Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Baffling Giants, From the Stands

I saw the San Francisco Giants host the Marlins last Sunday, the final game before the All-Star break. Exactly a year before, the Giants had the best record in MLB. Many of the players on the field last Sunday were on that team. But if the Bay Area sports media is right, that may no longer be true even a month from now.

 Except for the unsurprisingly bad Phillies, the Giants ended the first half with the worst record in baseball, and have just lost a series in San Diego (due in part to 2 homers by their former backup catcher Hector Sanchez), where the Padres are almost as woeful.

 This is the worst Giants record in a generation, and it's baffled everyone. It's a proven team of highly skilled players just a year past predominance. Yet that year has been an ongoing disaster. And now a lot of people are expecting a lot of trades, and maybe for the first time are willing for them to happen.

 I tried to discern some difference at AT&T Park. I maybe didn't see the same intensity from Johnny Cueto on the mound, but that may not be valid. (He's now on the disabled list.) Otherwise, nothing I could be sure of. Maybe there wasn't the same electric buzz in the stands as there had been at some previous games, but the park was full on a clear warm afternoon, with a bright hot sun. Maybe the scoreboard emphasized past glories a lot, and they got the biggest cheers. As usual there were a lot of fans wearing Giants gear, including players shirts--often players of the past.

 But it wasn't a bad game. The Giants took the early lead on a titanic 2 run homer to the deepest part of the yard in right center by Brandon Crawford. The Marlins immediately tied it, then went ahead on a Giancarlo Stanton homer on a pitch that Cueto grooved. Then sub catcher Hundley homered right back to tie the score again.

 But over the past year, Giants fans have come to expect the bullpen cave, and it came when the Marlins scored 4 runs in the 7th. At 7-3, the script for the past year says the game is about over. But not this time.

 The Giants got a run back in the 7th and then staged a very exciting rally in the 8th, tying the game. Buster Posey (the lone Giants All-Star) got an ovation as a pinch-hitter but he inexplicably swung on an 3-0 pitch and grounded out without bringing in a run. Still, after Gomez two strike pinch hit single, the lead run was on third with one out. But one of the younger players--don't remember which--couldn't get a long sacrifice. With 2 out Denard Span smacked a deep ball to right that just got caught. A game of inches--if the ball had gone over the fielder's head, it would likely have scored two-- and how the dice falls, because one batter earlier and Span's ball would have easily scored the lead run, even if caught.

 A game also of instant heroics and instant humiliation. With the score still tied in the 13th, Brandon Crawford--who had a homer and run-scoring hit in the 8th inning rally for three RBIs, plus several clutch fielding plays and throws to first--scooped up a tough grounder and threw hard over Belt's head at first base for a two-base error. A couple of batters later, Kontos gave up a two run homer. By the time Stanton had homered again as well, and Kelby Tomlinson tripled in the bottom of the inning but the Giants could manage only one run for a 10-8 loss--we were on our way to, and sitting in, the train. In prior years, the chances of coming back again in the bottom of the 13th would be excellent enough to stay. This year, not so much.  (I do regret not seeing the Tomlinson triple.  He's a personal favorite.)

 As for the experience, I saw Matt Cain pitch in relief, and Ichiro pinch hit. I had the most expensive mocha I've ever purchased. I don't know how to compare this to previous years because I mostly kept to my seat before, but on this day there seemed an awful lot of people walking around and watching the boats in the marina. Maybe they were escaping the sun as I was. The people were a big part of the show. It will take a lot before people stop coming, I'm sure. It's such a San Francisco experience now--a very diverse crowd, all together here in Giants gear.

 But it may not be long before the players they see are different. (And in fact, we heard somebody yell "Trade 'em all!") Posey, Crawford, Bumgarner will remain the core. They've already broken up that perfect infield of Duffy, Crawford, Panik and Belt, and at least one of those left could go soon, as well as players added later. As for outfielders, though Hunter Pence is enormously popular, Span is probably more likely to be kept. But that's just guessing.

 Still, expectations that it will all change in a month aren't realistic. The starting pitching rotation was carefully crafted and looked so formidable before the season, and it is in shambles. Unfortunately you can't pick up a quality pitching staff in a month. The bullpen is so dispirited that nobody is completely safe. But contracts etc. enter in, and that's a level beyond my interest.

 I can see why people enjoy looking back, not only because those were championship teams--and pretty lucky teams at times--but several were definable teams. The team that played most of the first half of last season was a real team. But despite the familiar players, there's less sense of that now. Partly due to another season of injuries, but also to this baffling inability to win, players have been coming through, lineups and roles juggled. Things are likely to get even less stable before they settle, which will be when they jell. And become a team, a winning team, again.

Postscript: On Monday (July 17) the Giants' streak of consecutive home game sellouts ended at 530 games.  SF holds the record for the National League, and it is the second-longest streak in MLB to the Boston Red Sox 794.

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