Raise your hand if you were delighted yesterday when you heard the news that Brandon Crawford had signed a two-year, $32 million extension with the Giants. OK, raise your other hand if two years ago, you were calling him “Pizookie” and scorning him for taking the money and getting fat and happy with his wife and their cajillion kids. Now raise your third hand if, six months ago, you were happily speculating whether Trevor Story or Javy Baez or Corey Seager would be the Giants’ shortstop from 2022 onward.
How many of you have all three hands raised? Yeah, me too.
Grant Brisbee has a fabulous piece in The Athletic about how remarkable and surprising it is that we went from counting the days until Crawford’s six-year contract would end to celebrating that he’ll likely finish his career as a Giant…and no sooner than after the 2023 season. If you’re feeling sheepish today about what you thought about Crawford two years ago, well–don’t. You were not alone, and you were not crazy. From the middle of the 2018 season through the first third of the 2020 season, Crawford was one of the worst hitters in baseball. He clearly had lost a step on defense, as well, and even Andrew Baggarly was dogpiling on how Crawford was one of the slowest runners on the team–slower, even, than Pablo Sandoval, who was not exactly in one of his svelte phases at the time.
Why did he fall off a cliff in mid-2018, and how did he find himself again in August, 2020? It’s much easier to explain why Buster Posey had such a steep decline (major injury and surgery) and went MIA (adopted newborn premature twins during a pandemic) and then turned things back around in 2021. It’s harder to say with Crawford. Was there a nagging injury or three that we never heard about? Or was it as simple as the fact that the Crawfords’ fourth and final child was born in June 2018, making it four kids five and under at the time? And that his wife’s sister died suddenly of an asthma attack in 2017, that another sister, former Olympian Jamie Dantzscher, was a central public figure in breaking the USA Gymnastics sex abuse scandal? That’s…a lot going on, a lot of physical and mental wear-and-tear on the home front. Now three of the four kids are school age, and even the little one is old enough for preschool. He got some rest during the 2020 layoff, and he gets to focus more now. As we saw with Kevin Gausman recently, these players are human beings, not machines. If there’s stress at home, even happy stress like the arrival of a new baby, it’s going to take a toll.
Whatever the explanation, it’s now wonderful and right that Brandon Crawford gets to be the Giants’ shortstop for two more years. The length is right (it will cover Crawford’s age 35 and 36 seasons, and that’s getting ancient for a shortstop), the money is fair, and it frees up the front office’s attention to try to re-sign Kris Bryant and…oh, yeah, maybe a starting rotation.
Even more fitting, the Giants’ top prospect, Marco Luciano, is about to turn 20, in high A ball, and–a shortstop. It’s not too hard to squint into the 2023 season and see Crawford mentoring the next Giants shortstop. Meanwhile, by retaining Crawford and not signing one of the big free agent names, they don’t block Luciano or even the next youngster behind him (Aeverson Arteaga or Diego Velasquez, both in the Arizona Complex [rookie] League).
Similar to either picking up Posey’s 2022 option or working out an extension with him, too, this deal went from “hell, no” to “absolutely, of course” in an amazingly short period of time. As Brisbee concluded:
On Aug. 13, 2021, though, it made sense. And when Amy G appeared on the scoreboard before the bottom of the fourth inning and announced the extension, the entire crowd stood up and cheered. And cheered and cheered and cheered. Crawford tipped his cap in appreciation. He used to be a way to explain where the Giants have been. Now he’s a way to explain where they’re going.
A standing ovation for Brandon Crawford 👏 pic.twitter.com/dJZlQG0J2O
— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) August 14, 2021
#1 in our hearts, but not in the ESPN Power Rankings
I’ve been doing a weekly column here since May 2017, over four years now. I can’t remember if I ever have written one when the Giants hadn’t lost a game since the last time I posted, but that’s what I get to do today. The Giants went 6-0 this week–two wins last weekend in Milwaukee, a two-game sweep of the Diamondbacks at home, and now have won the first two games of this four-game series against the Rockies.
Despite all this, ESPN’s Thursday power rankings dropped the Giants from #1 last week to #2 this week, elevating the Dodgers to #1. Their write-up didn’t shed any light, either. Here’s what they said about the Dodgers:
The Dodgers have loaded up for the stretch run, but they’re still struggling to stay healthy. Clayton Kershaw, who hasn’t pitched since July 3 because of inflammation around his pitching elbow, isn’t expected to restart his throwing program until next week, at the earliest, and might not have enough time to build up to a traditional starter’s workload before the end of the regular season. Mookie Betts, meanwhile, was placed on the injured list again on Wednesday with lingering pain in his troublesome hip, prompting him to fly back to Los Angeles to visit with a specialist. The Dodgers are deep enough and talented enough to succeed without them, but perhaps not if they want to catch the Giants.
As for the Giants, they talked approvingly about the addition of Bryant, the imminent return of Evan Longoria, and how the team was finally getting healthy. So why did they drop in the rankings after a good week? The only thing I can think of is that the Giants got dinged for “style points” despite all the wins this week. After all, they narrowly avoided losing the series in Milwaukee thanks to a poorly timed outfield misplay by Avisail Garcia and blew two leads on Tuesday against Arizona before winning on a walk-off error. A pissy LA Times column by Bill Plaschke riffed on this point. In it, Plaschke threw a s**t fit because the Dodgers didn’t sweep their series in Philly, gloomily wondering if the Dodgers “are running out of time to catch the Giants” for the NL West title.
Now, this all seems ridiculous to me. The Dodgers faced a red-hot Phillies team and won the first two games handily despite lengthy rain delays in both that messed up their rotation plans. They come out a bit flat in a (hot, humid) day game and lose 2-1, and the sky is falling? Much as I’d wish to agree that the Dodgers are “running out of time,” I know that there’s a long way to go. Here’s what Plaschke says about the Giants, and this is where it maybe ties into the ESPN take:
Meanwhile, you know who the overachieving Giants resemble? You’re going to hate hearing this. They’re looking like the 1988 Dodgers.
The Giants won a game in Milwaukee on Saturday when the Brewers’ Avisail Garcia botched what should have been the final out in right field. They won a game Tuesday when the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Christian Walker booted an out at first base that would have forced extra innings.
The Giants, who shouldn’t be winning, are inventing ways to do so. The Dodgers, on the other hand, sometimes do just enough to lose.
That’s why baseball is so great. You just never know. What does it all mean? Well, nothing right now. It will mean something on October 3 (the last day of the regular season) when we know which of these two teams wins the NL West. (Sorry, Padres, I know you still have a chance, but…)
In the meantime, let the national pundits twist themselves into pretzels trying to explain why the team with the best record in MLB (for, like, months now) somehow is rarely at the top of the power rankings, and let the LA beat writers whine about the Giants’ “luck” and the Dodgers’ “injuries.” WE know why the Giants are #1 in baseball and #1 in our hearts. (#GiantZombies™)
Anthony DeSclafani came off the injured list to start Friday night, pitched five innings, and got the win; Johnny Cueto went on the IL. Camilo Doval returned briefly from AAA and had a dazzling two-inning stint in Thursday night’s game (two innings, 1 hit–an unlucky bloop, 0 walks, 4 Ks, one near-decapitation of a hapless Rockie, one satisfying game-ending strikeout of the guy, Charlie Blackmon, who walked him off in Coors Field back in May).
With the exception of Cueto, who’s likely just getting a breather as DeSclafani did, Evan Longoria and Reyes Moronta, who both could be back very soon, the Giants are finally at #FullSquad for the first time since…well, since ever in 2021. And now, of course “full squad” also includes one Kris Bryant. We may not have four former MVPs as the Dodgers do, but at least we have two!
Rockies at Giants, 6:05 p.m., Willie Mays Field
Kyle Freeland (3-6, 4.65 ERA) vs. Sammy Long (1-1, 5.81 ERA)
Best of luck to my fellow lefty and Sac State Hornet! Lefty out.