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The odds of a second half playoff run

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The Giants have given us a taste of hope. Are we going to chase the dragon or is there something to it?

MLB: JUL 07 Cardinals at Giants Photo by Stephen Hopson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

By now the water in your Marco Scutaro rain globe has mostly evaporated. You’ve long forgotten where you put your Freddy Sanchez World Series jump catch bobblehead (hint: you sold it on eBay). Buster Posey has grayed before your very eyes. Brandon Crawford has a dad bod. Nothing good lasts, but if you’re like me, you’re impatient for the next go-around of good.

The Giants are 19-14 since June 1st, and there they are just 5.5 games back of the second wild card spot at the All-Star break with 73 games to go. If you were to just ignore the overall record (41-48), you’d look at that and think, “Hey, they’ve got a chance. You never know. Crazier things have happened.” But... have crazier things happened?

Here’s the scope of the problem: sure, the Giants are just 5.5 games back of a playoff spot, but you’ve gotta scroll down quite a bit just to find them in the wild card standings:

WC 1 - NATIONALS (47-42)
WC 2 -PHILLIES (47-43)
BREWERS (47-44)
DIAMONDBACKS (46-45)
PADRES (45-45)
CARDINALS (44-44)
ROCKIES (44-45)
PIRATES (44-45)
REDS (41-46)
GIANTS (41-48)

That’s at least eight teams to contend with. The Cubs are just a half game ahead of the Brewers, too, in the NL Central race.

Even with the Giants’ recent run of games in double digits and 8-run outburst on Saturday night, the offense’s 80 wRC+ still puts them as the second-worst offense in the National League and third-worst in MLB. But to go back to that “since June 1st” point, an offense that had averaged just 3.71 runs per game through May 31st has averaged 4.88 runs per game since.

Look, the Nationals started the year 24-33 (.421) and have managed to turn things around. The Giants started off in a far worse spot 22-34 (.393) and, objectively, have a worse roster than Washington’s, but an in-season turn around isn’t unprecedented. Maybe the Giants’ reliance on platoons that’s started to pay off is sustainable the rest of the season and the solid pitching returns from everyone involved will continue even if moves are made.

Yesterday, Farhan Zaidi talked about the Giants not necessarily becoming radical sellers just because that’s what bad teams do. There could be a scenario wherein they trade Will Smith, let’s say, or Sam Dyson, even, and in exchange, get someone or multiple someones who can help the team continue to compete this year.

Regardless of how the roster is constructed on August 1st, the totality of the assignment is staggering. Not only do they have all those teams to contend with, they have one of the toughest remaining schedules in the league. Their remaining opponents have a combined record of 697-652 (.516). Only the Rockies (44-45), Mets (30-40), and Marlins (33-55) have losing records.

That’s impossibly rough. If the Giants were to continue their .575 winning percentage since June 1st, they’d go 42-31 the rest of the way and wind up 83-79. Even without knowing the “strength of schedule” in the second half, maintaining their current winning pace over the final 73 games of the season felt like a long shot anyway. Consider that opponent .516, though, and we’re firmly in the realm of the impossible.

A late night click through the Giants’ record in the San Francisco era generates just nine times that the team had a losing record in the first half and posted a winning one after the All-Star break. Generally speaking, when the Giants are bad, they’re bad, and when they’re good, sometimes their second half is a let down.

The bulk of the Giants’ uptick second halves happened in the seventies and eighties... another portent of doom for the 2019 squad:

1968- First Half: 42-42 | Second Half: 46-32 | Overall: 88-74 (2nd place)
1970- First Half: 41-44 | Second Half: 45-32 | Overall: 86-76 (3rd place)
1975- First Half: 41-47 | Second Half: 39-34 | Overall: 80-81 (3rd place)
1976- First Half: 35-52 | Second Half: 39-36 | Overall: 74-88 (4th place)
1981- First Half: 27-32 | Second Half: 29-23 | Overall: 56-55 (4th place)** strike
1982- First Half: 42-46 | Second Half: 45-29 | Overall: 87-75 (3rd place)
1987- First Half: 44-44 | Second Half: 46-28 | Overall: 90-72 (1st place)
1994- First Half: 39-50 | Second Half: 16-10 | Overall: 55-60 (2nd place)** strike
2005- First Half: 37-50 | Second Half: 38-37 | Overall: 75-87 (3rd place)

It’s probably not accurate to have listed first half teams that were at .500. A .500 team at the All-Star break suggests immediate potential in the given season. Even a game or two under .500 feels like something that can be overlooked in favor of clinging to hope the rest of the way, but I’m keeping ‘68 and ‘05 in there as examples: these are the “crazier things have happened” part of the saying.

No, the Giants are probably not going to leapfrog eight teams to grab the second Wild Card. It’s true that most of the teams ahead of them probably aren’t going to be in the hunt all the way until the end, either, but only a few of them need to survive a culling to make it impossible. The top 10 most difficult schedules — if you want to believe “strength of schedule” has predictive value — looks like this:

  1. DIAMONDBACKS
  2. REDS
  3. MARINERS
  4. GIANTS
  5. DODGERS
  6. BREWERS
  7. ASTROS
  8. PIRATES
  9. ROCKIES
  10. CUBS

The Giants will face seven of these teams in the second half. The overall strength of schedule is less important than the strength of history against some of these opponents.

Seven of their games against the Rockies will be in Coors Field, where the Giants are 3-18 since the start of 2017. Their first series out of the break is in Milwaukee (2-5 since 2017). In September, they travel to Boston to face the Red Sox in Fenway. The Giants are 0-5 there.

If you’re generous and say the Giants go 3-10 in these 13 games, it means they’d have to be 37-23 in the other games just to end the year at .500. If we’re extremely generous and believe the National League beats up on itself enough that the second Wild Card team would need to only win, let’s say, 85 games, then the Giants would need to either outperform history in these three stadiums or if they still go 3-10 in those 13, then 41-19 in all other games.

But the bottom line is this: the Giants would need to win about 60% of their remaining games to even stay in the playoff chase until the final week of the season. They’ve done this just twice in San Francisco history (1982 and 1987). This 2019 team feels a lot closer to that ‘82 “God Squad” team, but it’s not a 1:1 comparison.

In any case, if they somehow win 60% of their games in the second half, it’d still not guarantee that second Wild Card... but the chase alone would feel pretty damned good.