One day, people will figure out how the San Francisco Giants do it.
Sure, they spent a lot of money in the offseason to patch a few glaring holes on their roster. And despite missing the playoffs in 2015, they boasted one of the league’s best offenses that was coming back intact this season. They were widely considered to be at least a contender, not quite as good as the elite teams in the league, but good enough to at least contend for the Wild Card.
Now, with nearly half the season gone, the Giants are looking less like a simple Wild Card contender and more like a team that can challenge the mighty Cubs for home field advantage in the National League. Their 47 wins are tied for the most in baseball, and they boast MLB’s best road record. They’ve managed to hold off the surging Dodgers and still sit with a comfortable six game lead in the division.
Considering the team the Giants started the season with on paper, it’s not too surprising to see them playing well. But what’s remarkable about their recent run is they’ve done it without Hunter Pence or Matt Duffy, two lineup staples that have missed significant time with injuries. They’ve battled through injuries to other regulars like Angel Pagan, and survived rough stretches from Matt Cain and Jake Peavy. No one would’ve been too surprised had they struggled to overcome everything that was thrown in front of them.
So how are the Giants playing as well as they’ve been playing? Much of it has to do with pitching, as Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto have both pitched at All-Star levels. Jeff Samardzija has been mostly solid, and Peavy seems to have turned a corner over the last month. The much-maligned bullpen has been better as of late too, locking down leads late in the game.
And while the offense could stand to get better – their .734 team OPS ranks squarely in the middle of the league, and they’re second-to-last in home runs – it’s been good enough to give them a +65 run differential, good for fourth in the NL. They’ve done it with contributions from a number of unlikely sources, from journeymen Conor Gillaspie and Ramiro Pena to rookies Mac Williamson and Jarrett Parker. They’ve managed to limit the damage from injuries to their regulars so far without having to trade away prospects.
It’s par for the course for the Giants, who seemingly always find ways to win that leave most outside observers confused. The star-laden, powerhouse Nationals and Cubs were considered to be the class of the NL, and yet the Giants currently sport a better record than Washington and are neck-and-neck with Chicago.
It’s a testament to how far good pitching can take a team, as well as a lineup full of hitters who can beat you a number of ways. Depth plays an important role, too: the Giants’ three championship teams of the past few years have been known for their contributions from unlikely sources. Gillaspie, Pena, Williamson, Albert Suarez, and others all fit that bill. They may not look like much individually, but collectively the Giants are a force.
The Giants are at the top of the National League again, probably to the surprise of many. One day, someone will figure out their secret.
And no, it’s not because it’s an even year.