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Will Giants keep archways closed after improved offense?

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The Giants, like the rest of us, have no way of knowing what the world will look like next April, but they're hopeful that they'll have fans back in the seats in some form. They're eager to see the bleachers packed, people standing on the new viewing decks behind the bullpens, and that familiar sight of faces peering in through the archways along McCovey Cove. 

Well, maybe they're not so eager to see that last part return. 

It was clear from the very first exhibition game in July that the park was playing smaller, and over the course of 33 games at Oracle Park, much of the credit was given to the closing of archways that usually allow fans to look into Oracle Park for a few innings and wind to sneak in from the waterfront. Balls were shooting out to right that always seemed to be knocked down in the past, and on the final day of the season, Mauricio Dubon and Wilmer Flores both went deep the opposite way. Dubon's blast off the right field foul pole was stunning, and something you just couldn't ever expect to see from a right-handed hitter the previous two decades. 

It's perhaps impossible to quantify just how big of a difference the change to the archways made, but clearly something changed. Will that remain a feature of the park in future years, though?

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Asked about it Wednesday, president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said the organization hasn't gotten to the point yet of discussing whether the archways should remain permanently closed to juice the offense. 

"There's obviously a lot of things within the ballpark that were particular to this season," Zaidi said. "It's really too soon to comment on that stuff."

The Giants turned their park into a spring training facility in July, and the changes remained for the final two months, with new wrinkles. Players sat in the stands and opposing relievers watched from the new deck that was designed for Giants fans to have a better view of the bullpens. A suite underneath the right-field pole was turned into a dining area for visiting teams. The players' parking lot became a gym and turf field where players worked out on a daily basis. 

It's unclear right now how much of that will change back before the scheduled April 9 home opener against the Rockies. The Giants are hopeful things are back to normal, to a large extent. They're also hopeful the biggest change in the team this season carries over.

After averaging 3.35 runs per game at Oracle Park last year -- dead last in the Majors -- the Giants averaged 5.45 this season in 33 games (30 as the home team, three as the visitor). They hit 51 homers at home in 2020, nearly matching their total of 63 from 81 games in 2019. Their batting average went from .229 to .273. 

There was a lot more at play than just the ballpark changes -- along with the archways being closed, the fences came in several feet in center and in the gaps -- but that certainly helped. Zaidi joked that he needed to give Alfonso Felder and everyone in ballpark operations a lot of credit. 

"Obviously there were little things that were done. Putting the bullpens out in center field. I know there's been a lot of talk about the change in ventilation with the archways closed in right field and what that might have done," Zaidi said. "We made an adjustment to the scoreboard, removing the lower screen, which our guys felt really helped the backdrop for them from a hitting standpoint.

"But again, I think it really comes down to a credit to (manager Gabe Kapler) Kap, his coaching staff, obviously the hitting coaches deserve a lot of credit but really the whole group contributed to a culture and environment where guys have a lot of conviction and belief in our ability to score runs at home and win games at home." 

The Giants finished 19-14 at Oracle Park, and on the final weekend, players talked of how big an edge they had, but also how much they missed the fans. Evan Longoria said he thought that record would have been even better with 40,000 spectators in the seats adding a further advantage. 

 

When the Giants are playing well, they always have a huge edge at home. The fan base makes a difference, and the park can be really difficult for opposing teams to adjust to. It goes beyond the dimensions, with the thick air, wind and cold making life uncomfortable for pitchers and defenders as well. 

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The hope is that the home field advantage remains next season and in future years, but with a twist. Regardless of what they do with the archways, the Giants are confident they'll continue to be a better offensive team at home. They're more prepared to hit in general, and they feel the mindset changed along with the ballpark. 

"We've talked a lot since I got here about the psychology of being a tough home hitters park, and that can wear on you," Zaidi said. "Even as you adjust dimensions and other dynamics of the park, there's still a psychological barrier sometimes to getting over the hump and being able to be productive in that environment. It's just a huge credit to our players for grinding through it and being so resilient, beyond all the challenges of the season. Turning around the team's offensive performance at home, that was a huge part of our success this year."