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The tale of the last Giants team seduced by the siren call of .500

It was 2006, and you don’t remember how .500 they were for most of the year

San Francisco Giants v Colorado Rockies
If you thought you were getting a 2006 Giants article without a picture of Baby Matt Cain, you were SORELY mistaken
Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The Giants are currently a game under .500, because they’ve played an odd number of games, which makes it very difficult for them to be .500. They’ve spent 21 days at .500 this year, and ... you know what? I got that stat from Alex Pavlovic and I should let him say it.

It’s been a frustrating year for Giants fans who are waiting for the tantalizing breakout that is probably never going to come, but what if I told you that this wasn’t the first time? What if I told you that there was another Giants team that ...

YOU: Yes, I read the title and subhead. I know it was the 2006 Giants. Get on with it.

Man, assuming the reader’s response makes intros way easier. I should make a note of that.

As much as we remember the 2006 Giants as the second in a four year stretch of garbage Giants teams, for most of the year, they were actually just a team that couldn’t escape the pull of .500.

Before their first collapse, around the end of July, the 2006 Giants had spent every day of the year within 4 games of .500. Then they thought it’d be fun to lose 9 games in a row (it wasn’t) to start off a stretch where they lost 16 of 19, leaving them at 54-63 in mid-August, after having lost three straight one run games at Dodger Stadium. It was hopeless, they were done, and they sucked.

Then they didn’t.

From August 14 through September 14, that terrible Giants team that had fallen out of contention just started winning. They went 20-9 over that stretch, and by the end of it had risen from 7.5 games back and fifth place to a respectable 3 games back, in third place. They were 74-72, they had all the momentum, and they were making a run at the playoffs.

Then they weren’t.

The 2006 Giants went just 2-13 down the stretch to finish at 76-85 and cement their legacy as a failure of a team. It wasn’t all bad — 2006 was Matt Cain’s first full year in the majors and he was fairly successful, and the season also featured the debuts of Jonathan Sanchez and Brian Wilson — but on the whole, you don’t remember 2006 as an especially good year in terms of the quality of Giants baseball played.

And here we are again. Now, this team is more of a .500 team than that one was — in 2006, they were at .500 for 22 days (and a few hours between games of a doubleheader), and this team’s already been there for 21, with almost two months left. But it’s the same general feeling we had 12 years ago; back then, Grant described them with this immortal catchphrase:

The Giants are the mediocrest bunch of mediocres that ever mediocred.

There are significant differences between that Giants team and this one, but there are some similarities too. Both came off extremely disappointing years: 2005 was the first losing year for the Giants since 1996, and 2017 was a 162 course meal where every new dish was just the chef cutting you open, putting your intestines on the plate, and making you eat up. Both teams had basically the same strategy to improve: injured guys would get healthier and everyone else would play better.

And then more generally, both teams were viewed as likely the last gasp of a contention window that had possibly closed the year before. That window was probably not actually still open, but hey, sometimes you fly through it and sometimes you repeatedly bang into the window pane because you’re just a dumb bird who doesn’t understand what glass is.

So what are the takeaways from this comparison? I see two.

  1. The Giants are guaranteed to win the World Series in four years.
  2. This team could fall apart at any time.

We haven’t seen a true collapse from this group, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. As far as we know, there aren’t any Hillenbrandian malcontents on the roster, but any group can see things start to go wrong and then be unable to put them right (see: 2017 Giants), so this identity as a .500 team isn’t guaranteed to last forever.

If they do collapse, or if they do well enough to end up as, say, an 86-win team, you’ll forget all about their magnetic pull to .500 until some blogger in 2030 reminds you about it. Because like all sports narratives, this one is important until it’s not. .500 might be a defining feature of the team in your mind right now, but it doesn’t have to stay that way forever. They could surge; they could collapse. We can’t actually be sure about their identity until the year is over.