Over the last two months, during which time the San Francisco Giants have the very best record in all of baseball, I’ve found myself being asked one question over and over: Why? Occasionally it’s phrased differently: How?
Sometimes I get that question from people on the internet, sometimes from hosts of sports radio shows in other cities, and sometimes from myself as I start to question whether or not I actually know anything about this silly goose team that I cover.
There are a lot of answers, and the truth involves snippets and excerpts from each of them. But I always return to one overarching answer, the umbrella that encompasses most of the micro answers, without being an overly-vague cop-out: their margin for error is larger.
The bullpen has been dramatically improved, meaning they can win even when the starters aren’t as sharp which, in turn, makes it easier for the starters to be sharp. The hitters are scoring more with singles and rallies, which means they have multiple avenues to score runs, and don’t need to get so hyper-focused on homers that they strike out all damn day. The defense is playing well, which allows the pitchers to play to their strengths instead of trying to play hero ball. The less-heralded players are stepping up, which means the team doesn’t have to be reliant on their few front-line hitters having great games. The platoon players are hitting more evenly, which allows Gabe Kapler to save his substitutions for more critical moments. The depth is significantly more reliable, which allows Farhan Zaidi to tinker with the roster for the sake of advantages rather than out of desparation.
Really, this is just a fancy way of saying they’re playing good baseball, which, to be fair, is probably the most accurate answer to the why? and how? questions.
It’s been pretty apparent in the big picture, such as when the Giants placed Mike Yastrzemski on the Injured List on Friday, where he joined Wilmer Flores and Mitch Haniger, and also gave the day off to Thairo Estrada, and you didn’t look at the lineup and think they were colossally screwed, and you didn’t look at the 8-5 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks and act surprised by the run total.
But it’s also apparent at a more zoomed-in level. And this game, which pulled the Giants to within 2.5 games of the Diamondbacks in the NL West standings, had that on full display, in a fairly poetic manner.
They fell behind early when old friend Evan Longoria took Logan Webb to center field for a solo home run in the second inning, but you can’t be mad at that. Godspeed, Evan. Thanks for everything.
Logan Webb on Evan Longoria’s homer: “He’s going to give me shit forever. Forever.”— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) June 24, 2023
They got the run back in the third inning, as well as a go-ahead run and an insurance run to boot. It was a hilarious rally that started with two outs and the bases empty. Joc Pederson, J.D. Davis, Michael Conforto, and Blake Sabol each saw exactly one strike from Zach Davies. Pederson watched his go idly by him without moving the bat, then took four straight balls. Davis smacked his for a single. Conforto and Sabol bopped theirs for opposite-field doubles.
Isn't that just spit-on-your-neck fantastic pic.twitter.com/vQ1dRhFib2— SFGiants (@SFGiants) June 24, 2023
The Giants led 3-1. They were grooving. We were all grooving, like that Jay-Z meme that seems to populate every social media thread in existence.
And then came the fourth inning and with it, the hard reality that the Giants are not just one of the best teams in baseball right now, but facing one of the best teams in baseball, too. With two outs and a runner at second base, Webb got Alek Thomas to hit a baseball that traveled exactly two feet. Patrick Bailey fielded it up the first base line and, not feeling like he had enough time to shuffle sideways and get a better angle, tried to weave a throw through a narrow window to first base instead.
It didn’t work out, and the error allowed a run to score and forced Webb to throw 10 more pitches before the inning ended.
An inning later it was more of the same. On the first pitch of the fifth, Jake McCarthy reached on an infield single with a .360 expected batting average. One pitch later and Geraldo Perdomo had doubled on a hit with a .210 expected batting average, after LaMonte Wade Jr. dove for it and instead slapped the ball with his hand, sending it trickling towards the fence.
There were two pitches thrown, and a dangerous rally in the works. A Ketel Marte single tied the game, and put runners at the corners with no outs.
That brought up Corbin Carroll, who you can already give the Rookie of the Year trophy to, can probably give the MVP trophy to, and who you should try very hard to not think about being on the board when the Giants drafted Hunter Bishop. Carroll hit a chopper to first and Wade, seemingly not accounting for Carroll’s dynamic speed, tried to turn the ultra-challenging 3-6-3 double play rather than taking an out at home.
It didn’t work. And even though Webb would get an inning-ending double play exactly one pitch later, the damage had been done. The D-Backs led 4-3, and I was forced to make a note about how the Giants were not on their sharpest behavior. It wasn’t exactly Manny Machado trying to tag and take third base on a shallow fly ball to left field, but it wasn’t a particularly sound game, either.
And now we return to my setup, about how the Giants have a larger margin for error, and how it was particularly poetic in this game.
They trailed by a run, and you could reasonably make the claim that had Wade and Bailey played more careful defense, it would be the other team trailing by a run instead.
And then, in the bottom half of the inning, they won the game. They won the game after scoring five runs in the blink of an eye, with a gorgeous rally that began when Wade drew a walk, and was concluded when Bailey hit a home run.
Just so you know, it's not that common, it doesn't happen to every guy, AND IT IS A BIG DEAL ️ pic.twitter.com/iGJsCtEExV— SFGiants (@SFGiants) June 24, 2023
That depth, and that margin for error that has defined the last two months of Giants baseball is usually the result of one player picking up another player. Someone strikes out with one out and the bases loaded, and the next batter gets a hit. An infielder commits an error, and an outfielder saves a run with a diving catch. A reliever gives up a run, and a slugger hits a homer.
This time it was the individuals who had been clunky picking themselves up. Wade atoned for his defensive scuffles by fighting off a 1-2 count and turning it into a walk. Pederson singled and Davis doubled, and the game was tied once more. Arizona went to the bullpen to bring in a lefty against Conforto, and it accomplished nothing, as the result was exactly the same as before: a go-ahead, two-run double the other way.
A brief interlude for Austin Slater to fly out, and then Bailey, a player who entered the year with a “can he hit passably enough to let his elite defense play?” label on him, let his offense pick up one of the first defensive foibles we’ve seen him commit.
Let’s take a quick break to talk about Bailey. Two things to highlight. First, even before this game, in which he hit 2-3 with a homer and a walk, his 1.4 fWAR was tops by a mile among Major League catchers since he made his May 19 debut (and eighth among all MLB position players). Is it sustainable? Stay tuned. But right now he’s playing like someone who, had he been called up two weeks earlier, would probably be in the All-Star Game. And second, he hit his homer on a 3-0 count, which means he had the green light in a 3-0 count, which should tell you all you need to know about how the Giants view him.
By the way, nearly three months into the season, here’s the count for home runs by Giants catchers:
Blake Sabol: 7
Patrick Bailey: 4
Joey Bart: 0
Gary Sánchez: 0
If you want to include their Minor League totals, it looks like this:
Patrick Bailey: 8
Blake Sabol: 7
Joey Bart: 0
Gary Sánchez: 0
Yeah, I didn’t see that one coming, either.
From there, the game felt on cruise control. Armed with a lead once again, Webb had an eight-pitch shutdown inning, and backed it up with an 11-pitch, one-two-three seventh inning. Tyler Rogers gave up a run in the most Tyler Rogers way, allowing two doubles that were hit under 71 mph, and a single under 75 mph.
Camilo Doval made short work of the ninth, and Brandon Crawford — rejuvenated, dynamic, lovable Brandon Crawford — put some salt bae seasoning on the plate as the waiter presented it to the table to end the game.
Could Craw BE any better at shortstop? ♂️ pic.twitter.com/ZlcIzU5uV8— SFGiants (@SFGiants) June 24, 2023
(By the way, it was “Friends Night” at the park, if you’re wondering about the captions).
The Giants have spent the last week-plus playing their three obscenely-talented division rivals, and so far they’re 7-1. They weren’t perfect, which is even more impressive. They made mistakes, and they wasted no time making up for them.
They’re winning even when they’re not at their sharpest, which is a sign of a good team.
They’re winning in a variety of ways thanks to a variety of players, which is a sign of a good team.
And they’re winning a whole lot more than they’re losing which, I feel quite confident asserting is the defining trait of a good team.