After their hot start, you could be forgiven for thinking that the San Francisco Giants were just a flash in the pan that would fizzle out before long, considering they’re in the same division as the defending World Series Champ Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Fernando Tatis Jr.s (or Padres if we’re being politically correct).
In the preseason, Fangraphs gave the Giants a 5.7 percent chance to make the playoffs and just a 0.2 percent chance to win the division, a measly 0.2 percent greater than the Orioles. Yet here they are.
How did this happen? They’re an older team, but appear to have found the fountain of youth. Buster Posey is 34 and a year removed from opting out of the 2020 season, but it seems like the time off has done him a world of good. His .978 OPS is the best of his career, his .330 batting average the second best, and he’s on pace to have a career-high in home runs. It’s not at all an exaggeration to say that he’s playing as well as he did when he won the NL MVP in 2012. Maybe even better.
Thirty-five-year-old Evan Longoria is having a similar revival. His OPS and batting average are his highest since 2012. San Francisco’s rotation has also exceeded expectations. Johnny Cueto, another 35-year-old, had an ERA greater than 5 in the past two seasons but has gotten it down to 3.63. Alex Wood is in that same boat, and currently has a 3.91 ERA.
Kevin Gausman’s 1.68 ERA is the best in the majors among qualified pitchers not named Jacob deGrom. That can’t be right. Kevin Gausman? I’m sorry to be such an Orioles fan, but where was this in Baltimore? I know Camden Yards is a hitters’ ballpark, but did you ever think of not letting them hit the ball in the first place? This is so easy. I should be a pitcher.
But what are the chances they can hold on for the second half of the season and actually win the division? Which is to say, what are the chances that the Dodgers, the team that some thought could be the best ever and threaten to break the win record, might actually have to play in a wildcard game? By the way, it’s still possible for the Dodgers to break the record if they can just win 82.9 percent of their remaining games. Fingers crossed.
Between 1996 and 2018, 66 percent of the teams that had at least a share of first place on July 1st have gone on to win their division. Pretty good odds, even though they’re just .5 games ahead of the Dodgers and 2.5 ahead of the Padres. To be in first place this late into the season though, as well as the first team to 50 wins is still impressive. At the very least they’ve made Fangraphs eat their words… No! As of today they only have a 5.9 percent chance to win the division. Show some mercy Fangraphs! How could your cold, unfeeling statistics reduce the hearts of men to a single number?
I do fear that San Francisco’s undoing will be their head-to-head performance against the other contenders. They’re currently 3-3 against the Padres and just 3-6 against the Dodgers. If they could get that up to even .500 then I like their chances.
The two weeks immediately following the All-Star Break might be make-or-break for this team as they play seven games against the Dodgers and three against the first place Astros. And if they’re still in contention at this point, Giants fans will be in for a stressful last month of the season as they play ten games against the Padres. Regardless of what happens from this point, it’s fun to cheer for the team that wasn’t even supposed to be here.