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Let’s convince ourselves the Giants are contenders

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Because being optimistic is more fun than being skeptical.

New York Mets v San Francisco Giants Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Giants entered Friday just 3.5 games back of the Wild Card which is much closer than I ever thought they’d be 3.5 games into the season. Since June 1, the Giants have gone 30-17 while outscoring their opponents by 46 runs. The first two months of the season were dreadful, but they’ve been a good team for nearly as long.

I haven’t let myself get too excited about a potential playoff run. Sure, their playoff odds at FanGraphs are 60 times greater than they were on June 1, but they’re still only six percent. The Giants probably aren’t a good team. They’ve won a disproportionate amount of one-run games, and even with an exceptional bullpen, that’s hard to sustain. Alex Dickerson probably isn’t going to keep outhitting Mike Trout, and Austin Slater has already cooled off from his torrid season debut.

Still, something feels special about this team. They have the same kind of “misfits and outcasts” feel that the 2010 team had, not to mention they’ve started playing “Don’t Stop Believing” again. Their 17-4 stretch has been supernatural, as if they’re being spurned on by the news of a new Taylor Swift album…

Or the Kevin Durant curse has been lifted.

Whatever intangible force is propelling the Giants forward, it’s enough for me to think that I should cast aside my cold, reasoned cynicism for some selective optimism. After all…

The Brewers and Phillies aren’t that good, and the Diamondbacks plan to sell

The Giants are only 3.5 games back of the second Wild Card but there’s a veritable scrum of teams packed in between them and a playoff spot. The Cubs, Cardinals, and Nationals are in a three-way tie and trailing them are the Brewers and Phillies. The Diamondbacks are also tied with the Giants. Trying to push through so many teams is tough because the Giants have to hope that four of those teams will fade down the stretch. The good news is that it’s not unreasonable that three of them will.

Both the Phillies and Brewers have been outscored by their opponents this year, and each roster has some serious holes. Philadelphia has had to skate by without an effective pitching staff. Jake Arrieta has been the second-worst pitcher in the National League by Deserved Run Average (DRA), and their bullpen is a mess. The Phillies base runs record is just 45-57

The Brewers’ rotation hasn’t been much better. With Brandon Woodruff unfortunately on the IL with an oblique strain, Zach Davies is their defacto ace, and he’s been the third-worst pitcher in the NL by DRA. Despite having Christian Yelich having another MVP-season, they have areas to improve on offense. Jesús Aguilar and Lorenzo Cain have each taken a step back and they’re turning to Tyler Saladino on the bench.

Either team could gain reinforcements at the trade deadline which would make things much harder on the Giants. But who knows? They could get outbid for the players they want or the asking price could be too high and they wind up standing pat.

Meanwhile, Arizona has played much better baseball, but all the rumors and reports from Phoenix suggest the Diamondbacks will be selling. Robbie Ray and Zack Greinke are supposedly available. They could even deal away David Peralta or Adam Jones.

The Diamondbacks will make themselves worse and the Brewers and Phillies should regress. Of course, both could be said about the Giants, but the playing field isn’t as uneven as it is at first glance.

Johnny Cueto is coming to save them on a literal horse

I didn’t think that Johnny Cueto would pitch at all in 2020, but he’s currently on track to rejoin the team in September. He faced live hitters in San Jose this week, a little under a year since he underwent surgery. There’s no telling how Cueto will pitch when he comes back, but if it’s anything like how he started 2018, he’ll be a major boon. In case you’ve forgotten, Johnny Cueto is pretty dang good. In his first four starts last year, Cueto gave up just one run in 26 innings. His performance fell off once the injury flared up, but if he’s healthy, he should get back to normal.

Getting Cueto back will be like making a waiver trade before the deadline that nobody else can make. If the Giants can remain in striking distance for the next month, Cueto can help get them over the top.

Tyler Beede has turned a corner

His last start against the Cubs was a little shaky, but since Beede has been a different pitcher since he started relying on his slider. In the four starts where he’s leaned on his slider, Beede has walked just two batters in 27 2/3 innings. For a guy whose biggest problem has been issuing walks, that’s a huge step forward.

The strikeouts have taken a slight dip in the last four outings, but I’d expect those to rebound. He’s getting more swings and misses. Even when the Cubs knocked him around, he still got 20 swings and misses. I put more stock in a pitcher avoiding free passes and missing bats than I do in giving up hard contact.

When Beede first showed up, it was a mystery that a guy with such impressive looking stuff could struggle so much, but going to the slider has been a step in the right direction. The Tyler Beede of the last month has been a solid major league starter, and if he can keep pitching like he has, he’ll help the Giants win more games than not.