The San Francisco Giants are almost surely not going to make the playoffs. Sure, they’re a 10-game winning streak away from getting right back in it, and a perma-.500 team has a one-in-1,024 chance of having that happen, but, you know . . . them odds ain’t great.
As currently constructed, the team is heading for a repeat next year. Most of their players are still under (rather large) contracts, everyone will be a year older, Johnny Cueto will miss the bulk, or all of the season, and Jeff Samardzija will be a football player-sized question mark.
But they’ll try again next year. You know they’ll try again next year. Regardless of what you think the best move is for the organization, they won’t trade Madison Bumgarner, they won’t trade a Brandon, they won’t eat salary to take on promising prospects, and they won’t admit that contention is futile.
They’ll try. They’ll try just as they did this year. And given that they’re on pace for a 17-win improvement over last year (I’m just assuming they’ll finish 81-81 because obviously), one could make the claim that they were successful this year. Keep that progress up for another three years, and the team will be 132-30 in three years. Hot damn.
So, knowing that the team will reset the tax, poke around the free agents, and then run it back again next year with hopes for a better outcome, what can we reasonably look for in the season’s final 46 games? And I don’t mean what would be fun - Bryan already chronicled just how much there is to be excited about, even in a meh season - I mean what could transpire over the next 46 games to inspire a little confidence heading into the 2019 season?
1. Dereck Rodríguez pitching well
I have a confession. Before Monday’s game against the Houston Astros, I prepared myself for what I deemed to be inevitable: Dereck Rodríguez was about to get shellacked. It just seemed right. He’d been writing this glorious wave of being a really good pitcher, toying with our emotions and hopes, and was on a crash course with an elite offense that would smack him - and more painfully, our expectations - back to earth.
Nope. He mowed through the Astros to the tune of seven scoreless innings. It lowered his ERA to 2.34, and his FIP to 3.14. He’s now sitting at 73 innings of being a really, really good starting pitcher.
The other shoe may drop. But Rodriguez has 8-9 more starts left this year, and with every start that doesn’t have the other shoe dropping, I get a little more hopeful that he may be a critical piece of this team moving forward. If he can maintain this pace, I will go into the offseason believing that he will win the 2019 Cy Young.
Andrew Suárez pitching well would also be nice.
2. Austin Slater continuing to establish himself
The Giants always seem hesitant to let Slater have a chance. It’s like they believe he’s destined to be a bench player so they never let him try to be anything else.
Lately, finally, through unfortunate circumstances, he’s getting to play every day. And the results are quite encouraging. His sample size is still small, but in 230 career plate appearances he’s slashing .290/.378/.380, with a 110 wRC+, solid corner outfield defense, and apparently the ability to play first base.
In the final month and a half of the year, Slater has the chance to prove that he should be an everyday player next year.
3. Alen Hanson mashing baseballs
Early in the year, Alen Hanson showed why he used to be a top prospect. Lately, he’s shown why the team that he was a top prospect for waived him.
Hanson getting back to his dinger-mashing, gap-bashing ways would be tremendous for the Giants. At worst, they’d be getting a super-utility player with a skill (speed) that the team has lacked for a long time. At best, they’d be getting a player who allows them to explore Joe Panik’s trade market.
The exciting Hanson is under team control for quite some time, so if he could establish himself as an important part of the team, it not only gives them a valuable player, but some added flexibility.
4. September call-ups doing September call-uppy things
I’m old enough to remember Matt Duffy.
Technically Duffy wasn’t a September call-up, but it’s the same general thing. He wasn’t supposed to be on the team that year; he hadn’t even made it to AAA yet. But he came up, did some things, opened some eyes.
The next year he was putting up 4.4 fWAR as the starting third baseman.
Will someone do that this year? No. But as Duffy and Dereck Rodríguez proved, sometimes you just don’t know how good a player is until he plays at this level. Someone in the Giants system is a lot better than we think; September might begin to show us who.
5. Drifting above .500
Hear me out on this one. Most people whose attention has shifted to 2019 want the team to lose as much as possible this year. Heck, doing so last year got us Joey Bart, and the sample size may be minuscule but that certainly looks like a pro move.
I’d like to argue for the opposite. If the team can drift a teensy-tiny bit above mediocrity - say to 84-78, they’ll have a little more reason to believe they can compete in 2019. More reason to believe means they’re more likely to throw whatever kind of money is necessary at Bryce Harper, or perhaps even Manny Machado.
More importantly, 84-78 looks a lot better to Harper than 78-84. “Hey, we’ve been really, really bad for two and a half years, but we won three titles at the beginning of the decade!” is not a great pitch for superstars. “Hey, we were above average last year despite horrible injury luck and we’re willing to spend money to be great this year” is at least moderately compelling.
So win, Giants.