Thursday, July 07, 2016

Strength in Numbers

Strength in Numbers was the Warriors' motto last season, but as the San Francisco Giants approach the All-Star Game break, it occurs to me that it's also the headline for their success so far this year.

At the moment the Giants enjoy the best record in the majors.  Thanks to a Dodgers' loss today, they have a 6.5 game lead atop the division.  The question is why?

Especially when so many regulars have lost significant playing time with injuries, and right now three or four are unavailable (it's not clear about Span) for the final weekend before the break.  Plus one of their top relievers (Romo) has just gotten back, and one of their starting pitchers (Cain) may be ready for the second half but has been out of the rotation for several weeks--just as he seemed to be getting back on track.

And even factoring in the injury to Romo, the bullpen has underperformed, both in contrast to past years and to the league right now--with a high number of blown saves.

So why are they winning?  There's one clear stand-out star of the first half: new starting pitcher Johnny Cueto.  But he pitches just 1 out of every 5 games.  Three other starters are also pitching at a high level.  Madison Bumgarner has run into some bad luck with run support and reliever failures, Jeff S. has been inconsistent recently and Jake Peavy took awhile to get sharp, but together they are clearly among the top starting pitching staffs in the league.

That's strength in numbers.  So is the high level of the starters in the field who've managed to stay healthy: Brandon Belt is having an All-Star year, as is Brandon Crawford, though thanks to a totally bullshit selection process, they might not be recognized as such.  Buster Posey is their MVP, for even when he's not hitting, he's guiding these pitchers and playing his position admirably.  And quite a lot of the time, he is hitting.

But strength in numbers really comes into play with the rookies and substitutes, the guys who've been sent out on the field to replace the injured starters, and to do what the team needs to win.  And by and large, they've been doing it.  Playing unfamiliar positions or bouncing around the batting order, they've mostly come through.  And among the rookie pitchers, Cory Gearrin has been heroic, pitching effectively in tight spots probably more than he should be asked to perform.  Suarez is another--bouncing back and forth from the minors, asked to relieve, asked to start, he's been pretty solid.

You have to assume that part of this is due to the team culture.  Other players envy the SF Giants organization and their clubhouse.  They were factors in getting Cueto and Jeff S. to join up.

That brings us back to the Golden State Warriors, with the same quality organization and team chemistry.  It's a smaller group in the clubhouse now that has to embrace a bunch of new players, but at Kevin Durant's signing press conference Thursday, it's clearly a great deal of why he's come to the Warriors--and he said so:

"When I met these guys, I felt as comfortable as I've ever felt," Durant said. "It was organic, it was authentic, it was real, and it was feelings I couldn't ignore."

He was reassured that there wouldn't be ego trips or selfish play.

 Of the core players he said: "It felt like they just loved each other unconditionally."

It's kind of a strange thing for an athlete to say about other players.  And yet, it seems to be crucial to the success of these two Bay Area teams.

No comments: