Odd-year giants? What’s new and what’s not about the outbreak in San Francisco

It’s not deja vu. For the second time in three years, all is well for the largely overlooked San Francisco Giants.

They are 13-4 in June on Thursday night, with two straight wins over the star-studded but disappointing San Diego Padres. And it’s not just the Padres they pass. Since May 15, they have transformed their season, going from 18-23 to 42-32 and storming the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West.

They still trail the Arizona Diamondbacks, but this Giants team — which spent the offseason missing Aaron Judge and forfeiting a deal with Carlos Correa — clicks without them, without any national title names. That way, they can’t help but reminisce about the 2021 team that shocked the baseball world by winning 107 games.

In the spirit of the Giants’ even-year magic in the 2010s, The Athletic’s Grant Brisbee helpfully dubbed their fledgling 2020s role model “odd-years poppy.”

So to what extent is the 2023 team’s move up the rankings a continuation of 2021? Is the book still open on this fascinating and seemingly fleeting team? Or is it a new story altogether? Let’s break it down.

May 27, 2023;  Milwaukee, Wis., USA;  San Francisco Giants first baseman LaMonte Wade Jr. (31) passes to third base after an error on an out attempt in the first inning during the game against the Milwaukee Brewers at American Family Field.  Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu - USA TODAY Sports
LaMonte Wade Jr. of the Giants has been a staple on the base path this season. (Benny Sieu/USA TODAY Sports)

Mainly new: the top of the range

For the most part, the Giants have started out with a 2021 reveal out of nowhere that functions as a tidy avatar for the team. LaMonte Wade Jr., who was scratched from Tuesday’s lineup with a side issue, rose to fame in this magical campaign two years ago for his bizarre clutch heroism, earning him the nickname “Late Night The climb”.

Coming back to earth in 2022 (0.207/0.305/0.359 in 77 games interrupted by injury), Wade is setting up a career year with the elite plate skills that undoubtedly caught the Giants’ attention when they returned the relief pitcher. Shaun Anderson to the Minnesota Twins for him in February 2021. A 17.3% walk rate and 18% strikeout rate is a recipe for success, and indeed Wade has the second-best on-base percentage in MLB.

So it’s the same person, but not the same batter. Behind him, nothing is the same. Where he opened for a regular series of veterans – Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Darin Ruf, eventually Kris Bryant – two years ago, Wade has more late-blooming contemporaries and recent additions raking behind him this year.

The Giants’ best overall player is now Thairo Estrada, a 27-year-old midfielder who overcame injuries sustained in a 2018 shootout in his native Venezuela. Estrada, who came through the New York Yankees system, saw limited playing time in 2021 but established himself as a starter last season. This year, he’s batting .280 with nine homers and 17 interceptions. Plus, he plays such a dynamic second base that he ranks among the top 10 most valuable defensemen in MLB according to Statcast’s Outs Above Average metric.

Behind Estrada, the Giants stacked a combination of early ’30s boppers Joc Pederson, Michael Conforto and JD Davis, all of whom joined in the past two years.

Not entirely new: lots of power for left-handers

Pederson and Conforto, along with Wade and Mike Yastrzemski — Monday Night’s shining hero — form the crux of a notable Giants penchant for left-handed hitters. Given the likelihood of facing a right-handed pitcher, heavy left-handed alignments may have some advantages.

The 2021 team has hit MLB’s top 116 left-handed home runs against right-handed pitchers, and this team is walking a similar path to success. They have 46 left-to-right homers and a top-10 offense (by park-adjusted wRC+ metric) against right-handers.

On the less common occasion of facing a left-hander, manager Gabe Kapler doesn’t hesitate to pinch and turn his staff to get left-handed batsman Wilmer Flores in the game, and perhaps elevate right-hander Davis, the surprise surprise acquired during a robbery. of a deal with the New York Mets last summer.

Totally new: local talent… of the 2020s

The biggest change you’ll notice if you go back to these giants? The new faces. Two seasons after fielding baseball’s oldest roster, with an average age of 30.6, a new generation of homegrown talent with no connection to the 2012 or 2014 World Series is beginning to bubble up around lone survivor Brandon Crawford .

Patrick Bailey, 24, has established himself as the answer at receiver, while Casey Schmitt finds time in the infield.

Perhaps most excitingly, speedy 21-year-old outfielder Luis Matos arrived last week when offseason signing Mitch Haniger suffered a long-term arm injury. In six games so far, Matos — who was batting .398 in Triple-A — has scored nine runs and struck out only once.

Not new: heavyweights, sliders and splitters at the top of the rotation

Logan Webb, a new ace created in 2021, has since solidified his stature and signed a five-year, $90 million extension that kicks in for 2024. The lead right-hander has become an absolute metronome of excellence. His park-adjusted ERA this season is 73, which means he’s been 27% better than the league average. Last season it was 73. In 2021 it was 74.

Behind him, Alex Cobb stepped in to fill the role of “2021 Kevin Gausman” with aplomb. Cobb just hit the IL with an oblique stump, but had achieved a terrific 3.09 ERA this season by deploying the same heavy dose of the same pitch Gausman used: the splitter.

The slider-laden starter Anthony DeSclafani is also back after a lost season in 2022, delivering strong but unspectacular innings for a team that still has questions to answer at the end of this rotation.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 19: Camilo Doval #75 of the San Francisco Giants throws against the San Diego Padres at Oracle Park on June 19, 2023 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Suzanna Mitchell/San Francisco Giants/Getty Images)
Camilo Doval entered Thursday with 19 saves, second-closest in the National League. He finished the 2022 season with 27 saves. (Photo by Suzanna Mitchell/San Francisco Giants/Getty Images)

Not new: a dominant enclosure

The 2021 team had the best bullpen in baseball, and the 2023 team is making a run with a similar result. As of May 1, the current bullpen is untouchable, with a 2.39 ERA that ranks as an MLB leading 44% better than average over this span, per ERA-.

It starts with Camilo Doval, the closest with a 1.93 ERA and close to 34% strikeout rate. San Francisco set up Doval by getting the most out of not one, but both Rogers twins – submarining the right-hander Tyler (1.56 ERA) and the more conventional left-hander Taylor (2.88 ERA).

Stumbles and injury issues for offseason additions Sean Manaea and Ross Stripling have pushed Kapler toward less than traditional pitching plans, but it’s working. In a recent 15-0 blowout of the bullpen-need Dodgers, he used veteran starter Alex Wood, then turned to 26-year-old rookie Tristan Beck for an extremely rare four-inning stoppage. In a win over the Dodgers the day beforeKapler had used fly-half John Brebbia, then another reliever after him, then white hands for 3 2/3 innings from Manaea, and got a win in 11 innings with a total of eight pitchers, only two of whom allowed a point.

That’s how things went for the Giants, after all. And while some of that excellent timing doesn’t last, we’ve seen enough of this Giants formula to wonder just how far it can take them.

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