The Giants followed their first sweep and three-game winning series of any kind during the second half with one of the most embarrassing feats a team can “achieve.”
Giants lose 3-1. They just got swept by Paul Clemens, Clayton Richard and Luis Perdomo. They’re 0-6 against the Padres in the second half.
— Alex Pavlovic (@AlexPavlovic) September 14, 2016
It was a very second half Giants kind of a sweep.
- Clemens was sick enough to spew chunks between innings and pitch five scoreless anyway.
- One night later, they blew a 4-1 lead when the relievers combined to allow five runs in the ninth inning.
- The Giants could only muster four singles yesterday while Madison Bumgarner allowed three runs over 6 2/3 innings, on a day when he probably should’ve been lifted by Bruce Bochy at least one batter earlier. Not that it would’ve mattered anyway, since the Giants didn’t score a run after the second inning. (It was the ninth Bumgarner quality start the Giants have wasted this season.)
As far as deflating series go, this one wins the coveted “Punctured Balloon Award.” At least the Giants were competitive against the league’s best when they squandered a split in Chicago a couple weeks ago. The combination of momentum coming from the sweep in Arizona, quality of opponent, and how the series played out made the culmination of the last three games seem worse than any point this season. And that’s saying a lot. The Dodgers winning to pull ahead by five games, with a magic number of just 13, only makes matters seem worse.
However, this level of frustration has been growing due to several long-term annoyances, so why not list them? Consider this a form of Giants therapy. Once we accept the problem(s), we can figure out ways to accept a season that seems lost but somehow isn’t. Yet.
10. Matt Cain’s salary
Pitchers lose it for a variety of reasons. No harm there, and no one without orange-tinted glasses really thought five scoreless innings on his last start of the 2015 season meant the old Cain would return this season. And maybe Cain can become a low-leverage reliever, or even a passable fifth starter someday (although the latter seems unlikely). But Cain is owed $28.5 million after this year, so the Giants are stuck with him … at least through the beginning of next season, anyway.
9. Hunter Pence’s health
Here’s a note on Pence from Rotoworld after he went 3-for-3 with a homer, a walk against the D-Backs, one night after going 4-for-5 with the catch of the year.
Pence has missed a lot of games this year due to injury but has played well when on the field. That is a common theme when good players get up into their thirties. Pence has a .293 batting average with 11 homers, 48 runs scored and 47 RBI in 317 at-bats.
This is where thousands of Giants fans mutter “damnit” at the same time. The previous paragraph — 100% true, by the way — means we can’t be surprised by any of this, even though everyone who’s either in the organization or roots for the team hoped Pence’s injury-plagued 2015 season was an aberration, not proof that the heartbeat of this team is aging like a normal human.
8. “They’re on pace for ___”
I’m one of the biggest culprits, as I wrote a story titled “Giants on pace to win 99 games … wait, what?” three months ago and tweeted about how they were on pace for 102 wins back on July 9, when the skies were blue and the roses didn’t smell like boo-boo. Now they’re on pace for 86 wins, and if you project their final record based on them continuing their second half pace, they’re on pace for 83.
7. The whole Matt Duffy thing
The Giants made a left-brained trade when they sent Matt Duffy to Tampa for the kind of lefty starter they sorely needed in Matt Moore. But the right-brained faction of Giants fans was understandably pissed and hurt.
From the moment he scored from second on Trevor Rosenthal’s wild pitch in Game 2 of the NLCS, he was a bonafide Giant. Then he arguably was the best thing about the 2015 season, finishing second in the Rookie of the Year voting. Then he grew Popeye forearms during the offseason, which was just another reason to have mammoth expectations for the homegrown infield. And there was always Skeeter, the pleasantly plump feline who melted the hearts of cat-loving Giants fans everywhere.
The fantastic defense at third base never vanished, but his hitting did when teams shifted to take away all of those base hits to the right side, and eventually so did he due to an Achilles injury. Then, on deadline day, he was gone completely. No rational fan can question the logic of this trade — Duffy ended up having season-ending surgery on his Achilles a week ago — but Brandon Crawford spoke for many.
When I heard today that Matt Duffy was traded, my heart kind of just dropped. I was hoping it wasn’t true. You get really tight with guys in this business. This is the first time someone I’m really close to had gotten traded. I’m disappointed I won’t be playing alongside him anymore. He’s a fierce player and a really good person.
Did the Duffy trade negatively impact team chemistry? It’s hard to say, but the Giants have gone 16-24 since, so those trades definitely didn’t give them the kick in the big-boy pants they seemed to need at the end of July.
6. The first half was a mirage
The Giants could squeak into the postseason and do damage. They’ve done it before. So I’m not saying that they’re the worst team ever, as the second half would seem to indicate. But they sure seemed lucky when we look back on the first half numbers, some of which I listed on July 15:
- The Giants had the third-best record in one-run games (20-10). They’ve gone 7-14 since.
- The Giants were 40-19 against under-.500 teams. They’ve gone 12-18 since.
- The Giants were 9-0 against the Padres. They’ve gone 0-6 since, as Alex Pavlovic noted above.
- The Giants (17-14) played just 31 games against above-.500 teams, by far the fewest in the majors. They’ve gone 8-17 since.
We could go on and on. There was hope that the Giants weren’t lucky, but an outstanding team built on excellent starting pitching, timely hitting and solid defense. Apparently they were kind of lucky.
5. Bye-bye maybe … but probably not
Which team has hit the fewest home runs in the second half? Not the Giants! The Marlins only have 38, while the Giants have the second-fewest with 44. Buster Posey’s home run drought (48 games, 204 PA and 177 AB since he hit that go-ahead homer in the 10th in San Diego that was negated by a Santiago Casilla blown save) has gotten all the pub, but it’s mostly a symptom of a very underwhelming performance by the middle of the order. Since the All-Star Break, the Giants leaders in home runs are Angel Pagan (7) and Denard Span (6).
4. Brandon Belt’s second half
Is he the hitting version of 1983 Atlee Hammaker? He was an All-Star, and deservedly so, and since then he’s been as frustrating to watch as anyone on the roster. He’s hitting .221 in the second half, which isn’t good. His on-base is .357, which is perfectly fine, but he’s slugging .365, which for a healthy first baseman is poor.
While walks help the team, the best part of Belt’s game (other than his defense) is that his bat is live. We can’t expect 25 homers per season, but when he swings in what appears to be an effortless manner and the result is a rope that one-hops the wall in one of the gaps, you realize that the guy can drive the ball as well as anyone on the team. But in the second half he has 37 walks (for comparison: he has 40 hits) and 67 strikeouts, so in 47% of his plate appearances he hasn’t put the ball in play.
Let’s ignore home runs. Belt led the NL with 27 doubles in the second half. He only has 7 in the second half, which means he ranks eighth … on his own team! Belt still has the highest OPS on the squad, and he walks more than any Giant in recent history not named Bonds, but the first half was such a tease.
3. Denard Span’s entire season
I wasn’t expecting him to come to San Francisco after the injury problems, especially after Scott Boras said they were gunning for a multi-year deal instead of a one-year pact with incentives. I thought they should sign Dexter Fowler, then gave up on that idea when they gave a huge contract to Johnny Cueto. But the Giants surprised many when they signed Span for three years and $30 million.
Span has had some minor aches and pains, mostly to his neck, but injuries haven’t been the most disappointing thing about his season. How about his .321 on-base percentage, worst among Giants regulars who’ve been here all season and well below his career average? Or just 12 stolen bases with a 66.7% success rate, both well below his career averages? Or his outfield defense, which is clearly regressing? Or how so far he has followed up an incredible August (.336/.351/.536) with a dreadful September (.068/.146/.159)?
2. The bullpen
Bruce Bochy’s reputation as a bullpen wizard is well-deserved. He managed one of the best closers of all time in Trevor Hoffman, and successfully navigated the post-Brian Wilson era … until this year.
Truth is, the Giants never had a dominant closer, and should’ve been rolling with a closer-by-committee strategy all season. Sometimes Santiago Casilla has been excellent, but other times Bochy has let him twist in the wind when everyone in the world knows he’s unravelling. There hasn’t been one dominant reliever throughout the entire season, because everyone has had their ups and downs besides Derek Law, but he got hurt when they needed him to replace Casilla as the ninth inning guy.
The stats guys will argue that defined bullpen rules are dumb. Why have your best pitcher sit in a chair beyond the outfield wall when the other team’s best hitters are coming up in the seventh or eighth inning? But relievers seem to like knowing when they’ll be used, and Bochy has always been a players’ manager. However, the numbers are the numbers. They’ve blown 27 saves, tied for second in all of baseball with the Marlins (the White Sox have blown 28).
This is where margin for error comes into play. If the Giants’ offense was more powerful, didn’t score two or fewer runs as often as they do, and showed the ability to come from behind more often, the bullpen wouldn’t have to face so much scrutiny. But this is the team they are, and the bullpen has been at the forefront of several hellacious losses in 2016.
1. Speaking of powerless
“Torture” was a word that annoyed every other fan base, seeing as the Giants won a silly number of championships in a short period. But there’s something very irksome about a team that for weeks has looked tired, distracted, powerless, feckless, futile (pick your word for “sucky,” the list is infinite), and still barely holds the lead in the Wild Card standings.
There’s no moment we can look at and say, “They’ve finally climbed out of this funk.” Or, alternately, “They’re done.” They may LOOK done three or four times per week, but of the three major professional sports in this nation, baseball is by far the least predictable. So instead of the strangely satisfying feeling that sometimes comes from giving up, fans are left to follow along as they often play extremely boring games, hoping for the same glimmer of hope that came at the end of 2014. No one else will shed a tear (and rightfully so), but this “Even Year” stuff is a lot harder than it seems.