You’ll forgive San Francisco Giants fans if they checked their calendars in mid-July to make sure that it really wasn’t New Year’s Eve and it had suddenly become an odd year. That might be the only reasonable explanation for what’s happened to the team since then.
The Giants have been beaten up in the second half, posting an 8-16 record while watching their once-formidable lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West shrink away to almost nothing. They haven’t hit well, their starting pitching has been suspect, and the bullpen has had its share of blow-ups. Before taking two of three from the Miami Marlins earlier this week, the Giants hadn’t won a series since the break. They’ve looked nothing like the team that posted the best record in baseball (57-33) in the first half.
It would be easy to write the Giants off and say they’re dead in the water, barely hanging on until the Dodgers pass them in the division. But there are reasons to think they may climb out of this funk.
For one, San Francisco made a number of smart moves at the trade deadline to strengthen a few problem areas. Eduardo Nunez brings speed and versatility to a lineup that needed it, and trading for him made it a little easier to deal away Matt Duffy in the deal for pitcher Matt Moore. Moore has been impressive in his two Giants starts, an obvious upgrade over Jake Peavy, and having another left-handed starter will be valuable down the stretch against teams that struggle against lefties (cough, Dodgers). And Will Smith gives the Giants something they’ve missed since Jeremy Affeldt retired: a lefty that can get guys batters out from either side of the plate.
The starting rotation has been solid in the second half, done in by a lack of run support. Though Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto haven’t been as dominant as they were in the first half, both have pitched well enough to keep the Giants in games and given them chances to win. Jeff Samardzija had a rough go of things early on, but seemed to turn things around during his last start. Meanwhile, Matt Cain seems to be regaining some of his old form.
So while the pitching has been good enough to keep San Francisco in games, the offense has been stagnant to the point where even small deficits seem out of reach. Much of that has to do with the struggles of Hunter Pence and Joe Panik, two lineup regulars who have struggled mightily since returning from injuries. Pence sports a .439 OPS in the second half, while Panik’s is .352. With both of them scuffling, the Giants have had to shuffle their lineup around while waiting for either of them to come out of it.
Chances are good that they will – both of them are simply too good to struggle like they have been the rest of the way – and when they do, the Giants’ offense should start to click again. A healthy, hitting Pence would provide much-needed protection for Buster Posey while taking pressure off of Brandon Belt. Panik’s return to form would do wonders for the top of the lineup, where Denard Span has finally started to come around. Angel Pagan has been batting second, but his bat would be more useful towards the bottom third of the lineup. San Francisco boasts one of the league’s most balanced offenses when things are working, and getting back to that would go a long way in breaking them out of their slump.
So no, it’s not suddenly an odd year, and no, the Giants aren’t doomed to playing out the string and missing the playoffs entirely. They’re still a good team, struggling a bit to find their footing after the break, but they’re getting healthy at the right time and made the right moves to get stronger. There’s enough talent there to make sure their slow start to the second half is nothing more than a blip on the radar when October rolls around.