The Giants have been in first place for 40 days now, but when asked about the big picture, his club's rapidly increasing postseason odds, and the surprise push for an NL West crown, manager Gabe Kapler nearly always points out that there's a long way to go.
For as much good work as the Giants have done, they're just 65 games -- or about 40 percent -- into their season, and Kapler knows there's a lot that can derail a hot start. In his first year in Philadelphia, the Phillies were leading the NL East as late as August 12 but faded to 80-82, finishing third. A year later, they spent most of the first half in first but ended up going 81-81.
The Giants, at 40-25, return home one game ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers and three clear of the San Diego Padres, but there are still reasons for concern. When asked late last week what would keep him up at night over the final four months, Kapler had an immediate answer.
"Health, first and foremost. I think it's the thing that is most likely to derail any team," Kapler said during the interview for Monday's Giants Talk Podcast. "If you pinned me down and said where, I would say the health of our starting pitching. If you look at our lineup, we are built so that we can survive if a guy is down a week or 10 days or even two weeks -- I think we saw that with (Brandon) Belt and (Darin) Ruf and (Alex) Dickerson and various others. It's a lot tougher when you have one of your core starting pitching pieces go down."
The Giants currently are without Ruf, Dickerson, Evan Longoria and Tommy La Stella and had previously lost Belt, Wilmer Flores, Donovan Solano and Mike Yastrzemski (twice) to IL stints. But they've survived -- and mostly thrived (until this past weekend against the Washington Nationals) -- with a 'next man up' mentality in the lineup, seeing fill-ins like LaMonte Wade Jr., Steven Duggar and Jason Vosler make big contributions.
They have far less depth on the starting pitching side, but that group has been able to push past some early injuries. Alex Wood missed 15 games at the start of the year, Johnny Cueto missed 21, and Logan Webb and Aaron Sanchez are both currently on the IL, but Kapler has always had enough pieces to fill out what has been a surprisingly strong rotation.
The Giants have more starting depth than anticipated, with Sammy Long looking like a good option and a rehabbing Tyler Beede and veteran Scott Kazmir -- who accepted an assignment to Triple-A -- also in the wings. But they still have nearly 100 games to cover, and it has been clear this season that every team is going to be scrambling to get to the finish line with enough starting pitching. A lot of the Giants' success the rest of the way will depend on their ability to keep running Kevin Gausman, Anthony DeSclafani, Wood and the rest out there consistently.
"It was tough to fill in for Johnny Cueto, it's going to be tough to fill in for Logan Webb," Kapler said. "And look, every team -- we're not unique -- every team is always looking for starting pitching depth and it's very difficult to find. I think if there's one thing that keeps me up at night it's probably the health of our starting pitching."