Part of my routine each week as I get ready to write Out of Left Field on Saturdays is listening to Giants-centric podcasts, specifically the Baggs and Brisbee podcast and Giants Talk, hosted by Alex Pavlovic and Cole Kuiper. On the two Giants Talk pods this week, Alex had several turns of phrase that caught my ear and stuck in my mind. I thought I’d start with those today before going on to the current (dismal) state of the Giants.
- “Don’t be awful”–this was in regard to the signing of Paul DeJong earlier this week. The podcast was recorded after DeJong’s dramatic debut with the Giants (three hits, a homer, 4 RBIs). Alex pointed out that the Giants are currently 28th in MLB in shortstop WAR and 30th in wRC+. DeJong may have been traded by his longtime team at the deadline and then dumped by his new team two weeks later, and he’s probably not going set the world on fire as a Giant, but he is, in Alex’s words, a “solid, major league shortstop”–and that’s what the Giants need right now. In fact, it’s what they need at every position: Just don’t be awful.
- “The most polarizing manager in the major leagues” (with the possible exception of the Yankees’ Aaron Boone)–this was in conjunction with manager Gabe Kapler’s return to his former stomping grounds in Philadelphia this week. Cole was expressing surprise that after all these years–Kapler was fired by the Phillies after the 2019 season, and this is his fourth season at the Giants’ manager–Philly fans were still spewing vitriol about him on social media and booing him in the ballpark. Things like “I really enjoy seeing him look unhappy in the visitors’ dugout” or “There he goes, mishandling a bullpen just like when he was here.” The Phillies are now two managers beyond Kapler and made it to the World Series last year, but fans in Philly still hate him. Yeah, polarizing.
- “Come to the middle”: Alex said this in the first of this week’s two podcasts, and I was going to use it as the title for this week’s column, but then I remembered that I used “the middle” in a title just two weeks ago(!). This saying was also about Kapler being polarizing, but Alex broadened it to refer to President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi and the Giants as an organization in general. What Alex meant by this is that Giants fans need to stop being so extreme in either their hatred of Kapler/Zaidi or their blind, uncritical defense of them. Meet somewhere in the middle: The Giants aren’t the best team in baseball, but they’re not anywhere near being the worst. Kapler and Zaidi both won awards for doing their respective jobs less than two years ago, and they probably haven’t forgotten everything they did then, and no, it wasn’t all just dumb luck. Nor has Zaidi’s or Kapler’s track record been so stellar and above criticism that they deserve “In Farhan/Kap I trust” or “trust the process” cliches. So get a grip and come to the middle.
I’m Not Feeling It
Two or three days ago, I still had glimmers of hope and optimism about the Giants in 2023. Yes, they lost four of six on a challenging road trip to Atlanta and Philadelphia, but they easily could have won both series, which were oddly similar. After looking woefully noncompetitive in both series openers, they had late-inning leads in the second games, only to be stunned at the end by the failures of two of their most reliable players this year (Tyler Rogers and Camilo Doval). Then, after more late-inning meltdowns by Doval, they rallied to avoid the sweep in the third game of each series.
So my optimistic script ran thus: They actually were competitive in tough road series against two of the best teams in the NL. Michael Conforto was heating up. Kyle Harrison looked good in his major league debut on Tuesday. Paul DeJong was channeling a combination of 2012 Marco Scutaro and 2010 Cody Ross, and even poor ol’ Wade Meckler remembered how to hit in the final game of the Phillies series. (He continued hitting in last night’s home loss to the Braves. When I fretted that the Giants were messing with Meckler’s head by rushing him to the big leagues, I forgot the part where Meckler got cut twice from the Oregon State team and refused to leave. He is not so easily daunted by failure.)
This terrific feature by @BlazerFreeman on Wade Meckler from last year, while he was still raking at Oregon State, is required reading for Giants fans. Hell of an origin story. https://t.co/Lpnf8fZUI3
— Andrew Baggarly (@extrabaggs) August 14, 2023
I amused myself by imagining how it would go if the Giants decided to option Meckler back to AAA.
KAPLER: Well, Wade, we’re sending you back to Sacramento, but don’t be discouraged. Just work on building more usable lean muscle, and–
MECKLER: No, thank you. I prefer to stay here.
KAPLER: W-w-what? That’s–that’s not a thing.
Anyway, other reasons for optimism included that Mitch Haniger and John Brebbia are both on rehab assignments, Mike Yastrzemski is also close to returning, and that the Giants’ schedule, which has been brutal in August, would ease up soon. Get some easier competition, some reinforcements back in the lineup, some youthful excitement from Harrison and Meckler and maybe even Marco Luciano in September…and they’re still in shouting distance of a wild card spot. It’s not over!
I dunno, folks. Today it feels over. I think the 1-2 punch of Conforto going on the injured list and the Giants losing another noncompetitive game to the Braves last night–with their ace, Logan Webb, not even coming close to matching up against his distinguished opponent Spencer Strider–has pushed me back into glumness and sadness:
- The schedule easing up: Is it, though? First of all, is any opponent “easy” for the Giants these days? They got swept in a two-game series by the friggin’ A’s. And series that a few weeks ago looked “easier”–with the Reds, the Cubs, the Diamondbacks, even the Padres–now all look like landmines. With the Giants in freefall in August, the Cubs and Diamondbacks have passed the Giants in the wild card standings and the Reds are just percentage points behind them. And yeah, the Padres still suck, but a four-game series at Petco next weekend seems fraught with danger. The Padres still have some very good players, their ballpark is jumping, and they are probably in a bad mood and would enjoy kicking a division rival in the–well, you know.
- Lineup reinforcements: Haniger and Yaz for Conforto? Well, in the first place, the Giants actually need all of them healthy and productive to have any chance of a September run. Subtracting Conforto right now, even though he’s overall had an underwhelming season, is a blow. Haniger has only played in 40 games this year, hasn’t set foot on a major league field in two and a half months, and was only hitting .230 with a .653 OPS and four homers in the brief time he actually played this year. How’s his rehab assignment going?–He’s hitting .167 for the River Cats. As for Yaz, a promising season has been derailed by three separate IL trips for the same hamstring injury, and he’s typically slow to return to form when he’s been out with an injury.
- Harrison providing a spark: He might, but he can’t do enough all by himself, just pitching maybe 3-5 innings every 5-6 days. He might “provide a spark” like Tim Lincecum provided one in 2008–he may make it worth turning the game on when he’s pitching, but he can’t fix a fundamentally bad team. (But will we be saying “Happy Harrison Day” soon?) Meanwhile, the Giants’ only other two starters have faltered. Alex Cobb is 0-2 with a 6.84 ERA in August and has only covered 26.1 innings in five starts, which is not enough to take the pressure off an already overused bullpen. Webb is 1-1 with a 3.58 ERA in August, but his last two starts, both against the Braves, were mediocre to poor. Oh, and then there’s our All-Star closer having the worst stretch of blown saves since #ForeverGiant Armando Benitez–what’s the matter with him?
Back to the Middle
I’ve rehearsed here the reasons to be hopeful about the Giants and counterarguments to those reasons. And honestly, it could go either way. The Giants could start putting things together, go on a nice run like they did in May and June, and sail easily into a wild card spot. Or they could continue playing the putrid variety of baseball they’ve put out there since late June or so and end up not only far out of a postseason spot but even under .500. We’ve seen putrid, plausible, and promising, all from the same team in the same season. It’s a little whiplashy and kind of disorienting, isn’t it? But we won’t know until we know. I’ll try to “come to the middle,” but I’m not really sure that’s my fan personality.
Braves at Giants, 1:05 p.m. at Oracle Park
Max Fried vs. Ryan Walker
I just can’t even with these pitching matchups right now…
Thanks to those of you who expressed concern and gave advice about my early morning coffee. I’m happy to report that MrLefty gave me a tutorial on the fancy coffeemaker, and I brewed myself a cup this morning. It’s also the first day of the USC football season, though it seems weird to say that on August 26. But it’s a welcome distraction from…ya know. Lefty out.