Baseball is a sport where its past is constantly intertwined with its present. It is a swirling mix of nostalgia and forward promise. We honor yesterday’s heroes while projecting them onto tomorrow’s stars when we say that “he’s got a swing like Mickey Mantle” and when “throwback” is a term of endearment. We build ballparks with brand new designs and construction, with new ways to remind us of yesteryear. The 2019 San Fransisco Giants entered the season with an aging core of players that had won 3 World Series in 5 seasons and a few signings that hadn’t worked out with their future Hall of Fame Manager set to retire at the end of the year. Most didn’t expect them to be good at all.
Baseball championship cycles can be quick. The Kansas City Royals built up for years before reaching two World Series in 2014-2015. Nearly that entire team save Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez are gone.
Remember the 2013 Red Sox? The only player on both teams was SS Xander Bogaerts, but 2013 he only played 18 games in the regular season and hit just .235 in the World Series. So while the Red Sox only had one player on the 2017 World Championship version, the Giants had kept on trying.
We enjoy our nostalgia – but in today’s baseball analytical world we don’t have much place for it. We loved seeing Albert Pujols in his return to St. Louis this season – but don’t you also think Cardinals fans are glad he isn’t taking the roster spot of a Matt Adams or other more productive (and less expensive) player of the 2019 Cardinals fighting for their own post-season?
We welcome the many father-son and several 3 generation baseball families like the Boone families. When Vladimir Guerrero Jr wore his father’s old number in Montreal – the city his father came of age on his way to the Hall of Fame – and ended up hitting a walk off home run – the city erupted and it was a top moment of the year…and it was only spring training. The past connecting with the future – in the present.
For the most part – the Giants just never broke up with their past – though time caught up with many players who went into retirement. 2012 World Series MVP Pablo Sandoval left for the riches of an ill-fated contract with the Red Sox, then returned quietly with his head hung low and just started doing what he had always done with the Giants – hit.
It is true that right now the Giants even making the playoffs is a long shot. Their only possibility at all is the Wild Card, as the Dodgers have the NL West completely locked up. That wild card by the way? The Giants are one of 6 teams within 4 games of 2 wild card spots. Their ace – Madison Bumgarner – is a free agent at the end of the season and has been a subject of trade talks all season long. If the Giants are to look ahead they would dramatically benefit from trading MadBum or one of their valued bullpen pieces to dismantle further this team and build with younger talent and prospects. Yet they haven’t done that yet.
The Giants are 16-4 in July, which has vaulted into a wild card conversation and over .500. They head to San Diego this weekend to face a Padres team going the opposite direction as their starting pitching does what is supposed to teams in July: they wilt.
The fans in San Francisco are responding. After years of being known for their strong fan base, 2018 finally saw a dip in attendance. From 2011-2017 they averaged over 3.3M fans a year including 2017 when they lost 98 games. Last year it dropped to just over 3.1M (still 3rd of 15 NL teams) but so far in 2019 they were squarely 7th of 15 teams in the league. Now even that is starting to change.
In the last two weeks, they have rattled off 4 last at-bat wins in 6 at-bats, with throwback of all throwbacks Pablo Sandoval providing the coup-de-grace with an extra inning walk off winner. They aren’t supposed to do this! They are 26th in MLB in home runs, with just 109 in the year of the juiced baseball! Injured Evan Longoria leads the team in home runs with 13! The only other team with no player over 13 home runs is the Marlins – but they are 38-62!
Yet – if they do keep playing better, couldn’t every non Dodgers fan cheer for them just a little bit? As opposed to the Red Sox we just discussed, the 2012 Giants are represented in this years team by Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Bumgarner, Brandon Crawford, and the aforementioned Kung Fu Panda (after a few disastrous seasons with the Red Sox and battles with belts). Hunter Pence, who left the Giants after his contract ended last year mercifully, is enjoying his own renaiisance with the Rangers and seems a lock for the AL Comeback Player of the Year. Could he rejoin his friends in orange and black for one more run?
This is what baseball is supposed to be about, right? The Giants didn’t tank like many thought they should: they honored not only their fans but Bruce Bochy’s final year to at least try and be competitive. At first it looked like a horrible decision, as they sputtered to a 12-18 record at the end of April. May wasn’t much better, but in June they started to restore balance with a 14-13 balance. More importantly – in June their run differential (runs scored – runs allowed) was exactly 0. Making each game essentially a coin flip. In July they have scored 127 runs and allowed just 81. That will help you win games.
There are still many question marks around this team. Buster Posey is hitting pretty terribly, but veteran (and Visalia, CA native) Stephen Vogt has been a welcome addition to spell Posey behind the plate. The Giants have just a 10.2% chance to make the playoffs, with go down with any pieces they sell whether it be from the bullpen or rotation. They are 24-10 in one run games, a remarkable 10-2 in extra inning games. This either means they are very lucky – OR this veteran hardened team who won the World Series in 2014 as a Wild Card winning just 88 games knows how to win those close ones.
With less than a week to go before the trade deadline, every game is important as the Giants and new GM Farhan Zaidi tries to figure out if they should buy or sell.
It would be one of the most improbably in-season comebacks in recent memory, particularly when you look on the field and still see Sandoval/Belt/Crawford/Posey/Panik all these years later. Can Sergio Romo be traded back to the team?
I talked earlier about the Giants being an embodiment of baseball in the sense that baseball constantly looks backwards and forwards. The Giants are breaking all of the rules, taking in many retreads like Tyler Austin, Alex Dickerson, 31 year old Donovan Solano and others who are finding success. Kind of like that 2010 season led by Aubrey Huff.
One of their biggest surprises has to be their left fielder. He is 28 year old rookie who had spent 6 years in the minor leagues before finally getting called up after 40 games at AAA this year. His name? Mike Yastrzemski. The grandson of the Red Sox and baseball legend Carl Yastrzemski. You can’t make this up.
Time will tell if the past can be the future for the Giants of San Francisco of 2019, or if this bold run hurts the team down the road.
In the present though – things are working out just fine.