This weekend will be a series of goodbyes. The Giants will formally say goodbye to Barry Bonds’ #25 jersey number, there are rumors that this could be Andrew McCutchen’s final series with the Giants, and there’s a very good chance that this will be the final weekend of the Giants having nonzero odds of making the playoffs.
Not only is this a season-defining series, these next 4-game series against the Pirates will feature a quartet of special events: Thursday is Jerry Garcia Tribute Night, Friday has both a National Baseball Card giveaway for the first 40,000 fans and the Barry Bonds Forever Giant statuette...
.... while Saturday has the aforementioned Barry Bonds #25 jersey retirement ceremony at 5pm; and then on Sunday, it’s Pixar Day. StubHub has tickets for all four games, starting as low as $6 per ticket for Thursday night’s game.
In the midst of a go-nowhere season, it’s easy to lose sight of all the success the Giants have had in the 21st century, despite a few fallow patches. That just makes us seem like jerks. What about Pirates fans? They’ve had to watch the Pirates over the same span of time and all they have to show for it is a beautiful stadium plus pain.
But now, after an offseason where they hit the reset button and traded away their two marquee names, alienating the fanbase forever and ruining AT&T Park’s ability to sell out and for ownership to develop the land around the stadium into a desirable destination —
Sorry, wrong franchise.
After the Pirates traed away their two marquee names, Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole, the Pirates, they found themselves at 29-27 after the first two months of the season. Not great, but not terrible. And then June happened. They went 10-16 and began July out of the playoff picture and out of the competition picture with a record of 39-43. July began with a win followed by a 5-game losing streak. With the All-Star Break and trade deadline looming, a “full rebuild” seemed inevitable.
Felipe Vazquez (né Felipe Rivero), the closer, was the Pirates’ sole representative.
But then, something incredible happened. The Pirates started winning. And winning. They won 13 of 14, including 11 in a row, stretching from before to after the All-Star Game itself. They cut their division deficit from 12.5 games to 6 and their “Make Playoffs” (either via the division or Wild Card) odds from 0.7% to 9.8%. Meanwhile, the Giants went from 8% to 2.5%.
The Giants need to win all four games of this series to keep their holding on by a pinkie finger position in the playoff race, just 6.5 games back of the second wild card behind, the Braves, Diamondbacks, Rockies, Cardinals, Nationals, and these Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Pirates are 5 games back of the same spot (8.5 games behind the Cubs in the NL Central), so the Wild Card feels like the most realistic option for both teams. But let’s be real: the Giants have screwed the Pirates way too many times over the years. To wit,
(as vivalancelloti31 mentions below):
4/2/13: “The San Francisco Giants have claimed right-hander Hunter Strickland off of waivers from the Pittsburgh Pirates.
July 31, 2007. The San Francisco Giants traded Matt Morris to the Pittsburgh Pirates for a player to be named later and Rajai Davis. The Pittsburgh Pirates sent Steve MacFarland (minors) (August 27, 2007) to the San Francisco Giants to complete the trade.
It’s only lately that the Pirates seem to have gotten the upper hand in dealing with the Giants:
Crick is 39th in reliever fWAR with 1.0, which would tie him with Reyes Moronto and Andrew Suarez on the Giants. His 24.7% strikeout rate would place him 5th on the Giants behind Will Smith, Ray Black, Reyes Moronta, and Tony Watson, and his 2.75 FIP (fielding independent pitching “ERA”, which only looks at HR, HBP, BB, and K) would be 3rd-best on the Giants behind Will Smith and Tony Watson.
Meanwhile, Bryan Reynolds is having a really nice season in Double-A (62 hits in 61 games with a .365 on base percentage), and as fine as McCutchen’s 1.4 fWAR has been for the Giants this season, the Pirates’ outfield of Corey Dickerson-Starling Marte-Gregory Polanco have combined for 7 fWAR and, in particular, Polanco, McCutchen’s replacement has posted a 1.6 fWAR for half of McCuthen’s cost.
But, still, the Giants have had transformative franchise moments at the Pirates’ expense, and if there’s ever a time for the Giants to pay that back on the karmic scale, now is the perfect time to do it, when the chips are down. The Giants need these games, but they don’t need them need them like the Pirates do.
Hitter(s) to watch: Corey Dickerson has hit 3 home runs at AT&T Park and just seems pesky. Meanwhile, Josh Harrison is, somehow, 31 years old already and he’s having the worst season of his career. But he, too, has hit 3 home runs at AT&T Park in only 18 games and has an .851 OPS overall. Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco might be the two biggest names in the lineup, but Harrison feels like the player who can get the Giants’ goat in a 4-game series.
Pitcher to watch: Jameson Taillon pitched a complete game against the Rockies at Coors Field yesterday (he gave up 10 hits in 9 innings) and has now exceeded his innings total from last season and stands at 134 innings pitched. He’ll be going against Dereck Rodriguez, who’s simply pitching against a bunch of major league lineups for the first time. Taillon has come into his own in his third season, and we already know that Rodriguez is really taking advantage of his opportunity, but Sunday’s finale could determine a series winner or a split or a sweep. The Giants last faced Taillon in Pittsburgh back in May. He left the game after three innings because of a finger laceration, but he managed to strike out 5 and allowed only 1 hit in his time on the mound.
Prediction: The Giants will win 1 game in this series just to make it possible for the Pirates to still hold the waiver edge over the Nationals and Cardinals to claim McCutchen once the Giants make him available.