Strength in Numbers(?)

by DrLefty

Let’s get this out of the way up front: I watched exactly 14 minutes of last night’s Giants game, during halftime of the Golden State Warriors/Houston Rockets game. As timing would have it, it was the first 14 minutes, in which a Giants starting pitcher actually got through the first inning without giving up a run (the last time that happened was May 1, the final game of the previous homestand) and the first two Giants hitters reached base, both via walks. Then halftime was over and we switched back to the basketball game, and as it turned out, that was the best 14 minutes of the Giants game.

Full box here

 

There is really not too much to say about this game except maybe (1) I-believe-in-Stephen-Vogt (who went 3 for 4 with a walk, and yes, if you peruse the line score and box, that’s exactly 75% of the Giants’ hits last night) and (2) Dereck Rodriguez pitched a bit better than his line suggests and was victimized by some shaky defense in his one bad inning.

So let’s talk about the Warriors, their iconic “strength in numbers” rallying cry, and how it might apply to a really weird week in Giantsville.

It’s likely been hard for Bay Area fans who like more than one sport to pay much attention to the Giants this week. After all, the San Jose Sharks won their second thrilling Game 7 to end another playoff series. And the Warriors, who 72 hours ago looked ready to be dethroned by the Rockets, somehow dug deep for five-plus quarters to win Games 5 and 6 of their playoff series without Kevin Durant, who was injured late in the third quarter of Game 5.

Before last night’s Warriors game, I donned my 2007 playoff shirt: “We Believe.” MrLefty was wearing his “Strength in Numbers” shirt from 2015. The combination of the two is what put the Warriors over the top last night. This series win, maybe more than any other in this five-year run in the Steve Kerr Era, epitomized what Bruce Bochy famously told the 2014 Giants late in the season, as they were limping through a bad second half to barely clinch a playoff spot: “You have championship blood.” And they did. Nobody thought the 2014 Giants would make it all the way through October. Except the Giants themselves.

Similarly, few people around the NBA thought the Warriors were going to make it past the stacked and highly motivated Houston Rockets in the second round, even before Durant’s injury. And once he was out, the Warriors’ historic run was declared dead and buried by–well, pretty much everyone.

 

But the Warriors also have “championship blood,” and, to quote Steve Kerr, they are “f***ing giants.” Well, in 2014, after the Giants had won the National League pennant to advance to their third World Series in five years, Bochy called his team “a group of warriors.” So maybe Kerr was just time-shifting and returning the favor.

 

Before the Warriors won their first modern-era championship in 2015, the Giants and their “championship blood” had won three. As the cycles of sports go, the Giants are far from that era now. And this past week has been a frenetic week of activity, an odd take on the “strength in numbers” theme.  Going back to the beginning of the road trip, a little over a week ago, the Giants have (not exactly in this order, but close enough):

  • DFA’d Gerardo Parra
  • Called up Mike Gerber, let him play four games in Cincinnati, then demoted him
  • Called up Stephen Vogt
  • Called up Tyler Beede for a (disastrous) start in Cincinnati, then demoted him, then called him back up
  • Called up Pat Venditte, then demoted him, then DFA’d him
  • DFA’d Yangervis Solarte
  • Called up Williams Jerez, then demoted him
  • Put Drew Pomeranz and Buster Posey on the injured/concussion list (respectively)
  • Called up Mac Williamson, Donovan Solano, and Aramis Garcia

Last night’s starting lineup included three guys who were not on the Opening Day roster (Vogt, Austin, and Williamson). Tonight’s will likely include four (add Kevin Pillar and maybe swap out Vogt for Garcia). Seven guys on the current 25-man roster were not on the Opening Day roster. That is…a lot of change in a short period of time.

Farhan Zaidi helped build winners with the A’s and the Dodgers using this “strength in numbers” approach. So far it hasn’t especially paid off for the Giants, and that’s putting it politely. Even Zaidi admits that most of his moves haven’t been successful ones.

“That’s a totally fair question,” he said. “You bring guys in because you hope they’re contributors, and we’ve taken some chances. I think we’ve looked to take chances where we weren’t investing a lot in terms of giving up long-term assets or future assets. We’ve gotten looks at a few guys and we haven’t gotten the type of production that we were looking for.

 

“I think it’s fair that as a front office and for me, personally, I haven’t done the job of identifying guys who could help us in that spot. That’s a totally fair critique.”

I know I come across as a Zaidi hater, especially after my Opening Day post. But I’m not, really. I think Dr Z is a bright guy who has a lot of respect in the industry, and I know his track record is excellent. And I know it’s early yet and that he inherited a mess to clean up. Despite the ugly results on the field and on the stats sheet, here are some bigger-picture things that make me hopeful for the future under Zaidi:

  • He’s willing to undo his mistakes (or moves that didn’t work out, which is not always the same as a “mistake”), and he doesn’t take forever to (un)do things, either
  • He’s about meritocracy, not contract-ocracy or veteran-ocracy
  • He prizes flexibility, both in individual players and in roster construction
  • He thinks creatively rather than making the “obvious” moves (e.g. “Sign Adam Jones!”)
  • And, maybe most importantly: He’s not about his own ego, and he’s ready and willing to face criticism (see quote above)

The Giants became champions in 2010 because of their strength in numbers, their “band of misfits.” If and when they return to that level, it will likely be because of that kind of incremental rebuilt strength, not necessarily a “Giant splash.” Zaidi seems to be the right guy for the job–time will tell.

 

Tonight’s Game

Reds at Giants, 6:05 p.m., Oracle Park
Tony DeSclafani (2-1, 3.65 ERA) vs. Jeff Samardzija (2-1, 3.16 ERA)

 

…and speaking of “championship blood,” it’s “Let Pablo Pitch” bobblehead night. It’s been a rough week for Pablo, with his two buddies, Parra and Solarte, both DFA’d, but he did have this amazing game in Cincinnati, which led to a whimsical comparison with Giants Hall-of-Famer Christy Mathewson and a even a Jayson Stark piece featuring him in The Athletic.  Just like back in 2008, a mostly miserable year for the Giants and their fans, Pablo is one of the few bright spots. So I hope Pablo and the fans enjoy the moment. Lefty out.