As I noted in my first trimester review of the Giants, in Moneyball, Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane explained to writer Michael Lewis that he breaks a season into thirds when he’s constructing his team. The first third is for figuring out what you have; the second third, leading up the the trade deadline, is for improving what you have; and the final third is letting what you have gel and hopefully making a playoff run.
When I wrote that first trimester review, the Giants were at 29-25 and in second place in the NL West, despite a slight negative run differential. Their play had been uneven, but I was cautiously optimistic that they were still a contender, in part because of the poor competition in their division. Then … well … things fell apart. The Giants have gone 17-33 in their second trimester, leaving them with a record of 46-58 and a run differential of -62 that’s third-worst in the National League. For perspective, that second trimester pace is the level the Houston Astros have played at this year, and is equivalent to a 55-win pace for a full season. It’s no surprise, then, that the team is in last place in the NL West. So the question coming up to the trade deadline isn’t how the Giants improve for a playoff run, but whether or not they should trade impending free agents Tim Lincecum and Hunter Pence. So, how did we get here?
Pretty much just this:
For my extended thoughts on Timmy’s no-hitter, click here.
Pretty much everything else. The lineup carried the team through the first part of the season, but Sandoval got hurt and has sucked since he came back and looks fatter than ever, Brandon Crawford and Hunter Pence came back to earth, Brandon Belt has stagnated, and the Angel Pagan injury has led to the team frequently starting both Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres, who often look like they’re swinging matchsticks. Buster Posey is still an MVP-caliber player, and Marco Scutaro has been Marco Scutaro, but it’s not exactly a shock the team stopped scoring runs.
The pitching hasn’t been much better. Madison Bumgarner has continued to be stellar, but Matt Cain, Lincecum, and Barry Zito all have ERAs dangerously close to 5, and Ryan Vogelsong is still on the disabled list. To make matters worse, the bullpen fell apart, hitting its nadir last weekend when Sergio Romo (still my favorite player in all of baseball), lost two straight games in the ninth inning, the second loss coming on a home run by Giants castoff Nate Schierholtz (hitting a robust .274/.334/.523 this year, by the way), all as part of a three-game sweep to the Cubs. In San Francisco. Oy.
The really bitter pill, though, is that it’s not just the Diamondbacks that the Giants lost track of; instead, the hated Dodgers made a run, thanks to Zack Greinke’s return from injury, a hype-inducing performance from Cuban-defector Yasiel Puig, and a borderline MVP-caliber performance from Hanley Ramirez, taking them from worst-to-first, and they look like they’re clearly the team to beat in the West now. Damn it all.
Obviously, the Giants aren’t a playoff team this year. The question is, what kind of team are we looking at moving forward? There are a lot of good building blocks here: The infield of Posey-Belt-Scutaro-Crawford-Sandoval is a solid one that doesn’t need tinkering, although the Panda really needs to put the arepas down (not that I blame him–those things are delicious) and get back into a training regimen. The outfield needs to be rebuilt: Pagan, who has three more years on his contract, will obviously be back, but Pence is a free agent, and whether or not he comes back is going to depend largely on his price tag. Even if they do re-sign him, they’re really going to need to find another corner outfielder who can hit.
And then there’s the pitching staff. Cain and Bumgarner ain’t going nowhere. Lincecum is a free agent, and it’s an open question on whether the team will bring him back (for the record, I love Timmy and want him to be a Giant forever, but given the way he’s pitched most of the last two years, I would not give him a long term, big money contract). Zito’s contract is finally, mercifully over as well, though it wouldn’t totally shock me if the team worked out something to bring him back at a much smaller figure. The club has an option on Vogelsong, which, assuming he comes back and pitches well in August/September, I’d expect them to exercise. But the rotation, on which so much of the team’s success of the last few years has been built, is in flux. I won’t go into the bullpen, as bullpen performances tend to vary wildly from year to year, and are usually pretty easy to resolve. The biggest problem is that the team doesn’t really have any Major League-ready prospects in the minors ready to step in and fill those outfield and pitching holes. So they’re going to need to look outside the organization. And that’s expensive.
Look, this year fell apart, but Giants fans don’t have any right to complain. Since 2010, we’ve seen two World Series titles, Cain’s perfect game, Timmy’s no-hitter, Rookie-of-the-Year and MVP awards for Posey, and a host of lovable, entertaining characters: Lincecum, Sandoval, Huff, Pagan, Uribde, Romo, the Beard, and on and on. Even this season, ten years from now, won’t be remembered for the collapse as much as it will be for TIMMMAAYYY!!! Things aren’t perfect at Phone Booth Ballpark right now, but every single fan base in baseball would trade their last five years for ours. Keep that in mind.
Later this week, I’ll be back with a look at the Bay Area team that could be a championship contender this year: The Oakland A’s.