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The Biggest Surprise In Baseball Still Doesn’t Make Much Sense

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 15: Mike Yastrzemski #5, LaMonte Wade Jr #31 and Brandon Belt #9 of the San Francisco Giants celebrates after Yastrzemski hit a grand slam home run to put the Giants ahead of the Arizona Diamondbacks 9-8 in the bottom of the eighth inning at Oracle Park on June 15, 2021 in San Francisco, California. The Giants won the game 9-8. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

As we are learning in the NBA Playoffs, it is good to make no assumptions early or even late in the process because someone is sure to get hurt or otherwise indisposed as soon as the words leave your face (see Leonard, Kawhi and Paul, Chris for the latest confirmations of this truth).

But we have to make too-early snap judgments at some point, otherwise we are no better than the animals, and in truth worse than most. So screw it; the San Francisco Giants.

They have the best record in the National League because … well, uhh, yeah. They don’t look like the Los Angeles Dodgers or San Diego Padres. Their starting rotation is 32 years old on average and is led by the famed former Oriole, Brave, and Red Kevin Gausman. Their best starting lineup is 31 years on average and their best player, Buster Posey, took a gap year last season to help raise his adopted twins and rejuvenate his savaged body. Their leading home run hitter, shortstop Brandon Crawford, is the anti–Vlad Guerrero. They even squeezed a competent start from 37-year-old Scott Kazmir, who hadn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2016.

Their manager, Gabe Kapler, was chased out of Philadelphia as incompetent, robotic, and out of touch with his players, and is the early-season favorite for National League Manager of the Year. The face of the franchise is head of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, and that’s usually the sign of a team deep into a gut-and-rebuild.

But they’re not quite the Island of Misfit Toys they seem to be. That old rotation is the fourth best in baseball without having an army of spin-raters. They force ground balls in a fly-ball-or-nothing era and have reduced the Three True Outcomes to One True Outcome: strikeouts. Their bullpen has been good, then terrible, then good again.

And then last night, they rediscovered the other thing overachieving teams need—the hindquarters horseshoe. Using Zack Littell as an opener, they fell behind 7-0 at home to the Christ-awful Arizona Diamondbacks, a team with a 21-game road losing streak and a run of .125 baseball that has now extended to a quarter of their entire season (5-35).

Of course, they won, 9-8, on an eighth-inning grand slam by Mike (Grandson Of) Yastrzemski. They beat a team they should have even when they had no business doing so, a pure horseshoe job if ever there was one.

The whole Giants WTF thing hasn’t quite caught on yet even in San Francisco, where summer has arrived with nighttime 70-degree temperatures—the two D-Backs games have drawn fewer than 10,000 even though the limit is much higher now that California has opened up will rise again:

Nobody even in their town believes they can hold off the Dodgers, and there is even doubt about keeping the on-again off-again Padres at arm’s length. Part of the pitching success is surely due to one of the worst seasons for offense since the dead ball era. The general mood is “This can’t be sustained,” which around here is the only permitted fan alternative to the far more irritating “We’re the greatest team ever, even though the refs always screw Stephen Curry.”

And it probably can’t. For all this winning, they are still only a game clear of Los Angeles, and across the way the Oakland Athletics are doing the same thing for largely the same reasons in front of just as few people, so the Giants aren’t standing out in the baseball-sated Bay Area the way they might. But there is this: They still have 15 games left with the Diamondbacks, and that’s a metric that looks indisputable.