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Giants’ surprising playoff push comes up one rally short

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Giants' Austin Slater

The Giants are rebuilding an organization around numbers, so much so that they went into the biggest game of the season without Alex Dickerson in their starting lineup. Dickerson has been one of the National League's hottest hitters in September, but the spreadsheets say he shouldn't face a left-hander, and the San Diego Padres sent one out to start Sunday's game. 

It can be an adjustment for fans and players alike, but there's no doubt that it's working. Looking for every edge got the Giants to the final inning of their season needing two runs to make a surprise postseason appearance, but they came up short. 

The Giants lost 5-4 on Sunday, a day they came out flat and failed to take advantage of a series of breaks. But the numbers will tell you they lost much of this chance to make the postseason before they ever took the field for Game 60. 

FanGraphs' projections gave the Giants a 66.3 percent chance of claiming a spot entering Thursday. After the Giants lost in extra innings to the Colorado Rockies, that dropped to 47.9 percent. They actually bumped up to 50.6 percent after splitting a doubleheader with the Padres on Friday, but it should have been much higher. 

When you remember the 2020 Giants falling apart on the final weekend, you will remember Sam Coonrod blowing the save in a game that would have all but clinched a spot. After a disappointing performance Saturday, the Giants entered the final day with about a one-in-four chance of making it. 

 

That sounds bleak, and yet, there they were Sunday. Brandon Crawford homered late, and Wilmer Flores pulled heroics out of his back pocket one last time.

But the Giants, comeback kids for so much of this season, couldn't complete this one. 

"We fought really hard," manager Gabe Kapler said. "We were going to do everything we possibly could to win that baseball game and get into the postseason. There's no doubt there's going to be disappointment."

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The players who came into the Zoom Room one last time were not particularly down or emotional. Perhaps that's because some will now see wives and kids for the first time in months. Perhaps they hadn't had time to digest this all. Or, perhaps it's because they feel that this team reached its potential, that they surprised outsiders by making it this far. 

Nobody had the Giants in the postseason in their preseason predictions, but Kapler and his staff pieced together one of the better -- and more resilient -- lineups in the National League. Yes, it might have shocked some Giants fans to tune in and see Darin Ruf, not Dickerson, starting the game, but that stuff has worked for two months. Familiar veterans had career years. Newcomers blossomed. Mike Yastrzemski was an MVP candidate for a while, and Austin Slater showed tremendous growth. 

The bullpen got better after a brutal start, although there were some late meltdowns that will be grouped with August's Trevor Gott sequence in the story of this season. The Giants never had enough reliable starting pitching, but they did get 10 strikeouts out of Drew Smyly on the final day. The defense solidified when Crawford reemerged as an everyday force and Brandon Belt and Evan Longoria came off the injured list. 

It all added up to 29-31, a game better than Kapler's former team and the same record as the Milwaukee Brewers, who held the tiebreaker by virtue of having a better in-division record. 

The Giants outscored their opponents by two runs over 60 games. They were the only NL team to have a positive differential and not make the playoffs because when it really mattered, they came up short for three games. 

"Baseball happened," said Yastrzemski, the MVP of the 2020 team. "That's how the game goes. We ran into a good team and they were executing. Every time that we would punch they would punch back. They didn't take any games off. We just fell a little bit short, there's no rhyme or reason. Sometimes you're playing good, sometimes you're not. We just weren't exactly on top of our best game the past three games."

 
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Yastrzemski finished his first full season in the on-deck circle, watching as Slater took an awful called strike three. Had the Giants completed the latest comeback, he would have led off Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium. That's where some of the real disappointment comes in.

The Giants finished 7-19 against teams above .500, but they won four of 10 against the Los Angeles Dodgers. They play them tough, and you can bet they would have gone into Dodger Stadium embracing the role of massive, massive underdog. 

This rebuild has always been designed to get the Giants partly to this point. They want to build another NL West superpower, and there might be some massive Giants-Dodgers matchups down the line. This odd season, with a shortened schedule and expanded playoff field, allowed the Giants to try and speed up the process, but they came up just short.

"It would have been fun," Crawford said. "This season we played them as tough as anybody has. It would have been a fun series for sure, but I don't think it really mattered who it was going to be against. We just wanted to get in."