By Chris Haft
Special to The Examiner
Here’s one way of placing the Giants’ 2021 season in perspective … and in the rear-view mirror. If they endured a 17-game dropoff this year, they’d still win 90 games. And that would probably be enough to qualify them for the postseason in the newly expanded, 12-team format.
Amassing 90 victories would mean losing an average of three more games each month, given the Giants’ franchise-record victory total last year. Their 107-55 finish reflected sheer consistency: They recorded winning percentages of .600 or higher in all six full months of the baseball calendar.
With that kind of steadiness, when will the inevitable decline occur? Or will a decline even occur?
It borders on preposterous to believe the Giants can win 100-plus games again. The Giants have accomplished this back-to-back feat exactly twice, most recently in 1912 (103-48) and 1913 (101-51).
But that’s ancient history, and this is 2022. The slate is clean for San Francisco, and 29 other teams, so anything is possible.
Here are three reasons why the Giants can reach or even just approach 100 wins again, followed by three reasons why they’re due for a slump.
Why they’ll thrive
The Giants have regained much of the swagger they possessed when they were winning World Series’ in 2010, 2012 and 2014. They regard winning as a given.
“You think you can do it again, that’s first and foremost,” Giants broadcaster and former pitcher Mike Krukow said. “When you have that belief before the first pitch is thrown, you’ve already accomplished a lot. You play six months and each month you play .600 ball, you come to have expectations. It’s healthy. Only a catastrophe changes that mindset. Everybody within that clubhouse expects nothing less than what they had last year. Now, will they win 107 games? No. That’s the first time they’ve done it in 139 years.”
Then Krukow cited a published prediction that called for the Giants to finish 79-83. “That’s insulting,” Krukow said. “They feel like they’re getting slighted. So they’re highly motivated once again.”
2. In Farhan we trust
Except for Giants lifers Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford, veteran Evan Longoria and preserved prospects such as Joey Bart, Camilo Doval, Sean Hjelle, Heliot Ramos and Tyler Rogers, many key performers, as well as manager Gabe Kapler, were obtained by Farhan Zaidi, the club’s president of baseball operations who earned credibility with a series of low-profile yet astute transactions. Examples include Mike Yastrzemski, Darin Ruf, LaMonte Wade Jr. and Jake McGee.
“It’s kind of like ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,’” said Krukow, referencing the popular 1969 film starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford. “They’d be in some really bad predicament and Sundance would look over and say, ‘You’ll think of something, Butch. You always do.’ We kind of feel that way about Farhan Zaidi. He’ll think of something.”
3. Rodon’s an artist
Free agent pickup Carlos Rodón has impressed witnesses with his electric ensemble of pitches. The Giants believe he can improve upon his 2021 numbers with the White Sox (13-5, 2.37 ERA, 185 strikeouts in 132 2/3 innings).
“I think he could win a Cy Young Award with his stuff,” radio talk show host and ex-pitcher Bill Laskey said.
Why they’ll dive
Winning 100 games or thereabouts doesn’t guarantee success the following year. Check Giants history for proof. The still-legendary 1962 team, which cruised to a 103-62 mark with future Hall of Famers Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Gaylord Perry in tow, tumbled to 88-74 the following year. The 1993 and 2003 Giants, who finished 103-59 and 100-61, respectively, checked in at 55-60 and 91-71 in their succeeding years.
Sustaining offense could be an issue. Buster Posey retired following last season. Kris Bryant fled to Colorado in free agency. Longoria is sidelined for six weeks by an injured right index finger. That doesn’t count the knee injuries that are nagging Belt and Wade. “Their offense went back a step,” Laskey said.
3. Paging Joey Bart
It’s up to Bart. This will turn into an asset if Bart, Posey’s highly touted successor behind the plate, can deliver on his promise. Right now, he’s a question mark.
“Early success will give him early confidence, and then everything else, we hope, falls into place,” Krukow said.
Defense is Bart’s top priority, as is the case with every catcher. But he’ll likely feel better about handling the pitching staff if he’s handling the bat capably.
“If you’re swinging the bat, you’re a better defensive player,” Krukow said. You’re not distracted on the field by thoughts of your swing. You’re thinking about nothing but defense.”
Chris Haft is a longtime Bay Area baseball writer who covers the Giants for The Examiner.