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Actually, the Giants will have a shot at making the playoffs in 2020

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Everyone knows this team is bad now, but maybe they could be not-bad as soon as next season?

Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Hello, everybody! It’s your favorite Star Trek-reference-turned-commenter here, except I’m no longer just a lowly commenter. Now, I’m a contributor, and that means some changes are in order.

That’s more like it.

Yesterday, my good-for-nothing cheapskate of a child lovable adopted son passionately argued that the Giants would be good again in 731 days. But as not-a-contributor tgranger16 pointed out, what exactly does it mean to be good?

Well, that’s where I come in, to clean up the mess my disappointment of a son made provide a definition: A team that is good is a team that’s able to make a realistic run at reaching the playoffs.

The key word, of course, is realistic. Last year’s Giants were mathematically in contention as late as September 18, 2018, but only the most pathological optimists actually believed they stood a chance of making the playoffs even a month before that. No, a team with a real shot at the playoffs is one that doesn’t flirt with .500 all season long and boasts enough talent to succeed and even dominate at just the right time.

But this is the internet, and it’s all about one-upping the last person’s take. And I’m here to tell you what my click-bait headline already has: The Giants will make a realistic push for the playoffs in 2020.

Call me a pathological optimist, but I sincerely believe—

/Joey Bart fractures his hand

/Heliot Ramos injures his knee

/Logan Webb gets caught with his hand in the “special” cookie jar

/The entire Giants team gets their talent sucked out by a magical baseball that’s used to power a group of aliens seeking to beat a team of Looney Toons led by Mike Trout

Okay, I’ll admit, it’s not looking bright. There isn’t much hope for this team as it’s currently constructed, but there are signs that the Giants could be competitive again much sooner than any of us may think. Unlike a 77-year-old Robert Redford stranded in the middle of the ocean, all is not lost when it comes to this Giants team.

There are a few reasons that got me feeling hopeful:

It’s easier than ever to make the playoffs.

Thanks to the implementation of a second wild card in 2012, it’s easy for ostensibly underwhelming teams to sneak into the playoffs, even when three teams post 100-win seasons as they did last year. Since 2012, the average number of wins for a playoff team with the worst record stands at precisely 88 wins. Fittingly, the Giants have made the playoffs since 2012 with increasingly worse records: 94-68 in 2012, 88-74 in 2014, and 87-75 in 2016. It’s not incredible to think that next year’s team could manage a playoff berth with just 88 wins, if not even fewer.

Farhan Zaidi will have a full offseason.

When Zaidi accepted the role of President of Baseball Operations, he came in under less-than-ideal circumstances—while the Giants were figuring out who would take over, most teams were two-weeks deep into the offseason. Now, it’s hard to say how much of an impact that may have had, but coming into a new situation under starkly different circumstances from his previous employer could not have been easy for Zaidi.

Even so, Zaidi got busy implementing his vision, acquiring the likes of Connor Joe (RIP), Michael Reed, and Mike “Insert Baby Pun” Gerber, who all displayed above-average plate discipline throughout their minor league careers. There has been a lot of debate so far about how much credit Zaidi deserves for an apparently resurgent farm that’s suddenly producing more patient hitters, but it’s nevertheless clear that Zaidi plans to establish a system-wide emphasis on plate discipline.

For a team that can’t hit home runs, above-average OBP will be this team’s only chance at producing adequate offense. Zaidi undoubtedly recognizes that, and the 2019-2020 offseason (hopefully with a new GM in tow) will be his chance to show off and implement his philosophy more completely across all levels, including on the MLB team. That’s not even mentioning the inevitable barrage of deadline trades for unwanted outfielders (*cough Ian Happ cough*), plus the return of Johnny Cueto next season.

Is a team-wide uptick in OBP enough to add, say, 13 wins? Probably not. But incremental improvements on the bench and in the outfield, plus a couple of bounce-back seasons from the core could be enough to push this team over the .500 hump and perhaps beyond.

Which leads to…

There will be a new manager.

I know it’s debatable how much of an impact a manager has on a team’s win-loss record, but Bruce Bochy is more than just a manager—he also represents a kind of leader that embraces a certain type of player. And that type of player is Pablo Sandoval.

Look, I get it. Sandoval is a fan favorite. He hit three homers in Game 1 of the 2012 World Series. He’s rightfully earned his #ForeverGiant status. But his team-leading OPS of .870 aside, Sandoval still has not reached base via a walk. He’s the anti-Zaidi player, and his inability to get on base hurts a team that desperately needs baserunners—lots and lots of baserunners—to succeed at all.

After 2019, the age of Bruce Bochy and Pablo Sandoval will end, and perhaps so will the age of feckless offense. It’s going to be a slow grind, undoubtedly, but the turnaround may start sooner than we think.