Over the weekend, the Giants bumbled into a series split with the Cardinals by losing the last two games of the series with the ultimate combination to kill any baseball team’s playoff aspirations: Poor relief pitching and impotent offense.
First, Saturday, Santiago Casilla blew yet another save in the ninth, his ninth blown save of the season (in 40 opportunities). The Giants are 0-58 when they are down in the ninth inning, and they have 29 blown saves, seven of them in September alone.
Sunday’s game was a boring 3-0 shutout loss: A suitable day of pitching for the Giants, but one in which the Giants left seven on base and went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position.
The most damning set of numbers for the Giants, though, is their win-loss record in the first half of the season versus the second. At the All-Star Break, the Giants had the best record in baseball with a record of 57-33. They have since gone 22-37, plummeting to nine games over .500; at the peak of their season, they sat 24 games over, but squandered that position in only 59 games.
Here’s where it gets really gory: The Giants have a season-long run differential of +64, which is seventh best in MLB. In the first half, though, the Giants scored 424 runs and allowed 351, averaging 4.7 R and 3.9 RA for a run differential of +o.8 per game. In the second-half, however—and this might be your time to look away, Giants fans—the Giants have scored 231 runs and allowed 240 runs. That’s 3.9 R and 4.1 RA per game, a -.2 differential. (Add it up: 655 R and 591 RA in 149 games this season: 4.4 R/G, 4 RA/G.) That’s, uh, extremely not good. Still, Bill James’s pythagorean expectation formula projects a 28-31 record for the Giants’ second-half, six wins better than they actually are.
The Giants now face the Dodgers for a three-game series that just a week ago would have been a pivotal series in the NL West race. Then the Giants went and lost five of seven, including a sweep by the Padres, and have fallen to five games back of the Dodgers for the division. The Giants have won seven of 13 against the Dodgers this season and, in addition to this week’s series, will play the Dodgers three more times to close out the regular season, so the division race is not technically over, but anyone who has watched these two teams in recent months knows it’s over. The Giants had an eight-game lead in the division on June 26, but have been plummeting back to earth since, falling into a tie first on August 9, then giving it up for good by August 20. In the last 30 games, the Dodgers have gone 17-13, the Giants have gone 13-17.
The wild card game is the Giants’ only realistic playoff hope at this point, and this weekend they ceded home field advantage as the Mets swept the Twins, the worst team in baseball, in a three-game series. The Cardinals are just one game back of San Francisco.
Giants beat writers, and some national baseball writers, have been reporting variations on these statistics for weeks now; nothing in the above paragraphs is new information to anyone who has been paying attention to the National League. But for a sports blog with a general interest audience like this one, it’s been hard to decide exactly what there is to say about the Giants in the second half. They have been alarmingly terrible, but they have managed to be so totally boring about it in the process that it has been hard to find a hook.
At some point, you would think something would have changed: Bruce Bochy would have stopped sending out Casilla before he blew another save, or the offense would have totally collapsed, or come back to life, instead of withering at the same time the bullpen fell apart. The truth is that the Giants have not figured out how to stop the bleeding, headed drop by drop to the precipice of missing the playoffs entirely.
And as Wendy Thurm noted earlier this month:
So where do the Giants go from here? Bruce Bochy has finally said Derek Law, recently back from the DL, and Hunter Strickland, (4.08 ERA in Aug/Sept, or, if you like small sample sizes, 11.57 in September with 6 ER in 4.2 IP), “will be more in the mix” in the ninth inning. It’s not clear why Bochy didn’t make this change sooner, but the Giants are worse for it.
So maybe the Giants will close out their remaining 13 games with enough grit and hustle (in sabermetrics parlance) to hold onto a Wild Card spot. If the NL Wild Card standings hold, they’ll face Noah Syndergaard, against whom they’re 1-1 against, most recently getting only two hits in eight innings at home on August 21. If they lose that game, it’ll be their first playoff series loss since the 2003 NLDS. (You’ll remember they’ve only won the World Series or missed the playoffs entirely in Bruce Bochy’s tenure).
If they win the Wild Card game, they probably face a worse fate: facing the Chicago “Monstars” Cubs in a five-game division series. Do we even need to bring up the season head-to-head stats? For the sake of thoroughness: The Giants are 3-4 against the Cubs in 2016, hitting .147/.229/.232/.461 with a 3.22 ERA against them. That’s not necessarily predictive of a bloodbath, but it’s not going to be pretty for any team who faces the Cubs this October.
So what if the Giants just miss the playoffs? We’ll likely get a Mets-Cardinals Wild Card game, which mostly makes me wish the Pirates hadn’t shit the bed this season. A Mets-Pirates Wild Card game would be fun! Cool! Everyone is sick and tired of the Giants and Cardinals in the playoffs, so that would have at least been a less stale game than one involving one (or both) of those teams.
In the end, the Giants look to be headed toward a season pissed away in incredible fashion. They might not manage to scrape their way into the playoffs, and into another World Series parade on infield singles and incredible pitching, not this time. If—especially in light of the giant freefall they’ve taken this second-half—they do manage to patch it together and streak their way into their fourth World Series victory in seven years, go ahead and put all your money on them winning the World Series in 2018 too. At that point, we will have to all accept that there really is some higher power, some ghost of Barry Bonds’s and Will Clark’s wasted careers, that is the controlling force of baseball in even-numbered years. We’ll have to accept that a it’s a predetermined outcome, because right now, the Giants fucking suck.