It was a strong suspicion after the All-Star break last year, but now it seems inevitable: the days of the San Francisco Giants we've known this decade are numbered. There will be big changes by next season.
Not just the patched-together and sometimes desperate lineups of this current race to the bottom, caused in many cases by injuries but also by the hard facts that this team is losing. It can't seem to score runs or get anybody out anymore.
Many observers point out to left field but the Giants won World Championships without a stellar left fielder--and failed to win one when they had their biggest offensive force in decades out there: Barry Bonds.
No, the problem place is third base. The Giants probably could not have won its last championship without Pablo Sandoval in the playoffs. Apart from their perennial MVP Buster Posey, it was the pesky hitting of Sandoval and Pence that generated just enough offence to keep them in close games, and sparked other hitters in routs.
Sandoval's eventual replacement Matt Duffy was a key to keep them competitive in the regular season, both in the field and as a hitter, although devastating injuries ruined their 2015 season. And the attrition of the championship pitching staff began.
But with a healthy start, 2016 looked more than promising. The infield of Duffy, Crawford, Panik and Belt was arguably the best in baseball. But when the second half nosedive began, the Giants traded Duffy for a starting pitcher. I felt at the time--and a case can still be made--that the Giants' chemistry collapsed without Duffy, and it's been pretty much downhill since.
On paper it may have seemed that all the Giants lacked was a big time closer, since that was the conspicuous cause for their failure in the playoffs. It turns out not to have been so simple.
Another incredible raft of injuries has turned a bad situation into chaos. The Giants are in last place for a good reason--they are playing like a last place team.
Is it possible that they reverse 2016, with a terrible first half but a great second half? Possible, yes. But not likely. It's gone past the point of individual changes--it seems like a group thing now. Big changes are probably coming. Giants fans should brace themselves.
Meanwhile, the Warriors are undefeated in the playoffs. They've shown some resilience and adaptability, based on their wisely revived slogan of "strength in numbers." If they stay healthy (and Cleveland does), a rematch of last year's finals looks all but inevitable.
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