Giants

Giants set building blocks for clubhouse and beyond in 2021

Giants
Buster Posey Logan Webb

The night before Game 5 of the National League Division Series between the Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers, my wife and I began watching "Ted Lasso." For those who have watched the show, you fully understand what makes the it so great. Falling in love with the sultry nature of Lasso and so many other characters is almost too easy.

It doesn't take long for the audience to want to have the memory of a goldfish or walk through the AFC Richmond locker room and slap Lasso's perfectly crooked "Believe" sign before taking the field pitch. But fan bases of real-life teams know the battle of belief, the good and bad of a 10-second memory. For Giants fans in San Francisco and beyond, the gut-wrenching ending of the Giants' season on a Wilmer Flores check swing is a cold stew of emotions still asking so many questions. 

Here's the frustrating part: After 107 wins in the regular season and two more in the NLDS before a winner-take-all game against their greatest rivals, the year ended on the wrong end of 'What if' after those two words brought so much hope for so long this season. What if this was the time Flores found his first career hit off Max Scherzer? What if Mad Max made a costly mistake? The pain of 'What if' lasts much longer than we'd ever like to admit, in so many facets of life.

 

It's also time to look past 'What if' and realize what did happen for so long is what the Giants can build off for the future. 

“There was such a feeling of rebirth this season,” Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said Monday. “In terms of the city, in terms of the organization, in terms of having fans back. That was a really cool feeling. I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated the ability to come to the ballpark, watch a game, see fans in the stands, see fans get excited like we did this year.

"I hope that carries over next year.”

No matter how many times it has been said or written, the level of exceeding expectations by the Giants can't be overstated. As the season went on, the number 75 turned into the ice-cold walk from the outfield bullpen to the mound by young closer Camilo Doval. Months prior, it was the Giants' projected win total. They beat the projections with 44 games to go, and wound up winning 32 more games than the computers said they would. 

Following the Giants' Game 5 loss, Darin Ruf sat at the podium with Logan Webb while the two teammates fielded questions they understandably wished they could avoid. Ruf, a 35-year-old who was playing in Korea two years ago, provided the only run of the game for San Francisco with a solo shot to dead-center field. Webb, 24, turned into a star with his two dominant starts against the Dodgers, which followed a breakout season after two tough years to start his big league career.

When Ruf was asked why the Giants can repeat their success of 2021, he didn't bring up the numbers. He didn't bring up players like Brandon Crawford, Buster Posey or Brandon Belt, or even big moves like bringing in Kris Bryant at the MLB trade deadline. It goes beyond that for Ruf and the rest of this roster. 

"I just think from the top down of the organization, starting with people that we get to deal with, Farhan [Zaidi], Scott [Harris], it just, they know what guys to go after, like team guys, good people," Ruf said. "That clubhouse in there is extremely special and it's because it's full of great people that you want to be friends with your whole life.

"When you take the field with them, everyone's got your back, you know everyone is pulling in the same direction and going to step up, step up for you if -- you saw examples of it all year."

He also knows the bar has been set with a target the size of the Golden Gate on the Giants. 

"We exceeded so many expectations this year that I think the bar's going to be raised for us going into next year and going into spring and early in the season," Ruf said. "So we're not going to sneak up on anybody, but I know that the guys in that clubhouse are guys that are ready for that too."

 

From the front office to the players and the fan base, everybody involved wishes they were gearing up for a Game 3 against the Atlanta Braves right now instead of watching the Dodgers try to pull off a comeback in the NLCS for the second straight season. However, the target will be proudly worn. Fire your darts and try to drill a bull's-eye. It's not like the rest of baseball had luck in hitting their target. 

For all the ways the Giants exceeded expectations, it of course can't be lost that they did fall short. A check swing will always make us wonder. It also is far from the only reason the Giants are watching the NLCS from home. Batting .182 in the NLDS, especially against the Dodgers, is a recipe for disaster to the degree of way too much Taco Bell the night before. Good luck winning in the playoffs when you go 3-for-25 with runners in scoring position. The Platoon Saloon went from Happy Hour for six months to closed, leaving manager Gabe Kapler knocking on a door that refused to open. 

RELATED: Kapler, Zaidi have no regrets with how Giants played Game 5

Questions will arise for months to come. This no longer is a team that was ahead of schedule. This is a World Series contender with a farm system on the rise.

Zaidi made it clear Monday that the Giants' top priorities will be bringing back Buster Posey and building a starting rotation around Webb. Then comes trying to keep Brandon Belt in the building and assessing how close prospects Joey Bart and Heliot Ramos are to contributing on a regular basis at the major league level, or if their top prospects could now be packaged for a prized, established big leaguer. The front office brought Bryant to the Bay when it was clear they had gone from pesky punishers to challengers against the game's best. 

Will the Giants now go big-game hunting or continue to piece together players sent away before starring in San Francisco? The pudding to the pie probably is a bit of both. Kapler, Zaidi, Harris and the players recognize where the building blocks begin. 

"I just respect the hell out of a team-first mentality," Kapler said minutes after the devastation of the Giants' season-ending loss to the Dodgers. "I've never seen it like this. This is the best I've ever seen."

The Giants' decision-makers know their clubhouse character will be their ceiling at the end of the season. They also know having two aces is better than one when throwing your cards on the table. Talent trumps all. That is, if the clubhouse is above the talent on the totem pole. 

Be a goldfish with the check swing. Be a dolphin with everything else in between. Believe, just as the Giants did -- and still do -- as they spit out the taste of Dodgers torture.

 

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