Yeah, I see you in baseball’s basement Philly… you’re still better.
Every baseball season has its nadir but even in a season full of nadirs, the Giants would be hard-pressed to top Thursday night’s game against the Rockies. It is, to date, their signature loss of 2017 and happened just as the A’s were putting one over on the first-place Yanks in extra innings at O.co and the Warriors were flooding downtown Oakland riding atop double-decker buses, popping (even more) Champagne and trolling vanquished rival Cleveland with their second N.B.A. championship in three years.
…A once familiar feeling for the Giants, no more.
The Giants lost to the Rockies 10-9 Thursday night on Raimel Tapia’s walk-off single off Hunter Strickland in the ninth in Colorado. They had come from a 9-1 deficit by scoring five runs in the eighth including Brandon Crawford’s three-run homer—the first three-one bomb this season for the men in orange and black.
It’s midway through June.
For good measure, Buster Posey (left ankle) went down after hitting a two-run homer in the seventh and Eduardo Nuñez tweaked his left hamstring. The good news for the 26-42 Giants (last in the NL West/second-worst record in baseball) clubhouse this morning is those injuries may not force either on the DL long-term, but at this point, does it really matter?
Barring a late Cubs surge, the Giants could well be remembered as the team of the 2010s. And why not? World Series victories in 2010, 2012 and 2014, plus one bullpen meltdown away from making the magic happen again in 2016 puts their run among the most notable in baseball history.
After the unceremonious exit of Barry Bonds, who left the game in 2007 under a shadow of suspicion and Federal indictments for his alleged performance enhancing drug use, the Giants went in the opposite direction—they built their team around homegrown pitching, notably star starters Tim Lincecum (2 Cy Youngs, 3WS rings), Matt Cain (3WS rings) and Madison Bumgarner (3WS rings, one WS MVP and currently one of the top three postseason pitchers of all time.)
The bullpen, a patchwork of homegrown talent (Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla, Yusmeiro Petit, George Kontos) key pickups (Javier Lopez, Brian Wilson, Jeremy Affeldt) and the young core farm-raised infield (Posey, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik, Pablo Sandoval), was buffeted by a steady cast of role players, key clubhouse guys and clutch contributors headlined by Cody Ross, Aubrey Huff, Marco Scutaro and Hunter Pence—who made the team not only a joy to behold but a juggernaut in baseball’s treacherous offseason.
During their run, the Giants played the game much like the luminous present-day Warriors, using the regular season to work out the kinks, niggles and personality conflicts and pouring it on come playoff time. They referred to one as the regular season and the other as the “Real Season.”
Say what you will now about VP of baseball operations Brian Sabean, the longest-tenured front office man in today’s MLB, but he set the blueprint for the Royals and Cubs to follow as they took rings in consecutive years after the Giants’ last victory parade. NL West GMs took note as well, especially in Arizona and Colorado, whose teams seem to be custom-crafted to their home fields as the Giants were to the pitcher-friendly confines of AT&T in the early ‘10s.
The results are evident for anyone who’s bothered to read the standings as the season lurches towards its halfway point. The Giants, playing in a division that is likely to produce both of the National League’s wild cards, are seemingly drowning in self-pity. The team’s two biggest acquisitions of the last couple seasons are front-line starters Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto. Both came to the Giants with outsized expectations and contracts to match (Samardzija $90 million and Cueto $130 million) and are itching to be offloaded by the deadline. Joining them may be Pence, Nuñez , late-inning reliever/grudge-holder Strickland, closer Mark Melancon and starter Matt Morris, all of whom could contribute mightily to contenders.
Such deals at the break aren’t going to yield top prospects from Boston, New York, Houston or Chicago. What it will do is free up salary (at least the salary the Giants won’t have to eat) and space on the roster for the Giants to give more sustained auditions as they have for Ty Blach (4-4 4.24 ERA) and Christian Arroyo (currently hitting .192 after a hot start with the club). The up-and-comers include Chris Shaw (OF), Steven Duggar (OF), Ryder Jones (3B), Jalen Miller (2B), Ray Black (P) and Matt Krook (P) all doing work in Sacramento.
So there is hope for the Giants to be able to replenish and make some key signings before Posey, Panik, Crawford and co. reach their dotage.
The real harbinger of a team in transition, however, comes in the form of the Madison Bumgarner situation. Bumgarner in an April dirtbike crash suffered a Grade 2 sprain in his left shoulder (his throwing arm) and anyone who’s seen him stretch out albatross-like on the mound knows this is a potential key mechanical hiccup. He is supposed to be out till late-August, but no need to rush the perennial Cy Young contender back.
Bumgarner signed a sweetheart five-year, $35 million deal with the club during his ascent in April, 2012. Since then, the free agent market for pitchers has gone coastal California real estate-apeshit. Bumgarner is scheduled to make $11.5 million in 2017. To compare, a third-tier starter like Kansas City Royals’ Ian Kennedy will make $13.5 million this year. Last offseason, David Price signed the largest contract for a pitcher in history when the Boston Red Sox gave him $217 million over seven years. Bumgarner, at only 27, is definitely a candidate to join the $200 million club but the Giants are notoriously stingy when it comes to paying aging pitchers (see: their reluctance to sign Lincecum to a multi-year deal at any point in the last five seasons of his career—which turned out to be a smart move for the club yet established a permanent rift between them and The Freak.)
Part of the reason for the reluctance to ink long-term deals for their own, is the Giants drive their pitchers into the ground like rental Hummers in Vegas. They and only they know the kind of mileage on those workhorses as well as what goes on inside …look no further than Bumgarner’s 117-pitch Game 5 shutout in the 2014 World Series followed by coming in from the bullpen in the fifth inning to close out Game 7 …on two day’s rest.
Like your college ex, Bumgarner likely gave the Giants the best years of his life and will have comparatively little in the bank besides the memories to show for it.
Admittedly, I’ve watched fewer than 30 innings of Giants baseball this season. There are much more interesting clubs around the league including the young-and-surging Twins attempting to stave off the rest of the AL Central, the Rockies and Diamondbacks and their seemingly unstoppable bullpens, the steady star power of the Dodgers and even the frenetic ambitions of the Angels featuring old man Pujols and the unsung GOAT Mike Trout. Yes, many lovely things are going on, right here in my own time zone, that are well more interesting than pans to a silent dugout on the shores of China Basin where everyone is spitting in opposite directions and giving one another the side eye.
…Which leaves me to the real reason the Giants are hitting rock bottom: There is little indication they believe in one another, much less themselves. And there’s not a whole lot of love flowing through the organization as a result. A come-from-behind eight-run rally only to be walked-off in the ninth was all the proof I needed to solidify the notion that they’re the worst in the game right now …and falling.