It's Aug. 15 and the Giants just won their 76th game of the season after taking down the Colorado Rockies, 5-2, on Sunday in San Francisco. They were supposed to win 75. The entire season.
At least, according to the computers.
Ahh, another conspiracy theory of computers being wrong. Just what 2021 needs. *ducks*
PECOTA, Baseball Prospectus' player projection system, had the Giants going just 75-87 this season. They were projected to finish fourth in the NL West, have the fourth-worst record in the entire NL and ninth-worst in all of baseball. Here's the reality on the field: The team wearing the "Let The Old Guys Play" T-shirts, and the same one where one "old guy" already has been paid, has the most wins in baseball. Not the NL West, not the NL as a whole.
All of baseball.
Yes, it helps having Brandon Crawford and Buster Posey play like NL MVP candidates. It helps having Kevin Gausman pitch like a Cy Young candidate in the first half and still sport a 2.29 ERA through 23 starts. However, this all starts with a unique, collective unselfishness for a championship contender. That was on full display Sunday as manager Gabe Kapler played the odds perfectly, starting six left-handed hitters against right-hander Jon Gray and then turning to his bench later in the game.
"I feel like we have good pieces to work with," Kapler said after the win. "And we have our right-handed hitters on a day like today all prepared to hit in succession and comfortable in that role. And on the flip side, I think our left-handed batters that we're hitting for, guys like [Alex Dickerson] and LaMonte Wade Jr. are very understanding of their roles. So as nice as it is to kind of have these mix-and-match weapons, I think there are people behind those weapons and the fact that they are all unselfish about it is probably what I feel most grateful for.
"But it is nice that they're talented enough to do good things when we put them in those positions to succeed."
Gray allowed seven hits over 4 1/3 innings, six to left-handed hitters. Tommy La Stella had two of those and finished the day with his first three-hit game since April 13. La Stella improved his batting average by 21 points, raising it from .234 to .255, and now is hitting .261 against righties this season.
Kapler turned to his bench in the bottom of the seventh inning with the Giants leading by only one run in a 3-2 ballgame. Austin Slater, who has been just a .188 hitter against right-handers but improved to a .269 hitter off left-handers this season, came to the plate in the pitcher's spot off lefty Ben Bowden and hit a RBI double to right field, scoring Kris Bryant to give the Giants a huge insurance run.
The bench brigade continued with the next batter, too. Despite Wade Jr. already going 1-for-3 and saving the day with a perfect throw home from right field, Kapler turned to right-hander Darin Ruf to face Bowden. By no surprise, it worked. Ruf worked a six-pitch at-bat before being hit on the elbow.
"We have a special group," starting pitcher Alex Wood said. "There's no other way to put it. The brand of baseball that we play, the amount of pinch-hit at-bats we get day to day, the amount of guys we have who aren't playing every day or starting every day, are coming off the bench, being a defensive replacement or playing the last three innings -- it takes some mental fortitude for those guys.
"It's not easy. At times, some of these guys make it look like an easy job. They've really bought in to our brand of baseball with the preparation they do, especially during the game -- getting in the cage, getting prepared for the relievers they may face, the pinch-hit they may have or going in on defense. It takes a selfless player to fully accept that role when that's their job for that day and much less to succeed at that role.
"It's not an easy thing to do coming off the bench. We've got a lot of guys who've locked down their routines. Donnie [Ecker] and those guys have them fully prepared for whoever they're facing and they come in with a good plan, good approach and they just grind. We just go up there and we grind, try and wear those guys down, scratch runs when we can, play good defense and pitch well.
"It's a great group of guys. There's no doubt about it."
The Giants improved to 11-0 in games that Wood has started after a team loss the previous game. The veteran lefty allowed nine earned runs combined his previous two starts, and then went scoreless through six innings against the Rockies. He wound up allowing two runs in 6 2/3 innings and struck out six while walking only one batter.
When the Giants lost to the 52-win Rockies on Saturday night, they snapped a six-game win streak. They also dropped a game in the NL West standings to the Los Angeles Dodgers for the first time since July 28. As they have the entire season, though, Kapler's squad bounced back with a win Sunday and took a four-game series from Colorado before the schedule becomes much harder these next few weeks.
Kapler and his Platoon Saloon have been chasing wins and having good vibes all season long here in San Francisco, a lesson that basketball team down the road can learn.
The results? Nothing more than a championship core, the right additions by an extremely smart front office and a group of unselfish castoffs taking another step forward along the road to a World Series ring.