By Chris Haft
Special to The Examiner
Reversing the well-worn cliche about the slow yet steady progression of an athletic season, the Giants might feel compelled to approach the rest of this month not as a marathon, but as a sprint.
From July 19-29, they’ll play seven games spanning two series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, their longtime rivals who also have been their most dogged opponents in the National League West race.
These won’t be must-win affairs for the Giants, since two months will remain in the regular season following this sequence. But capturing at least one of the two series against Los Angeles would sustain San Francisco’s confidence and its status as contenders. The Giants are 3-6 so far this season against the Dodgers.
The Giants also must fend off San Diego, which entered Thursday in third place in the West, 4 1/2 games behind the Giants. San Francisco, 5-4 against the Padres, meet each other 10 times between Sept. 13 and the Oct. 3 season finale.
The Giants possess at least two of the attributes necessary for postseason qualifiers — formidable starting pitching and an effective bullpen. The offense also has been an asset, despite an occasional over-reliance on home runs.
Here’s a rundown on how the Giants shape up for what lies ahead (all statistics through July 7):
With the starters and relievers sporting respective ERAs of 3.26 and 3.31, both third-best in the league, the Giants possess enviable balance.
All-Star selection Kevin Gausman is the type of performer every club needs down the stretch, a legitimate ace who can stop losing streaks and prolong winning ones.
The Giants have relatively little to worry about as long as the rotation’s primary members — Gausman, Anthony DeSclefani, Alex Wood and Johnny Cueto — stay healthy. That said, the team must watch each pitcher carefully. Gausman and DeSclefani are on pace to approach 200 innings for the season, a figure neither has ever reached. Wood is more than halfway to 150 innings, foreign territory for him since 2018.
That’s why the Giants need to seek a capable fifth starter. The more pressure the No. 5 man can absorb from the top four, the better.
A similar situation exists in the bullpen, where left-hander Jake McGee and right-hander Tyler Rogers have excelled. Giants manager Gabe Kapler knows the pair can’t carry the relief staff into the postseason by themselves, though he has avoided taxing their valuable arms. That explains his enthusiasm over right-hander Dominic Leone, who has shown potential for handling a set-up role since being recalled from Triple-A.
San Francisco’s offense has fashioned numerous winning efforts from multiple sources, not just resurgent shortstop Brandon Crawford. That’s great for sharing reminiscences during the winter. It’s not so great for negotiating the immediacy of the postseason. Sure, it’s wonderful that the likes of Jason Vosler and Thairo Estrada have experienced big moments. But when October comes around — that is, if the Giants advance that far — they’ll face elite pitching more frequently and thus will need playoff-tested veterans such as Crawford, Buster Posey and Brandon Belt to fulfill their roles as run producers. The likes of Al Weis (the utility infielder who belted a clutch home run for the legendary 1969 Mets in their Game 5 World Series clincher) just don’t occupy the forefront very often during the postseason.
Don’t be shocked to see Crawford’s run production diminish in the season’s second half. Not through any fault of his own, but because opponents will pitch around him with increasing frequency. It’s extremely obvious that Crawford’s fellow veterans — Belt, Posey and Evan Longoria — must regain full health, or something close to it, for the Giants to advance deep into October.
The Giants also must hope that Posey’s regulated playing time has its intended effect of keeping him fresh, both for the stretch drive and the postseason, if the Giants qualify. He has been solid throughout his career in September/October, batting .299 with an .821 OPS, 24 homers and 108 RBIs in 201 games.
Nobody, except the Giants themselves, could have foreseen their success. They have reinforced baseball’s limitless and wonderful capacity for surprise. However, they have no time to congratulate each other. The July 30 trade deadline is fast approaching, giving baseball czar Farhan Zaidi an opportunity to upgrade the roster.
Exactly what needs Zaidi must fill — well, who knows at this juncture? Adding a proven pitcher for either the rotation or bullpen might redouble San Francisco’s momentum. Obtaining a position player who’s more than just another pawn for Kapler could enable the lineup to jell.
The Giants have made a deal or two before the deadline during their (last 10) postseason-qualifying seasons. Some were blockbusters (Hunter Pence, 2012; the “White Flag” trade with the White Sox, 1997; Rick Reuschel, 1987). Some proved more valuable than they seemed at the time (Marco Scutaro, 2012; Javier Lopez and Ramon Ramirez, 2010; Brian Johnson, 1997). A few simply met the Giants’ expectations (Jake Peavy, 2014; Kenny Lofton, 2002; Doug Henry, 2000; Steve Bedrosian, 1989). One seemed like a great idea at the time but missed the mark (Matt Moore, 2016). And another was a complete flop (Sidney Ponson, 2003).
Of course, all of those trades were made by since-departed club executives under a variety of circumstances. Here’s Zaidi’s chance to etch his name — and his acquisitions — high on this list.