The 2022 Giants will win or lose in the margins. It’s what they do.

Duggar, Yaz, Doval and more will have to step up

By Mark Kreidler

Special to The Examiner

Wait: Is it really going to come down to Steven Duggar?

You know what? It just might.

Duggar is not the name you’re thinking of. I understand. You’re thinking of other Giants as the people who might be making the difference between a playoff-contending team and a thanks-for-stopping-by collection of pretty well-liked grinders. We all reach for the familiar names: Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, Evan Longoria.

And it is certainly true that the old guard came up huge last season. The Brandons both had something very close to career years, respectively, and the now-departed Buster Posey had easily the finest season of the last several — one of his best all-around campaigns in total, influenced heavily by the Giants’ limiting him to 113 regular-season games.

But you go a little farther inside that 107-win monster of a success, and you see where the difference was made. It wasn’t just veterans putting up exaggerated versions of the solid seasons normally expected of them. The success was very much in the margins.

Darin Ruf? Incredibly important piece, and a breakout winner. Tyler Rogers and Jake McGee broke out as bullpen arms. Donovan Solano was really important and mostly really good. Wilmer Flores was needed way more than the Giants had planned, and he held the fort, appearing in 122 games at either third base, short or second.

It was like that. And now, with Posey gone and Solano gone and rotation leader Kevin Gausman gone (we didn’t mention Gausman; had the best season of his life at age 30), it’s going to come down to the margins once again.

We’re not talking about 107 wins — we’ve already discussed that. But to be a contender in an expanded playoff format? That effort will be built on the Giants’ continued ability to help players find the best versions of their professional selves. Gabe Kapler’s staff has been pretty great at that. This year, we’ll see.

We will see about Duggar. He’s no kid; at age 28, the outfielder is very much at a point where his career is ready to launch. He has had parts of four seasons in San Francisco, and now, with LaMonte Wade Jr. on the injured list to begin the year, Kapler has indicated that Duggar is in line for an enlarged role.

Duggar is a left-handed hitter with some pop, and he can play anywhere in the outfield. He’ll matter immediately, because the Giants have little choice — they need to keep a lefty bat in the lineup most of the time. But this is also about what Duggar can become: more selective and patient in counts, a better user of his excellent speed. If you’re looking in the margins, he’s there.

Mike Yastrzemski — he’s in the margins. For two years, Yastrzemski was a tough out, and in 2020 he also took walks willingly. Incredibly patient. Last year, without much warning, his numbers fell off the table. You wouldn’t say the Giants won in spite of him (he still hit 25 homers) but he was nowhere near as fearsome a force as he had been.

Yastrzemski, 31, is working through a tight quadriceps, so he may not exactly blast out of the gate. But if you’re trying to figure out how the Giants stay competitive offensively in the full post-Buster era, he’s one of the first places to look. Yastrzemski went .224/.311/.457 in 2021, a weird step backward. If he steps forward, it matters.

You want to see the Giants play meaningful games in September and October, watch Joc Pederson for more than a minute. The club signed Pederson to help them navigate this new era in the National League, the era of the designated hitter. Pederson is a career .232 hitter — but there’s power there, if he can reach it. If he can, Pederson is a credible home run threat almost all of the time. The Giants have to help him reach it.

And that’s life in the margins, right? General manager Farhan Zaidi and Kapler and the entire staff turned 2021 into a sort of ongoing exercise in finding the right player for the right moment, and also in the moments of ongoing need. Third baseman Longoria, a team leader, played only 81 games last year because of injury, and he’ll miss at least six weeks this season after surgery on his right index finger. Filling that spot defensively, and making up for the loss of Longoria offensively — those are the kinds of locks that the Giants successfully picked a year ago.

This year? Maybe it comes down to Mauricio Dubon finding his niche, or to Logan Webb building off of his outstanding work as a starter in ‘21. Webb took a quantum leap, so it’s probably unfair to expect another — but maybe Camilo Doval is ready to be great out of the bullpen. You’re not expecting Doval because he was just a rookie last year. It could be time, though. That’s how winning happens.

There’s no getting around the big stuff. If Belt can’t get or stay on the field, if Crawford regresses in a harsh way for some reason or Joey Bart struggles behind the plate — if big guys don’t perform, the Giants are already in trouble. But let’s assume competence. Let’s assume the starting rotation is as solid as it looks, and that the Giants are going to be right there.

“Right there” means close, not in it. To get all the way in it, to be in another playoff hunt, requires that a franchise now clearly built on recognizing and developing emerging talent – no matter the age — comes through once again. Duggar. The return of Yastrzemski. Doval. Pederson.

They’re not the people you’re thinking of because these aren’t the Dodgers. You can’t just scan the superstars and make your prediction. The 2022 Giants will win or lose in the margins. It’s what they do.

Mark Kreidler is a freelance contributor to The Examiner. Read more of his columns at https://markkreidler.substack.com

Savoring the Warriors’ remarkable run: Five lessons learned

Every postseason tells a different story. This one might be a fairy tale

Warriors routed on a tragic Tuesday in Texas

Mass shooting looms over Game 4, Golden State will try to clinch Thursday at home

Kerr explodes at pregame press conference, incensed by latest mass shooting

‘We are being held hostage by 50 Senators in Washington!’