The 2017 season caught everyone at Third and King by surprise, and not just because the Giants lost 98 games a year after making the postseason. They lost all those games while playing a brand of baseball that seemed unrecognizable in the modern game.
The Giants ranked last in the Majors in homers that season and 25th in strikeouts. They were a team without an offensive identity -- unless you count being bad as an identity -- and it seemed like that would be the case for a while. The 2018 team struck out a lot more, but ranked next-to-last in homers, leading to another down year and Farhan Zaidi's takeover of the baseball operations department.
Zaidi hired Gabe Kapler a year later, and Kapler arrived with young and innovative hitting coaches. They've been in charge for just over 100 games, but it's clear the Giants are starting to form that offensive identity, and it's leading to a lot of wins.
The Giants struck out 17 times on Tuesday night. They also hit two homers and beat the Reds 4-2. This was the fifth time in franchise history that the Giants struck out at least 17 times in nine innings, but the first time they won. That's baseball in 2021, though.
The Giants rank sixth in MLB in strikeouts, but are also tied for second in homers with the Reds, who play their home games in what looks like a phone booth compared to Oracle Park. With 58 home runs through 42 games, the Giants are just four behind the MLB-leading Braves, a note that would have been unfathomable for most of the last decade.
"I think we have guys up and down the lineup on a nightly basis that have the ability to hit home runs," Kapler said. "In particular in the middle of the lineup, with (Brandon Crawford) swinging the bat the way he is and Buster (Posey) with his power production. We really feel like even down in the seven-hole -- we had Alex Dickerson in the seven-hole today and he's a guy with plus-plus power -- we're definitely capable of hitting home runs.
"Sometimes they come in bunches. The power production is not always there, but over the course of the season we've seen that show up."
The power was there twice Tuesday, but that's all the support Anthony DeSclafani needed in his return to Cincinnati. He threw seven sharp innings against his former teammates and got a three-run homer from Dickerson and a solo shot from Crawford.
For Crawford, the homer continued a stunning surge at the start of the year. He's the first Giant since Barry Bonds in 2007 to hit 10 homers in his first 36 games, and he's tied for fourth in the National League, trailing only Ronald Acuña Jr. (12), Freddie Freeman (12) and Nicholas Castellanos (11).
"This is the best I think he's looked in his whole career," Dickerson said. "I've seen him from the other side and he was always a sneaky-good hitter at times and a few years there he was a really good contact-and-high-average guy, and now you're seeing that he actually has elite power. His batting practices are pretty impressive."
Dickerson, who also had a double and single, said he found something in his own session Tuesday with the Giants hitting coaches. It led to a big game on a night when most of the Giants had no shot against Luis Castillo, who was throwing 99 mph with a devastating changeup.
Four different Giants struck out multiple times and the top two in the order -- Mike Tauchman and Darin Ruf -- combined for eight whiffs. But that didn't matter, as once again the lineup had enough power to support a good starting pitcher.
With the two latest homers, the Giants are on pace for 223 over 162 games. They've reached 200 homers just five times in franchise history, and only the Bonds-led teams in 2000 and 2001 hit more than that pace. The franchise record is 235, and this lineup is threatening to take a run at it as the weather heats up.
"It's cool because we know that we're also going to be a high on-base team at some point, as well, so having the power alongside that, as we get healthier and go through the season, it's exciting," Dickerson said. "You're seeing this core group of guys that saw all these World Series in the past having some of the best years of their career, maybe the best years. It's really exciting to see just how strong they are. I mean, we're seeing some long home runs, not just ones that are barely getting out."