The San Francisco Giants came into this season off a failed year in 2017 where they lost 98 games and the following problems have hit Bruce Bochy’s team since the beginning of this season…
*Madison Bumgarner was injured in spring training and has made just seven starts since his return.
*Johnny Cueto was injured and has made just six starts.
*Jeff Samardzija has made only six starts and been atrocious when he does pitch. The 19 combined starts from three key pitchers matches the number of starts made by 16 different individual pitchers in MLB.
*The bullpen is unreliable, ranking 11th in the National League.
*The offense is worse, ranking 12th in the NL, thanks to an inability to hit home runs or take walks.
*Hunter Pence, now 35-years-old, is the symbol of the offensive woes, with no home runs in his 108 at-bats.
*Joe Panik and Evan Longoria are now on the disabled list.
*Closer Hunter Strickland is out until the end of August.
Have I missed anything? Just that Buster Posey is having a so-so year at the plate. The .367 on-base percentage is nice, but with a meager .412 slugging percentage, Posey has not been able to pick up any of the slack.
Based on all this, and given that MLB’s defining feature this year is the number of teams at the extremes of either excellence or ineptitude, you would naturally assume that San Francisco is one of the teams on a pace to lose 100 games. But you would be wrong. The Giants have overcome all of this, nudged their way above .500 with a 47-45 record and are squarely in the mix of a packed NL West race and an even more packed National League wild-card chase.
What’s the takeaway from all this—at least besides the fact that Bruce Bochy is this franchise’s greatest manager since John McGraw? The takeaway is that there are teams in the National League—namely the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Los Angeles Dodgers—that are going to regret not putting away San Francisco when they had the chance.
Bumgarner and Cueto are both healthy and starting to hum, particularly Cueto who has a 1.95 ERA. Derek Holland and Andrew Suarez can slide to more natural roles as steady starters at the back end of a rotation, rather than having to be the leaders. As the season gets shorter, the impact of a couple great start pitchers grows in importance and there’s no 1-2 punch in baseball that I would take ahead of the Bumgarner-Cueto ticket.
Bochy will still have to piece together a functionable bullpen, with Strickland out until the end of August. Will Smith has been fantastic in the setup role with a 1.07 ERA and 25-year-old Reyes Moronta is pitching lights-out. There’s also a group of veterans that aren’t flashy, but have good resumes. Tony Watson and Mark Melancon, who were important parts of playoff bullpens in Pittsburgh, and Sam Dyson who closed for a Texas team that won an AL West title in 2016.
San Francisco has survived to this point with notable seasons from only two key players, shortstop Brandon Crawford and first baseman Brandon Belt. And neither of those players are so hot as to think they can’t put up their numbers all year long.
I wouldn’t bet against this Giants team down the stretch. Actually, I’ll go one step further—they’re currently listed at 40-1 to win the World Series. If they can simply get into a wild-card game, they can pitch Bumgarner—the greatest postseason pitcher of his generation—and still have Cueto to fall back on to open a Division Series. That 40-1 price tag sounds pretty tantalizing to me.