The San Francisco Giants don’t really give a fuck.
The Giants lost 98 games last year, finished 40 games back of the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West and, rather than face the music, the Giants traded for Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen and got older and more expensive. It is an even year after all -- although, the team failed to win the World Series in 2016, so maybe the Even Number theory has been debunked -- and, with the NL West as open as its been in years, it’s nice to see the Giants not taking the 2018 MLB season off like two-thirds of the American League.
When you have as disastrous of a season as the Giants had in 2017, it would have been understandable to see Brian Sabean and friends elect to trade their amateur dirt-biker, Madison Bumgarner, this past offseason, or see what the market was for somebody like Brandon Belt, and as painful as it would be, do their due diligence on what AL teams might be willing to give up to acquire Buster Posey. The Giants stunk in 2017, but it was largely due to their bullpen devolving into a dumpster fire that even other fire-ridden dumpsters were concerned. Did I mention their ace starting pitcher hurt himself riding a dirt-bike? When an event like that transpires during the season, it’s clear it’s just not your year. For some teams, you just know early on that this is going to be a lost season -- I’m looking at you, 2018 Toronto Blue Jays. Troy Tulowitzki has had exactly zero plate-appearances for the Jays in 2018; Josh Donaldson couldn’t throw to first base to start the season; the front office may never actually call-up Vladimir Guerrero Jr.; J.A. Happ is maybe their best trade-deadline asset; point is, Dementors have been hovering over the Rogers Centre all season long.
Still, like Toronto, the Giants still had a lot of talent on the roster and had invested a lot of money into building a winner. Heading into the 2018 season the Giants had the second-highest payroll in MLB, with the Blue Jays a few spots behind at No. 8. In 2017, the Giants had the sixth-highest payroll in MLB, with the Blue Jays a few spots ahead at No. 4. The similarities don’t stop there, as the Blue Jays are the oldest team in MLB with an average age of 30.3, and, wouldn’t you know it, the Giants cracked the top-5 with an average age of 29.5. When a team has a high payroll and a roster littered with veterans, one thing is very clear: They want to win now. (For reference, the Minnesota Twins, Cleveland Indians, and Arizona Diamondbacks round out the top-5 in age and each of them went into 2018 with the expectation of playing in October.)
Shit happens, though. Sometimes, you lose your ace to start the season and the ship sinks. Sometimes, you lose your ace to start the season, Joe Panik is your only source of offense for the month of April, and low behold, you are above-.500 and it’s June 25 and oh my God the Giants are only 5.0 games back of the Diamondbacks for first in the NL West. The Giants didn’t -- I’m very sorry about this, but I must -- panik after starting 2018 eerily similar to the way they started 2017 and we know how that story ended. Instead of being well on their way to another season of 95-plus losses with one of the most expensive rosters in the league, the Giants didn’t implode. Yes, Hunter Strickland avoided the anger sharks swimming in his head for as long as he could, and, yes, the Giants have still been a middle-of-the-road team both hitting-wise (14th in team WRC+) and pitching-wise (23rd in FIP), but they’re hanging around in a division that is mostly up for grabs.
The Dodgers have been surviving without Clayton Kershaw for most of the 2018 MLB season while also losing superstar Corey Seager for the rest of the 2018 MLB season; J.D. Martinez is raking in Boston while the Arizona Diamondbacks’ offense is getting a boost from the Jon Jays and Daniel Descalsos of the world; the San Diego Padres are doing their best 2017 Milwaukee Brewers impression and A.J. Preller is salivating at the opportunity of gutting his established farm system for a half-season of Manny Machado; the Colorado Rockies investing in their bullpen hasn’t panned out and they may be better off just trying to survive without a first-baseman at all for the remainder of the season. The Giants, on the other hand, have gotten big years out of the Brandons -- Belt with the slight edge over Crawford -- and the team has been without Panik and Bumgarner for significant stretches of the season, and yet, here they are, surviving.
Sometimes, when a team goes for it, like the 2018 Minnesota Twins, and it doesn’t work it out, it’s just sad. You don’t even want to think about them or the fact they sent Miguel Sano all the way down to Single-A. They overachieved a season ago, tried to build off it, but the Baseball Gods had other plans and now the highlight of their season is Joe Mauer thriving in the leadoff spot. Sometimes, though, when a team goes for it, even after flaming out the season before in a way that Ron Burgundy wouldn’t even be mad, he’d be impressed, really, the team swings back the other way, like the 2018 Giants. This roster, when healthy, has always looked like a team that can snag a wildcard spot in the National League. They addressed their outfield depth in the offseason, they bet on Chris Stratton at the top of their rotation, they attempted to fix their bullpen and if Longoria ever starts hitting and they can add one more starting pitcher -- calling J.A. Happ, maybe? -- it wouldn’t be stunning to see Bumgarner vs. Lester in the 2018 NL Wildcard game come October.
Maybe that’s why I admire this Giants team as much as I do -- they bet on their expensive core having a little more luck in 2018 than they did in 2017; they bet on adding more veterans with chips on their shoulders would lead this team back to the postseason; they bet on Bumgarner not riding anymore dirt-bikes during the season; they bet on the 2018 Dodgers not being what they once were or the 2018 Diamondbacks without Martinez or the Rockies making a serious run with Ian Desmond at first-base. Sure, the Giants, aren’t well on their way to a postseason birth -- Fangraphs gives them a 12.1 percent chance of making the playoffs -- but unlike a third of Major League Baseball this year, they spent money, paid veterans, and tried to put together a team that could maybe awaken that Even Year magic once again.