I hate to be one of those guys. You know, one of those fans who, when the team is bad, just throws up his hands and stops watching. No matter how long you’ve been a fan or how dedicated you are, you run the risk of being called a bandwagoner when your team is having a rough year and you become jaded and stop watching their games. So far, I’ve kept tuning in, but it’s been hard. Boy, has it been hard. When you need to swallow a bottle of Prozac just to watch your favorite team play a game, you start to wonder if the bandwagon label might be worth the risk.
The Giants are awful this year. That’s a well-known fact. They’re following in the footsteps of the 1988 Dodgers, 1990 Reds, 2003 Angels, and (god forbid) 1998 Marlins as the next team to do a complete faceplant one year after winning a World Series. As the losses have piled up, Giants fans are becoming more and more desperate for October, when this miserable season can finally be put out of its misery.
In the spirit of optimism, however, we should look at the bright side of things. Here are five silver linings to this otherwise dismal season, providing some hope in San Francisco for 2014.
1. Brandon Belt
The “Free Belt” crowd and the unfortunate souls with dust-littered giraffe costumes rotting in their basements can take solace. It appears that Brandon Belt the All Star has finally arrived. Belt tweaked his swing sometime around the All-Star Break and has been on a tear ever since, channeling the player who wreaked havoc on the minor leagues in 2010. Belt is hitting a star-worthy .328/.406/.557 in the second half. His overall line is .280/.357/.480, good for a 142 OPS+, and it appears he’s taken that next step to becoming one of the top first basemen in the National League. You know, the guy the Giants thought they had back in 2011. More importantly, Belt’s recent hot hitting has finally quieted the drunk, knee-jerk KNBR callers who wanted to trade him for some decrepit outfielder or, worse, Bud Norris.
2. Madison Bumgarner has established himself as an ace.
Despite some hiccups late in 2012, Bumgarner was already well on his way to establishing himself as one of the best starters in the National League. This year, especially with the injuries and ineffectiveness of Matt Cain, he’s become the legitimate ace of the Giants’ staff. Bummy is currently enjoying his best season as a major leaguer, with career-bests so far in ERA, WHIP, and strikeout rate. His home run rate is back down near its 2011 levels, as well. Only some really crummy run support has kept his win total down (he has only one win since the All-Star break despite a 2.63 ERA). Bumgarner is still only 23 and should only get better, so the Giants at least have their number one starter set in stone for the foreseeable future.
3. Hunter Pence bounced back.
Pence came over at the deadline last season and was pretty ineffective in two months with the Giants, but no one really cared because he screamed a lot in the dugout before playoff games and the Giants won the World Series, anyway. The Giants gave him $13 million to return in 2013, in the hopes that he’d bounce back to his career norms. For the most part, he hasn’t disappointed. Our twitchy hero has batted .278/.326/.448 this season and has provided a nice combination of power, speed, and durability. That last part is particularly important, as the Giants have seemingly lost a different player each week this year to injury.
Pence has blasted sixteen home runs and has even thrown in nineteen stolen bases this year, and looks primed to put up a nice little 20/20 season. More than a few of those home runs have been of the majestic variety. Pence has launched four home runs that have traveled farther than 440 feet, with the longest being a mammoth 476-foot blast this past weekend at Coors Field (the home run is the longest by distance in the majors so far this year). If nothing else, Giants fans have been able to gaze in awe at Pence’s moonshots this year.
He’ll be a free agent this winter. A lot depends on his asking price, but the Giants could do a lot worse than throwing money at a solid right fielder with decent power who never misses a game.
4. The Giants faced the opposite end of the injury spectrum this year, and can’t possibly be this injury-plagued in 2014.
The Giants seem to basically be playing an annual game of chicken with the injury version of the Plexiglass Principle. In 2010, the Giants were fortunate with injuries, and they won the World Series. In 2011, Buster Posey got his ankle blown up, and they missed the playoffs. In 2012, the team was very fortunate with injuries (as in, they barely had any), and they won the World Series again. In 2013, the team has been a bona fide MASH unit, and the season has been a disaster. Nearly every Giants regular has missed some amount of time due to injury, and Angel Pagan and Ryan Vogelsong have basically had their respective seasons torpedoed by extended DL stays. Now Matt Cain is hurt and might be done for the season. The way this is going, I halfway expect Pence to get hit by a cable car during one of his scooter rides to the park. The Giants are as snakebit this season as they were lucky last year with injuries. It stands to reason that, just by the power of the cosmos, the Giants won’t suffer this many injuries in ’14, and thus won’t have to suffer the likes of Jeff Francoeur or Guillermo Moscoso for extended periods of time anymore.
5. No more Barry Zito contract.
When the season started, it wasn’t totally inconceivable that the Giants might pick up Zito’s $18 million option for 2014. I mean, back in 2008 or 2009, it seemed completely out of the question, but after Zito’s solid 2012 and his ensuing postseason heroics, it suddenly didn’t seem so loony to consider another year of Zito at essentially $13 million (factoring in his $7 million buyout). Now, though, after an utter train wreck of a 2013, the Zito returning idea is back to being inconceivable. Completely, utterly inconceivable.
I’d give you Zito’s pitching line this year, but every time I try to start typing it, I have to dash for a puke bucket. Just believe me, it’s gory. It involves a 1.74 WHIP and…ulp, barf.
The Giants will happily hand Zito his $7 million to go away after this season, thus ending one of the more notorious albatross contracts in recent memory. Zito’s tenure with the Giants has been a bumpy road, to say the least, and the team will now have some added financial flexibility to work with now that his contract is off the books. As for Zito’s legacy with the Giants…we’ll always have 2012, I guess.