We know what a good baseball team is and we know that the San Francisco Giants aren’t particularly close to being one.
And yes, this season, to date, has been devoid of rhythm, identity, and joy.
But it’s not devoid of meaning just yet.
The Giants seem to be making a concerted effort to prove that they’re not worthy of playing in the postseason every night, but thanks to Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, this team has every reason to extend fan suffering all the way to Game 162.
Forget expectations coming off a 107-win, division-championship season. Let’s talk calibration when it comes to the playoffs.
Yes, the Giants have underwhelmed this campaign, but much of the ennui this team creates likely stems from the fact that this is the first year of a playoff structure and we’re not yet calibrated to baseball’s new, lower standards for success.
For decades, we’ve been taught that winning the division is the one surefire way to contend for a World Series in October. Major League Baseball even doubled down on the value of divisions when they expanded the playoffs in 2012: instead of the Wild Card team playing a best-of-five series against a division winner, they would instead have two Wild Card teams playing a one-game playoff. All the more incentive to win your group of five.
But this postseason, for the first time, there will be a third Wild Card team.
The value of winning a division isn’t terribly significant anymore. Yes, the top two division winners will receive a first-round bye in the postseason, but the third Wild Card team — the last playoff qualifier — will be guaranteed as many games as the division winner with the third-best record.
The Giants can easily have that third Wild Card spot and a three-game “Wild Card Series” round berth at the end of the season. A few games above .500 seems to be the playoff standard now, and the Giants are well within the margin of error.
Thursday was the Giants’ halfway point of the season — they are a firmly third-place team that is closer to last place than first. They are 11.5 games back of the Dodgers and 5.5 games back of the Padres, who hold the second Wild Card spot.
It’s also impossible to ignore the trend line with this Giants team. After a nice start to the season, they have progressively gotten worse every month. Going into Thursday’s game with the division-rival Padres, they had lost five-straight series.
Then they lost to San Diego in extra innings to open that set. Though that was the expected outcome given the way this season has gone.
Good teams win one-run games. The Giants, meanwhile are 10-17 in such contests this season. They had 17 one-run losses all of last season.
But it doesn’t really matter.
Under the previous playoff format, this team losing its last five series and starting July with a 1-6 record would make surrendering the season a viable option — something worth talking about with the trade deadline approaching in a few weeks. Previously, Wild Card teams need to win more than 90 games— preferably something in the 95-win ballpark. The Giants are clearly an 80-something win team.
They’re not bad, but that doesn’t make them good.
So instead of bolstering the team, a team stuck in the middle would have been wise to trade a few players on short-term contracts, and get to work on some odd-year magic in 2023. (Everything is upside down in a post-pandemic world.)
That’s what decades of watching baseball under the old playoff formats tell us.
But the new playoff format has this aggressively mediocre team well within striking distance of a playoff spot, two games back after Thursday’s loss. And that playoff spot is worth a full three-game series with what is likely to be the National League Central winner, be that the Brewers or Cardinals.
Talking to Giants outfielder Joc Pederson on KNBR last week, the possible All-Star listed off reason after reason why his team isn’t much fun to watch right now. All of this, unprompted, mind you. It was kind of a depressing interview.
But he noted that if the Giants just get hot at the right time — like Pederson’s 88-win Atlanta Braves did last season — things might just work out for this team come October.
I’ll take it a step further. This Giants team might not even need to win 88 games to reach the playoffs. They certainly won’t win the division, as the Braves did.
So why would the Giants’ front office trade prospects in exchange for a winning player (or two, or three) who could help this team start to win far more than they lose?
Just try to get hot at the end — perhaps even the very end – and it’ll all work out.
I feel like the Giants took the wrong message away from the Warriors’ title run.
So, yes, Giants fans, you can whine and moan and bellyache about this team all you want. I’ll be right there with you, because right now, this team is the deadly combination of boring and mediocre.
But we’re just going to have to get over it.
Because while this season has been defined by the Giants not being able to get seemingly anything right. That’s just about good enough for Major League Baseball in 2022.
Contributed by local news sources