Home runs are down, and the balls are made of oatmeal because Major League Baseball literally cannot make its own equipment. But this is where the San Francisco Giants and their diabolical leadership team come into view, looking one more move ahead with a willingness to anger their playmates to establish a kind of game at which they can excel.
For one, they pitch exceedingly well, at least so far. That’s not the radical part, though. They are also fourth in homers, keeping them in line with last year’s franchise record, but that’s obviously not it. What they are doing is finding ways to tweak the established order in that mad-aunt-grabs-child’s-cheek-and-twists kind of way.
They bunt against the shift for base hits, they steal bases when they want, and do so regardless of the score, violating both orthodox metrics and even more orthodox etiquette. In doing so, they have already angered the Padres and Nationals in their first five series, have not apologized for their behavior, and in fact have vowed to do it more often. Whether this is how they’ve started 12-5 and are chasing the Los Angeles Dodgers as the Dodgers chased them a year ago is debatable (we still like the pitching theory most of all, on the idea that 2.5 runs per game allowed is good enough for anyone), it does give us a reason to pay attention to a team that managed to win 107 games a year ago, lose their biggest name in Buster Posey, and now use their newfound anonymity to win at a slightly greater rate.
So far, because it’s baseball in April, they have yet to invite any ear-holings or bench-emptying photo ops, but as long as manager Gabe Kapler is proud of both the intent and the results, there will almost surely be some. After all, what’s an unwritten rule without unwritten rule cops? Moreover, what’s a new/old idea without physical detractors? Who will throw out the first purpose pitch?
The Giants were an odd team last year, scoring essentially half their runs on homers, and the fact that runs and homers are down significantly suggests that Sorcerer Prime Farhan Zaidi and his council of brains in jars have seized upon the long-discredited bunt and steal and the even longer discredited piss-off-the-other-guy tactics. They must have known that MLB would screw up the baseballs yet again and replace them with wet mail-order catalogs because They’re All Geniuses And Like That. It is a conceit that has always played well in the Bay Area, which was first to declare a football coach (Bill Walsh) a genius. And a willingness to pick fights in pursuit of an advantage is very much a Bay thing started with the late and kind-of-lamented Oakland Raiders and bloomed with two separate renditions of the A’s.
The problem with this dual construct is that while the aren’t-they-clever part is being established, nobody has actually taken to arms against the Giants and their newfound effrontery. This should be rectified soon, perhaps in the current homestand against the deliberately downtrodden A’s and Nats, who are already an offended party. After all, why poke the cage if you can’t get the bear to respond?
So we shall monitor the Giants’ new willingness to instigate discord as the fourth of the three true outcomes. As the rest of their numbers mirror the Dodgers, who are 12-4, the difference may end up being Kapler offering to beat up Buck Showalter or Oliver Marmol in some otherwise random Wednesday matinee. After all, it’s all about finding an edge even if you have to sharpen it yourself.