I’ll admit that I’m riding the high of the San Francisco Giants Cactus League opener on Sunday afternoon. Sure, the Giants didn’t win. Sure, they never even led or looked competitive. And yeah, it’s true that they had as many errors as hits.
But I don’t care. I’m all in. Well, not all in. But like, one leg solidly in.
I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about what an optimistic outcome for 2021 would look like for the Giants. ‘Tis the season and all.
It feels clear to me that the Giants are a team that’s highly capable of surprising. That’s not to say they’ll be anything other than mediocre, which is still the most likely option. It’s just to say that if they chewed up the 2021 season, swirled it around with a fine Napa pinot, and spit out a spunky and spirited 85-win season, I don’t think anyone should be shocked.
We saw the blueprint in 2020. The Giants were the fifth-best hitting team in the National League, with a 113 wRC+ that trailed only the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, Atlanta Braves, and San Diego Padres. They were fifth in position player fWAR. But the pitching was bad, and that resulted in mediocrity rather than decency.
All the position players remain, but this time Buster Posey is back. Tommy La Stella and Curt Casali are here. Even if you account for some regression here and there, it’s safe to pencil in the Giants as a comfortably above-average offensive team.
If the pitching can take some steps forward, the team can pull themselves out of the depths of the losing teams and the water treaders, and waltz slowly but surely into the land of the quality baseball teams. And while it’s currently unclear if they’ll do that, there are reasons to be hopeful. Additions like Alex Wood and Jake McGee may come with a healthy whiff of Dodgers stank, but they’re accompanied by an equally healthy dose of logical optimism.
Put a different way, the Giants don’t have any glaring holes. They’ll likely enter the season with an active roster comprised entirely of players who fully deserve to be on an MLB roster. That hasn’t been the case in recent years.
The result is a team with a moderately high floor. They have plenty of candidates for surprising seasons — the type they got a handful of in 2020 — and those types of break throughs would likely push the Giants into the comfortably over .500 realm.
Nothing I’m telling you is news. In fact, nothing I’m telling you is even particularly noteworthy or exciting. By this point it’s pretty obvious. The Giants are a team that the models will project to be a little below .500, but a bit above shouldn’t be that weird.
So why am I writing this? That’s a good question. I should ask myself that more often before hitting “publish.”
I’m writing this to lament the situation the Giants are in. The Giants have done the “lovable and exciting overperformers” bit before. You probably remember a few times they broke out that dance. It won them some trophies.
Now’s not a great year for that bit, folks. Put it in the back pocket, try a different bit, and revisit that one later down the road.
The Giants share the NL West with the Dodgers and Padres — again, not breaking any news here. The Dodgers and Padres are really good — still not breaking any news.
Like, really really good. On paper, the dodgers have a decent claim as one of the best baseball teams ever assembled. And yet if you predicted the Padres to win the division, no one outside of LA would blink an eye.
You don’t have to stretch the imagination very far to envision a reality in which the Giants win 85 games and finish 20 games behind second place. And with expanded playoffs going back where it belongs — the trash — this year, the Giants almost surely have to finish ahead of four NL Central and four NL East teams just to sneak into the postseason as the second wild card.
That’s an exceedingly tall task.
So try as the Giants might to impress and surprise, it will likely be wasted. Well, not fully wasted, because watching a good team over 162 games is still more fun than watching a bad one, even if there’s no 163rd game, but ... you know what I mean.
They should do it anyway, of course.