The San Francisco Giants play their 81st game of the season Wednesday night at AT&T Park, signifying the half-way point of their 2018 schedule. After an up-and-down first half, the Giants enter play Wednesday 4.5 games out of first in the NL West and 2.0 games back of the second wild-card spot. Having hovered right around the .500 mark pretty much all season to date, there are both positives and negatives that can be drawn from the season’s opening 80 games.
2018 San Francisco Giants Mid-Season Report
On the plus side, the Giants have been competitive, unlike last year. But, ‘competitive’ won’t be good enough if they want to play any October baseball. And ultimately, that is the goal. It’s why President Brian Sabean and GM Bobby Evans delayed the inevitable rebuild by trading for Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria in the off-season.
The Giants want to take one more kick at the can with this core, and they aren’t all that far off. But they will need more to go right for them in the second half to have a realistic shot at qualifying for the postseason; some of which they can’t control, and some of which they most certainly can.
Trouble With the Injury Bug
First and foremost, the Giants have once again been plagued by the injury bug in 2018, just as they were a season ago. The good news is that Madison Bumgarner is now back and appears to have shaken off the rust of his first few starts. If San Francisco is to take a run at a postseason berth down the stretch, it is imperative that ‘Madbum’ be at his best. But the Giants are also desperately in need of Johnny Cueto’s return, which is likely to happen within the next couple of weeks. Cueto had been brilliant early in the season before going down with a sprained elbow, and if he and Bumgarner can ever find a way to both be healthy at the same time, that 1-2 punch at the front end of the rotation could carry the Giants a long way.
One thing all the injuries have done, however, is test the Giants depth. And for the most part, that depth has shown to be very solid across the board. Alen Hanson has made a major impact, with a flair for the dramatic. Pablo Sandoval has swung the bat when he’s been in the lineup. Derek Holland has given the Giants a number of quality outings. Gorkys Hernandez has turned himself into a quality everyday player. Meanwhile, in the bullpen, Reyes Moronta and Sam Dyson have both far surpassed expectations. The list of the Giants depth pieces who have made a positive impact goes on and on.
That’s a big plus because that quality of depth in the organization is something that the Giants were severely lacking last season. Every team will have their depth be tested at some point or another over 162 games, and the Giants minor leaguers have passed that test with flying colors. But even so, that doesn’t mean that they couldn’t benefit from staying a little healthier.
Bruce Bochy has made it abundantly clear with his lineup selections in recent weeks that whoever is playing well will be in the starting nine, regardless of production in season’s past, seniority, or contract status. That means that the Giants could have some tough decisions to make if they can start to get guys back, but that’s a good problem to have. Competition for playing time typically brings the best out of players, and it also means that Bochy can field what he feels is the strongest lineup possible on any given night based on hot and cold streaks, favorable matchups, or even platoons. But it all keys on health, and the rampage of injuries the Giants have had to deal with all season long – with the likes of Cueto, Hunter Strickland, Jeff Samardzija, and Evan Longoria all currently on the shelf – has no doubt been a challenge to deal with.
Taking Care of the Basement Dwellers
The other major factor that needs to improve for the Giants is completely under their control. That is, they must find a way to get more out of series against weaker opposition.
Up against the National League’s best, the Giants have actually been pretty good this season. They have swept series against the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves and took four out of six against the Washington Nationals in the NL East. In the Central, they salvaged a game against the Chicago Cubs in a three-game weekend set during what was one of their worst injury stretches of the year.
And in their own division, the Giants are a game above .500 against the Los Angeles Dodgers, a game below against the Arizona Diamondbacks, and an even 4-4 against the Colorado Rockies. From that perspective, the fact that the Giants have played the tougher teams in the NL largely even is a good sign and serves as evidence that this Giants team can, in fact, hang with the big dogs and compete for a postseason berth in the National League.
But they aren’t going to have a chance at that berth if they continue to stumble against teams that are worse than them. Losing three of four in series against the Miami Marlins and San Diego Padres, and two out of three to the Pittsburgh Pirates doesn’t cut it. If they are going to continue playing the tougher National League teams even, then that means they also must match what those teams are doing against the likes of the Marlins and Padres. The Giants can’t be playing up and down to their competition. That’s what .500 teams do, not what playoff teams and division winners do.
Ultimately, with the slew of injuries that the Giants have had to deal with through their first 80 games, they aren’t actually in all that bad of a spot entering the back half of their schedule. The Dodgers are also banged up, while the D-backs have shown to be up-and-down themselves and very susceptible to lengthy cold streaks this season. That means the NL West division crown isn’t out of the question, nor is a wild card spot.
Postseason baseball is a completely different game from the 162 played from April to September. It’s very much a matter of who can get hot at the right time, with a heightened emphasis on pitching and defense. The Giants are clearly much better equipped to play that type of October baseball given the composition of their roster and the experienced clubhouse, and we also know Bochy and company have the magic even-year recipe to get on a postseason roll.
But in order to get there, the Giants need to play good regular season baseball to qualify for a spot. While that may not be their specialty – the swing-for-the-fences, launch angle, exit velocity-obsessed nature of 2018 regular season baseball – there isn’t any other way to get in. The Giants must take better advantage of the cellar dwellers and hope that they can stay a little bit healthier in the second half to stay in the postseason race.
Embed from Getty Images