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What’s the worst September in the San Francisco era?

Has the Giants’ 0-5 start to the month set them up for one of the worst finishes in team history?

San Francisco Giants v Colorado Rockies Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The Giants are going through a thing right now. After successfully avoiding a repeat of last season’s catastrophic performance, the Giants are still in a situation where they could have a pretty bad season. They traded away their best hitter last month, started September 0-5, and have a bevy of injuries and slumps rendering the rest of the lineup practically inert against Major League competition. Does it all portend to the worst final month of the San Francisco era?

It’s important to remember that the Giants were willing for this to be the case. They already knew their minor league depth was nonexistent and that the call-ups wouldn’t be any sort of reinforcement. They knew that Crawford and Belt were dealing with lingering injuries and half-season slumps when they traded Andrew McCutchen and that Evan Longoria was a lineup non-factor. So, this isn’t about whether or not you and the Giants should be surprised about this possible outcome. More than anything, it’s about figuring out where this accidental final-month tank would rank in San Francisco history.

Here are the top 5 worst Septembers (excluding any orphaned October games):

5. 2006: 10-16

During the first Stealth Rebuild era* (we’re currently in the second), the Giants surrounded Barry Bonds with Shea Hillenbrand, the cremains of Steve Finley, and Mark Sweeney. Jason Schmidt was in the final year of his deal and had started tolose effectiveness and Matt Cain had yet to come into his own. It was the second bad season following the stunning end to 2004 and the final month of the season reflected that.

They did manage to show a spark of life to start the month, improving their record from 66-68 to 74-72 before collapsing down the stretch to finish 76-85. They also wound up being outscored 119-166, tying that team with the 1996 team for most runs allowed in September.

4. 2017: 10-15

I mean, the 2017 team was so unspeakably awful I think we know what was up here. On September 26th of last year, this site’s founder wrote “This year’s Giants might be the worst offensive team in San Francisco history”:

Instead of focusing on the number of Giants hitting better than the league average today, though, I’d like to focus on the entire team. Back when I wrote that original post, the Giants’ team OPS+ was 81, which is awful. As of Tuesday morning, though, their team OPS+ is ... 81. Which is still awful. It’s bad enough that I went searching for the worst team OPS+ in team history. I found it!

[If you click the link to the article, you’ll see the table that confirms 2017 as the worst.]

It’s right here. This is a worse offense than the 2008 Giants, with Bengie Molina hitting cleanup and Aaron Rowand protecting him. Worse than the 2009 Giants, which wasted one of the greatest team pitching seasons ever. It’s worse than the 2011 Giants, who had Rowand leading off for 46 games before he was released. Worse than the 1985 Giants that lost 100 games. All of them. It’s worse than all of the teams since the franchise has been in San Francisco.

That team still managed to win 10 of its final 25 in September (including one in its first five). For what it’s worth, five games into September 2018, the Giants’ team OPS+ is a robust 86, which if it held would be in the top 10 worst offenses in San Francisco Giants history.

3. 2007: 9-18

In the third year of the first Stealth Rebuild era, the Giants lost four of their first five games of the month and 12 of the final 17 games of September. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Barry Bonds played only one game after September 15th (September 26th) and the Giants announced they would not be re-signing him on September 21st. That team managed to score 105 runs in its final month, 11 of those coming against the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium in the final game of the season.

2. 1985: 9-20

The only 100-loss team in the San Francisco era figured out a way to end the season on a down note. After going 13-14 in July and 11-14 in August, there was maybe a “squint your eyes and you can maybe imagine a bit of hope” attitude, but that mindset was liquidated by this terrible September (they also went 2-4 in October). They played in front of just 1,632 at Candlestick Park on September 3rd, a 4-3 loss in 13 innings to the Phillies.

1. 1980: 7-19

Here’s a September to remember. The Giants were 66-64, 8.0 games out of the division lead and clearly long shots to make some noise, but certainly not to have an above-.500 season, having gone 60-50 since a 6-14 April. But that’s just what happened, and the team utterly collapsed to finish 75-86. This ignominious month included a -37 run different (outscored 73-110). They were also trounced in five October gams, 31-14 (2-3 record).

Some of this was the result of their best hitter, Jack Clark, missing 25 games. The rest of it can be easily explained by a mostly average or below average roster that got chewed by a supremely difficult schedule. They played five against the Padres and four against the Braves, the only non-playoff teams, and the rest were all vying for their respective division.

With 21 games remaining this month, we could joke that the Giants will continue their season trend and go 11-10 or 10-11 or better yet, factor in the five losses and joke that they’ll go 13-8 down the stretch to have a 13-13 month so they can finish the year 81-81, but joking is all we’d be doing in this situation. There’s nothing funny about this lineup!

We also don’t know how it’s going to shake out down the stretch. Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt have been non-factors at the plate for a couple of months and both seem to be further hampered by knee injuries. Evan Longoria remains an occasional home run hitter beneath an out rate of 71.8%. Everyone else seems to be a complimentary player or bench bat, which means it’ll be tough for them to hang against the best.

They’ve scored just 15 runs in the five games played this month, and that 3 runs per game offense feels very sustainable. But I’ll back up that feeling with some figures. The Giants have not only averaged 3 runs per game this month, they’ve averaged 3 runs per game over their previous 19 (since August 17th). That’s not bad, that’s terrible, and that lineup had Andrew McCutchen in it.

But to really underscore the situation, and demonstrate how I’m not trying to cherry pick results for the worst possible assessment: the lineup has averaged 3.4 runs per game going back to August 1st. It doesn’t matter what a pitching staff does when the team can’t score more than a few runs per game.

So, it’s tough to imagine this team winning more than 10 games this September. The Giants have only six games against non-playoff teams (all against the Padres). Even if you’re generous and say that the Giants will average 3.5 runs per game the rest of the way, that’s 73.5 runs. Combined with their 15, that’s 88.5/89 runs in the month. 1 win is usually worth about 10 runs, so even just eyeballing it sabermetrically, we’re talking 9 wins just based on run total. A reasonable, even optimistic, prediction feels like 6-6 at home and 3-6 on the road, with a little luck swinging that win total +/- a game or two.

As you can see, the San Francisco era has seen collapses down the stretch in good, average, and bad seasons. Stranger things have happened, of course, but the Giants’ current situation has all the makings of the worst September in San Francisco history.

* - could also be called The Accidental Rebuild Era