The San Francisco Giants entered the second half of the season Friday night at a crossroads.
They took a National League West-worst 41-48 record into the All-Star Break — the team’s third-lowest winning percentage at the break in a decade — yet remained firmly in the mix for a playoff berth, only five games behind the Milwaukee Brewers and Philadelphia Phillies for the second NL Wild Card.
Still, the talent gap between the Giants and a slew of other postseason contenders is significant and the general feeling around the team is that the front office, led by President Farhan Zaidi, will look to sell high on its top assets including relievers Sam Dyson and Will Smith and starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner. Friday’s 10-7 extra-inning win over the Brewers only muddied the waters.
The Giants played Home Run Derby four days late, scoring all their runs via five longballs. Buster Posey put an exclamation point on the slugfest with a go-ahead grand slam in the top of the 10th, and the Giants continued a 13-game home run streak where the offense has suddenly come alive for 23 homers.
“What was so impressive was that every home run was such a big one,” said manager Bruce Bochy. “It’s good to see Buster give us a nice cushion there.”
Posey went 2-for-5 with a home run and four RBIs on the night and, at least for the evening, recaptured his MVP form both at the plate and behind the plate, making a perfect throw in the third to catch Lorenzo Cain stealing.
Right-hander Shaun Anderson was serviceable against the high-octane Milwaukee offense, posting a line of five innings with four earned runs, three walks and eight strikeouts, including three of reigning NL MVP Christian Yelich. The last pitcher to do that was Cleveland’s Carlos Carrasco on Sept. 2, 2016.
“Overall he threw the ball well and made some big pitches when he needed to,” Posey said of his batterymate.
Bochy added that he continues to be impressed by the young starter.
“I thought he had good stuff,” Bochy said. “The fifth inning was really impressive. That was his best inning.”
The Giants went quietly through the first four innings, looking over-anxious at the plate after the extended break. Brewers starter Chase Anderson held the San Francisco bats hitless his first time through the order and had faced just one batter over the minimum by the end of the fourth.
By the top of the fifth, the Giants were staring at a 2-0 deficit and only Austin Slater had made hard contact. In his next trip to the plate, Slater smacked an opposite-field bomb off Anderson, driving in himself and Kevin Pillar to knot the game up at 2-2.
In the sixth, Evan Longoria equalled Slater with a two-run shot of his own to give the Giants a 4-2 lead. The former three-time All-Star with the Tampa Bay Rays is now 10-for-25 in the month of July with six homers and 12 RBIs. He had just six homers through June 30.
While the Giants offense proved equal to the task of scoring runs, Anderson allowed two quick baserunners in the bottom of the sixth before being pulled for Reyes Moronta. Moronta could not bail out Anderson, allowing both inherited runners to score, and by inning’s end, the Brewers had retaken the lead, 5-4.
Though the Giants entered the eighth inning down by one, the game appeared all but over with relief ace Josh Hader on the mound. Hader entered the game tops among big league relievers in both strikeouts and batting average against.
Tyler Austin — brought in for his thunder against lefties — took the first pitch he saw from Hader deep to right field to tie the game and keep hope alive that the Giants could keep the momentum of winning 15 of their last 25 before the All-Star break.
Brandon Crawford was the next player to take Hader bridge in the top of the ninth, pulling a 3-1 fastball to right for a solo shot to give the Giants a 6-5 lead.
Even with the middle of the Brewers lineup due in the bottom of the ninth, the Giants sent All-Star closer Will Smith to the mound — the same Will Smith who had saved 23 games in a row.
After a sub-par outing in the All-Star Game that saw him give up the eventual winning run, Smith blew his first save of the season in his first game back, giving up a leadoff triple to Yelich, who later scored on a groundout by Mike Moustakas.
Smith had to settle for a win, as Posey popped his 435-foot grand slam in the 10th, giving San Francisco its seventh win in its last eight games.
The dilemma that the Giants will face going forward in July is this: The better they play, the more real their playoff aspirations seem, and the more valuable their assets become. So, do they sell high and bolster the farm system, or stick it out and play for a playoff spot? Farhan Zaidi has said repeatedly that his goal is to play meaningful baseball well into September.
The next couple weeks will tell all for San Francisco, and what the team’s course of action should be heading into the trade deadline.
Left-hander Madison Bumgarner (5-7, 4.03 ERA) — a major trade target for contending teams, along with Smith — will take the hill for the Giants tomorrow evening against Zach Davies (7-2, 3.07 ERA) in the second game of the three-game set.