This will be the first and only time you will see a photo of a Dodger (or an actor playing a Dodger) as the “featured image” at the top of an Out of Left Field column. And watching “42,” starring Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson, was the first and only time I ever rooted for the Dodgers to win the pennant. It is incredibly ironic and sad that this talented young man passed away from cancer in the same week that MLB players, including the Giants and the Dodgers, boycotted games to make a statement about racial injustice and police brutality, and the same week that MLB belatedly celebrated Jackie Robinson Day, which is usually in mid-April. Rest in peace, and may the heroes you portrayed (including also Thurgood Marshall, who successfully argued Brown v. Board of Education and later became the first African-American Supreme Court justice) inspire us all to do better.
…And the Giants…?
Well, a week ago, the Giants were in the middle of an exciting winning streak. They’d lost five straight to sink to the bottom of the NL West, including three brutal losses that involved blown ninth-inning leads. Then, after the third of those last-second losses, they suddenly turned things around and won seven straight. Now they’ve lost three straight. They’re a little streaky; have you noticed that? The irony is that, in the same way that a gut-punch loss kicked off a winning streak, the latest losing streak followed one of the most classic Dodgers-Giants games I’ve ever seen, an 11-inning thriller that involved four Giants comebacks and a walk-off homer to win it.
I’m hard-pressed to remember a Giants team that took us on this kind of roller-coaster ride, with the highest highs and the lowest lows whiplashing fans before they know what’s hit them. The 2010 team, with all the “torture,” maybe? The 2012 team with all the postseason elimination games? It’s hard for fans to know how to feel. Earlier this week, the composite reaction on Twitter was “Ha! Where are all those Zaidi haters NOW, huh?” and “Kapler’s doing a great job.” By the end of the desultory and feculent double-header shutout sweep at the hands of Clayton Kershaw in Game 1 and the Dodgers’ bullpen(!) in Game 2, it was back to “Can’t stand Kapler–he’s got to go” and “Trade everyone, Zaidi!” You can’t blame the fans too much. It’s been a rough year.
What went wrong?
It’s tempting to blame the sudden layoff–the last-minute Dodger-led boycott of Wednesday’s game–for the shift in momentum that caused the Giants to go completely flat in the Thursday doubleheader and the Friday game until a too-little, too-late ninth-inning surge. But the explanation is a simpler one. What went right during the winning streak suddenly started going wrong. A great turn through the starting rotation led the way last week, and the Giants’ hot bats gave their shaky bullpen plenty of cushion. But this week, the Giants have suffered bad starts by Johnny Cueto, Logan Webb, and Tyler Anderson, and even though they finally won the Cueto game, they had to use 10 pitchers to do it. As for the bats, Mike Yastrzemski stopped hitting (batting .143 this past week), and so did Wilmer Flores (.083). and Donovan Solano (.158, but the walk-off homer was great). Alex Dickerson is having such a bad year that it’s hard to imagine him on the 2021 Giants (if he even lasts through 2020). Even hot weeks by Brandon Belt (.571) and Evan Longoria (.391) couldn’t rescue the rest of the offense.
Meanwhile, the Giants said a sad goodbye to Hunter Pence, who was DFA’d last Sunday, and to 2018 bright spot Dereck Rodriguez. I’m not going to be surprised if this time next week we’re reflecting on the storied Giants career of Pablo Sandoval, too.
Oh, and has Mauricio Dubon been kidnapped or something? After driving in the tying run in the 10th inning of the Giants’ comeback win on Tuesday, he hasn’t appeared in a game since. Not even as a pinch-hitter or defensive substitution. Even Luis Alexander Basabe made his major league debut (as a pinch-runner) on Wednesday. Where is Dubi? I went searching on Twitter for an explanation and found this.
Mauricio Dubon is out for a third straight game. He did not play in yesterday's doubleheaders. Manager Gabe Kapler said Dubon is healthy and did not elaborate. Could just be #SFGiants want to give Rickard an extended look after performing well in Sacto camp.
— Henry Schulman (@hankschulman) August 28, 2020
OK…whatever. I think that’s weird.
So what now?
You all know that I’m still a Zaidi skeptic (and an even bigger Kapler skeptic), but I honestly feel for Zaidi right now. The 2020 trade deadline is barely 48 hours away (1 p.m. Pacific time on Monday, August 31). If the Giants pull their heads out (again) and win the next two games, then maybe we’re back to thinking that the Giants could sneak into the playoffs and Zaidi should consider adding a reliever or a bat, or at least that he should keep the current roster intact. But if they don’t, and lose one or both games, where does that leave Zaidi?
The three straight losses have put the Giants behind a lot of teams in the wild card standings…but are they really? Some of the teams they are trailing have played a lot fewer games than the Giants have, and they’ll have to stack up a bunch of doubleheaders before the season ends. It’s hard to predict how that will turn out for the final standings.
Trading off the potentially movable pieces (most notably Kevin Gausman) would be a clear sign to the world and to the clubhouse that Zaidi has thrown in the towel on the 2020 season. The Giants have a somewhat easier schedule coming up in September than they did in August, so if they’re still in spitting distance of a playoff spot, isn’t it too soon to give up? On the other hand, if Zaidi gets attractive offers for Gausman and others, shouldn’t he be building for the future? Is it worth hoping this flawed but entertaining team will limp its way into a three-game wild-card round, all on the road and likely against the Dodgers?
There are a couple of important considerations here. For one, we can’t really compare this year’s trade deadline decisions with the ones Zaidi faced last year, even if it does feel like deja vu all over again. Zaidi knew that if he held onto Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith, he could give them qualifying offers and get draft picks in return, and that’s how it turned out. (And for those of us who are not that excited about Nick Swiney and Jimmy Glowenke as compensation for two All-Star Willie Mac Award winners, it was really all about getting Kyle Harrison not to go to UCLA, and the extra draft picks gave the Giants more total budget to play with and to pay Harrison a huge over-slot bonus). It is unlikely that they’ll offer Gausman, who was signed for $9 million this season, a qualifying offer worth double that, so there is no compensation pick on the horizon. Thus, the only upside of keeping Gausman rather than trading him is for a 2020 playoff push.
For another, the idiosyncrasies of the 2020 season also lead to unique limitations. One I’ve mentioned before is the rule that players have to be traded off of and onto existing 60-man rosters. (This is why I think it could be adios Panda this week and perhaps why Melvin Adon and Chris Shaw were suddenly invited to the Alternate Site after being ignored all summer. I could even see Jeff Samardzija getting DFA’d if they don’t think he’ll be healthy and effective soon.) There is a loophole–you can make a trade with a “player to be named later,” as the Giants did when obtaining Daniel Robertson from Tampa Bay last weekend–but the ability to maneuver is more limited than usual. Another is money. MLB teams won’t know for a while yet if they’re going to be able to have fans in the parks for the 2021 season. In the meantime, they’re tightening their belts and being cautious. That makes it tough to trade someone like Cueto–the receiving team would want some salary relief to come with him, and the Giants might not want to pay it. Same with Longoria or Belt.
With all this in mind, unless the Giants trade some minor pieces (e.g., Shaw or Abiatal Avelino), the most likely scenario if they don’t stand pat would be for them to trade Gausman, Tony Watson, or Trevor Cahill (rising free agents), Flores (not a free agent, but signed to a very team-friendly deal), Tyler Anderson or Solano (both arbitration-eligible for one more year after this season)–players who could help a team now but aren’t going to break the budget for the future. Oh, and Yastrzemski, but hopefully that is one move that is off the table.
I guess that’s why Zaidi makes the big bucks. We will see in a few days how this all plays out. And we Giants fans will be right here to second-guess and criticize him no matter what he decides to do because we’re really, really good at it. It’s important to know your strengths and stay in your lane.
Giants at Diamondbacks, 5:10 p.m. at the Snake Pit
Trevor Cahill (0-0, 1.64 ERA) vs. Luke Weaver (1-4, 7.77 ERA)
Wait. Oops! I have put a Dodger as the featured image before! How could I forget this one! One of my favorite columns to date. Lefty out.