By John Shinal
Special to The Examiner
It’s okay to be surprised, Giants fans. Nobody thought the team would be this good.
With a third of the 2021 baseball season concluded, the Giants have the best record in the National League at 34-21. That puts them ahead of their younger, better-paid and nominally more-talented division rivals, the Padres and Dodgers, who trailed the Giants by a half-game and two games, respectively (as of Wednesday).
The victories have come even though most baseball prognosticators picked the team to finish the year no better than third or fourth in the NL West.
What’s more, the last week of May produced a stunning turn-around in the team’s momentum, thanks to one of the best defensive plays of any Giants outfielder in a long time.
Mike Tauchman’s leaping catch at the outfield fence last Friday, which robbed Dodgers newly-acquired slugger Albert Pujols of a game-winning home run, was the kind of defensive effort that baseball people talk about for years, if not decades. It brought back memories of Willie Mays demoralizing Cleveland baseball fans in the 1954 World Series with his most famous catch. Similarly, Tauchman’s play produced an immediate shift in the team’s fortunes.
Instead of losing their fifth straight against L.A., the Giants won that game and took three in a row from their rivals at Dodger Stadium.
That helped ease the sting suffered one week earlier, when the Dodgers swept the Giants at Oracle Park in embarrassing fashion.
To top it off, the Giants on Sunday put up more runs against long-time Dodger ace and Giant-killer Clayton Kershaw than they had in his 50 previous starts against the orange and black.
It’s no surprise the Giants weren’t seen as favorites this year by the national baseball media.
East coast sports writers and pundits consistently pegged them as underdogs last decade, even as Bruce Bochy’s teams were winning three titles in five years.
This year, though, even long-time Giants fans are expressing wonderment at the team’s success. Some argue convincingly that it’s the starting pitching. Others say it’s all the home runs. The Giants, for a change, are among the league’s leaders in both categories.
As of Wednesday, the team’s ERA of 3.38 was fourth-best in the league. Their 78 home runs are second in the NL, behind only the Atlanta Braves.
One could also point to the reemergence of Buster Posey. The team’s undisputed leader is batting .315, with 10 homers and an OPS of .987. It appears he’s finally conquered the nagging injuries that have hampered him for years, allowing him to turn on the ball and drive it with authority again.
If you asked the players, they might say it’s the lucky mustaches some of the players have begun sporting.
While some Giants may abandon the look this month or next, Tauchman’s catch is one for the ages.
Every team of destiny has a season-defining play. Giants fans are hoping the one last Friday will be enough to have the Giants in first place at the beginning of October, as they were at the beginning of June.
After a day off Wednesday, the team will welcome the Chicago Cubs for a four-game series this weekend.