanaka, where we’ll spend the rest of his career wondering if his elbow will explode or if he’s the rare case where rest and change in approach saves the day. But the longer the question lingers, the worse the outcome for the player and the team. Still, I think we’ll know one way or the other this year.
19. Building towards 2020.
Don’t laugh because this is important. The goal of 2016 was to “be better than 2015 and get us back to 2014”, 2014 was “get us back to 2012” and 2012 was “avenge 2011”.
The goal of 2017 was “let’s just see how long we can keep this baby running”, and when the season stalled midway through its jump across Springfield Gorge, the goal of 2018 was born: just be better than 2017. For the first time in a good long while, the Giants get to build towards something.
Joey Bart could be up by 2020. Shaun Anderson and Heliot Ramos, too. They could join the likes of Suarez and Rodriguez and, who knows, Bumgarner and Bryce Harper, as well as Crawford, Belt, Posey, Black, and Smith. That’s not nothing. In fact, it’s quite a bit of something.
20. We saw a rare Bumgarner Hug.
Get Bumgarner out of a jam like that one and you get a hug. pic.twitter.com/vOcCj1OSGg— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) July 14, 2018
21. The Reyes Moronta Experience
That’s Young Beat Reporter Kerry Crowley’s tag of the Giants’ absolute unit of a reliever. He’s an underrated component of their effective bullpen.
22. Joe Panik beat the Dodgers twice.
23. We’re gonna get Johnny Cueto^Infinity Hats.
24. The OF victory formation.
Truly wonderful. Less painful than a turkey tap.
Giants beat the D-backs. Dodgers lost. Mood: pic.twitter.com/bjTTsOg51O— Carmen Kiew (@carmenkiew) July 1, 2018
25. Andrew McCutchen is the best-dressed player in MLB.
According to a player poll conducted by The Athletic, he’s “the best dresser/most stylish player in baseball.”
26. Gorkys Hernández
He’s second on the team in home runs (11) and has an OPS+ around 110. Amazing. Obviously, there will be some 2nd-half regression, but what a ride it’s been.
28. Barry Bonds’ jersey will be retired in August.
They’ve had reunions and other special events, but rarely have they retired a player’s jersey number, and this is the number to retire.
29. Tony Watson
The Giants basically stole him from the league in free agency and he’s done nothing but reward them with brilliance. He’s not Andrew Miller, but he’s not not Andrew Miller, either.
On the day [he was traded from the Yankees to the Cubs] (July 31, 2016), Miller had a 1.39 ERA in 45.1 innings, 77 strikeouts, 7 walks, 9 saves, and 16 holds. He’d allowed 1 of only 3 inherited runners to score.
At this point in 2018, Tony Watson has a 1.54 ERA in 41 innings pitched, 42 strikeouts, 8 walks, and 21 holds. He’s allowed 2 of 11 inherited runners to score.
This was, of course, written before the Cubs and A’s got to him, but still!
30. The rookie players’ families.
It’s been an emotionally satisfying experience all season long to have The Suarezes, Rodrigii, and Duggars interviewed by Amy G so that we get to know them and become invested in their reactions as they watch their son or brother or grandson perform. That’s only made possible by a team “reloading” or “stealth rebuilding” with younger players.
31. Seeing what the McCovey Chronicles staff will come up with.
I was tempted to include in the intro a line about this post being a pale imitation of Grant’s writing and, although it is, I didn’t want to put it there because 1) it would’ve just been a dumb joke a lot of people would’ve taken seriously and 2) as such, I felt like it would be disrespectful to everyone else on staff who’s done a terrific job since coming aboard.
I’m putting that line here because Kenny, Brady, Carmen, and Doug have delivered great stuff since I assumed the managing editor position, and Roger and Kevin have covered the minor leagues to such a degree that they could leave this site and become a competitor (but please don’t).
And then there’s Sami Higgins, who’s been an amazing deputy editor. There are days the site would’ve posted NO CONTENT had it not been for her, but mainly, she has infused everything she does with passion of and knowledge for the Giants and a keen sense of understanding the big moments. Thank you, Sami, and thank you to the entire staff.
32. Will Smith
Winning a position by default never feels 100% satisfying, but maybe pitchers just don’t care about that sort of thing, and in his specific case, the default is that of a dominate left-handed reliever with no platoon disadvantage and a 94 mph fastball. He’s come back from Tommy John and pitched like someone who’s “back to normal”. And he’ll be a Giant through next season.
33. Hunter Pence’s walk-off against the Padres.
Question his presence on the roster all you want, but don’t act like that was a meaningless moment.
34. The Giants were mentioned on The Americans.
It’s the best show of the 21st century hardly anyone has seen and in the background of a random emotional scene, they played the radio call of a Chili Davis home run in 1987.
35. Austin Slater’s stick-to-it-iveness.
He’ll probably play second base for at least an inning at some point and probably pinch hit in a crucial spot. He’s shown he can handle some pressure and he’s really good at keeping his eye on the ball when he swings.
36. This picture.
37. Pablo Sandoval is tied for 3rd on the team with 4.16 pitches per plate appearance.
He’s tied with Andrew McCutchen, who has ~150 more at bats, so it puts into perspective how well he’s doing in a smaller sample and how well McCutchen has been doing all season long. But beyond that, Pablo has simply been more patient at the plate. To a terrifying extent. His plate patience transformation has coincided with a career resuscitation the likes of which we haven’t seen since maybe John Travolta starred in Pulp Fiction.
38. Andrew McCutchen could be setup for a big second half.
Not only is he seeing a lot of pitches, he’s driving the ball harder than he ever has before. His 26.9% line drive rate is 2.5% higher than ever before. Maybe if he didn’t play at AT&T Park, he’d see gawdy numbers. Alas.
39. Brandon Belt won the NL Player of the Week award after publicly bashing the umps.
The same week he went on one of the greatest tears of his career, he criticized the strike zone and got a call from Joe Torre. Rather than being fined, MLB rewarded him. Since then, he’s amped up his criticisms and taken more liberties, leading to mid-inning ejections.
40. Brandon Crawford might hit 40 doubles.
He’s had a helluva season, and if he can figure out how to keep it up, has a chance to close out an all-time great year for a Giants shortstop.
41. Buster Posey and Nick Hundley have combined to be a top-3 catcher.
There’s supposed to be a huge drop in offense from starter to backup, particularly at the catcher position, but in this case, Posey and Hundley’s .277 / .345 / .433 line (13 home run, 55 RBI) puts them right in line with All-Star Willson Contreras and power-monster Yasmani Grandal. Of course, Posey on his own ranks as the third best catcher by fWAR and the 4th-best by wRC+, but that just means he (or both) are set to surge in this second half. You know, because of the cortisone.
42. The Croix de Belt Wars pin.
They’re still out there and they’re perfect.
Brandon Belt is 3rd in the All-Star voting. For each vote you cast for him, I’ll enter you into a drawing to win 1 of 10 Croix De Belt War Pins. Just send me a screenshot. pic.twitter.com/v4D5Qdg9g5— Carmen Kiew (@carmenkiew) June 11, 2018
43. Seeing the Giants figure out how to score runs without the aid of the home run.
As Grant noted last year, the Giants suck:
There have been more home runs hit in Major League Baseball this season than in any season in history. The Giants are not a part of that home run revolution. They’re not a part of the line-drive club. They’re an absolute mess, a puddle of yolk and shell at the bottom of the wall, and I’m fascinated to see what all the king’s sabermetricians and all the king’s coaches do next.
They’ve hit 91 through 98 games (25th in MLB, 13th in the NL) and averaged in the 120-range since 2010. After looking at the lineup, I speculated that they’ll probably hit way more than that average the rest of the way, but not nearly enough to get them into the top half of the league. So, once again, walks, singles, and the occasional double will have to drive the offense. Watching them scratch and claw can be fun. Just see this next note.
44. Alen Hanson made a Javier Baez play against Javier Baez.
Watch it again and marvel. The Giants aren’t known for dynamic athleticism like this.
45. Watching the pitchers learn how to bunt.
For a team that has taken some pride in how their pitchers handle the bat, the Giants’ pitchers have been a terrible bunch this season. At some point, they’ll need to make some sacrifices to advance runners, and when that happens, we’ll all be rewarded with their look of relief instead of dread.
46. Madison Bumgarner’s first home run.
That’s right. He’s homerless in 2018. Expect that to change.
47. Ornery Bruce Bochy.
He’s not going to lose another 98 games and he’ll have some tricks and temperaments up his sleeve down the stretch.
48. The Ballot Bros.
This is one of the few times in recent history when a baseball team did something original. Usually, there are homages or reenactments or impressions of impressions, but rarely do players/teams take a joke form and use it for their own purposes.
49. We’re getting exciting reports from the minor leagues.
Joey Bart might’ve homered 6 times as I wrote this piece, I don’t know, but it took me a while to do and he homers often in very short spans of time. We don’t know what the future holds, but the present holds the excitement of tremendous potential for the future.