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A brief history of the Giants and 10-game win streaks

The Giants did something that’s really cool and rare.

Phillies v Giants Photo by Brad Mangin/MLB via Getty Images

With the San Francisco Giants having just had their 10-game winning streak snapped and the weekend upon us, I figured it’s worth one last spotlight before it fades from memory.

Unless they’re committed to film in a major motion picture, I don’t think many of us remember long winning streaks in baseball. Would I have remembered the A’s streak without Moneyball? I don’t know. It took me a really long time thinking about it to generate some foggy notion that I might’ve actually gone to one of the games in the streak. The Giants last had a 10-game winning streak about a month and a half into the season that ended with Steve Finley hitting a walk-off grand slam, and well, that’s what I remember about 2004.

But it’s such a rare occurrence that I think we should look at it one more time, at least until the 2023 Giants put together another long winning streak — which, hey, is plausible. They’re a good team. Yes, the franchise has had longer winning streaks, but in the San Francisco era, they haven’t come quite so easily.

If I just set the search for 8+ game winning streaks, that’s happened 87 times across 141 season (62%) — pretty good! But 58 (67%) of those streaks belong to the New York Giants — that’s telling! The San Francisco Giants have had nine 8-game winning streaks, eleven 9-game winning streaks (listed in Tuesday’s recap), four 10-game winning streaks (2023, 2004, 1982, 1962), a pair of 11-game winning streaks (1991 & 1998), one 12-game win streak (1966), a 14-game win streak (165) and a 15-game win streak.

That 15-game winning streak spanned the end of September 2002 and into the first week or so of 2003. I really don’t remember that note because I just remember 1) the Giants getting off to a fast start without Jeff Kent, sure but also, and mainly 2) still not being over the 2002 World Series; so, again, long win-streaks don’t really stick with most of us. I’m just assuming I’m like most people.

The longest streak after World War II was 16 games (1951) and the longest in franchise history is 18, which happened in 1904. It took them just three seasons to come close to matching that: a 17-game win streak happened in 1907, then again in 1916. They had a 16-game streak in 1912, too.

So, really, I should be writing up that 15-game streak some more because — wow — that 2003 streak was the closest they got in 52 years to cracking a record that at the time was almost 100 years old. That 18-game streak has lasted 120 years and the second-longest streak is now 107 years old. A long time for an old franchise with a lot of success!

But I guess I should stick to the present, because that’s easier to contextualize. We can do fun things spotlight this tweet from Alex Pavlovic regarding the 2004 team:

Michael Tucker leading off? That takes me back. But, he wasn’t actually bad there, with a season OBP of .353 (70-106 BB-K). His season OPS+ of 97 was below league average, but during the streak he hit .308/.441/.692 (1.134) with 2 home runs, 2 doubles, and a triple. Bonds was Bonds: .417/.611/.958 (1.569), 4 HR, 1 2B, 7 intentional walks.

The Giants scored 51 runs to their opponents’ 28 (24 earned; 2.30 ERA). The lineup was hot and the starting pitcher was on point. Jason Schmidt had a pair of 8 innings starts (17 K in 16 IP; 1.13 ERA/1.86 FIP), and Dustin Hermanson had two good starts, which were half of the total number of good starts he had all season before moving to the bullpen and eventually becoming the closer... only to get squeezed by Tim McClelland and let down by Cody Ransom in the penultimate game of the season.

The 2004 team had two 6-game winning streaks and a 7-game streak as well. One of those six-gamers could been an 8-game streak, though, because the Giants lost on walk-offs back-to-back nights preceding the streak. The actual 10-game streak was bookended by walk-offs.

Hey wait — the season ended on a g-d walk-off too! 14 of their 71 losses (20%) were thanks to walk-offs! Walk-off losses were the season’s theme! Staring us in the face the whole time!

We don’t know what the theme of the 2023 season will be just yet, and if we remember that this streak happened at all, it will be fun to look back and see if our concluding thought on the year was seeded at any point during those 10 straight wins. Buster Posey never won this many games in a row. It’s enough to say that something special happened this month.

The lineup the last time the Giants won 10 straight games:

Joc Pederson DH
Mike Yastrzemski RF
J.D. Davis 3B
Michael Conforto LF
Luis Matos CF
Blake Sabol C
David Villar 1B
Brandon Crawford SS
Casey Schmitt 2B
Opener/Starter - Ryan Walker

The 2023 Giants won three extra inning games during the streak (2 on the road). They scored 80 runs to their opponents’ 31 (28 earned; 2.68 ERA). The Giants actually played six of the ten games on the road (the 2004 played just four on the road), and three of those were against the Dodgers; also, the 2004 squad didn’t face the DH.

Pederson hit .310/.444/.621 (1.065) during the streak, with 3 home runs, 8 RBI, 6 walks, and 8 strikeouts. He had 9 total hits, but outside the dingers, they were all singles. Injury kept LaMonte Wade Jr. out of this final lineup, but during the streak he hit .333/.429/.542 (.970) with a home run and double. Others of note:

  • The first seven games Luis Matos played in were during this streak, and he hit .304/.448/.348 (.796).
  • Casey Schmitt went just 2-for-22 during the streak despite starting 5 games (28 PA total), but he did walk 4 times and raised his season OBP from .297 to .302. That’s... something?
  • Patrick Bailey really came into his own, slashing .310/.344/.483 (.827) with a home run and two doubles.

No Barry Bonds or anything, but the Giants’ lineup really shined in the aggregate. According to FanGraphs, their 3.6 wins above replacement led MLB by nearly half a win (Atlanta #2 with 3.2 fWAR). Those 80 runs scored were by far the most.

Meanwhile, the biggest story during the streak was confirmation that, when it comes to pitching, the Giants are all about their bullpen. Their 1.2 fWAR led MLB, too. The bullpen’s 1.85 ERA over that stretch led the National League. Tampa Bay was #1 at 1.53, but the Giants’ relievers threw 33 more innings (58.1 to 35.1). They threw more than any other team (Detroit #2 with 54.1).

Comparing this team to the 2004 team really felt like comparing eras of baseball. Now it’s more about the scheme and finding players/inputs that optimizes an unfathomable model. I could be snide about all this, but the simple facts are these:

  • math determines decisions and outcomes more than ever before
  • it works

Yes, I’d want to add Barry Bonds to this roster, but that’s not possible. Instead, it’s going to be a new standout every night on top of a few consistent performers night after night. The pitchers will sink or swim as a group and not by the individual.

Of the 29 times the San Francisco team has had at least an 8-game winning streak, only thrice did those seasons not wind up being winning seasons: 1991, 1994*, and 2007. 1994 was strike-shortened, though, so it’s your choice if you want to hold that 55-60 against them. 91 can also be sort of hand-waved away because that team’s 11-game win streak began when they were 38-51 and only got them to 49-51. This year’s squad started their streak at .500 (32-32).

While there’s always a nonzero chance that this winning streak could transition into a losing streak, let us assume that the Giants aren’t funny enough or bad enough (talent-wise) to pull that off. The story of this streak is that the Giants are going to win with volume. It’s not a team of superstars, but it’s a star of a team based on how the players compliment each other and the way they’re utilized.