The Many Reasons Behind San Francisco’s Giant Collapse

By: Nicholas Mukhar

It was July 12, and life was good in San Francisco.

At 57-33, the Giants owned baseball’s best record at the All-Star break. Johnny Cueto was about to start the All-Star Game for the National League – a well-deserved nod for the 13-game winner who had helped his team rip off a ridiculous 40-15 run to finish the first half.

The Giants had a 6 ½ game cushion in the National League West. They weren’t on your average hot streak. Cruising toward a 100+ win season, they were on an historic tear unlike almost any other club in franchise history.

Then the All-Star Game began. Cueto’s night went south quickly as the American League played longball off the right-hander. And for reasons only understood by those who believe in Baseball Gods, San Francisco’s season has taken an equally abrupt and disastrous turn ever since.

Fast forward to today, and baseball’s best team just two months ago will likely miss the playoffs entirely.

The Giants are a dreadful 17-32 since that All-Star Game. Their division lead is a distant memory, as they now trail the Los Angeles Dodgers by 5 games in the West. It’s likely a matter of time before their wildcard lead also disappears, as the suddenly surging St. Louis Cardinals and defending National League Champion New York Mets have closed to within ½  game of San Francisco.

“There’s no single problem, no obvious answer, and no solution in sight. It’s nothing and everything all at once. It’s a lethal mixture of bad luck, blown saves, bizarre batting slumps, and an uncanny ability to invent new ways of losing a baseball game.”

The Giants are still on an historic run, though it’s now a run of futility unlike we’ve ever seen.

The 2016 Giants are on track to join the 2001 Minnesota Twins, 1995 California Angels and 1977 Chicago Cubs as the only teams in MLB history to win at least 55 of their first 90 games and then miss the playoffs. If they continue to lose at their current record pace, they would become the first team ever to have the best record in MLB before the All-Star break, and the League’s worst record after the Midsummer Classic.

What Happened to the Juggernaut Giants of the First Half?

No, Cueto’s All-Star performance isn’t to blame — that’s merely a recognizable pivot point at which it all started to go horribly wrong.

There’s no single problem, no obvious answer, and no solution in sight. It’s nothing and everything all at once. It’s a lethal mixture of bad luck, blown saves, bizarre batting slumps, and an uncanny ability to invent new ways of losing a baseball game. One night it’s Santiago Casilla tripping on the mound and balking in the winning run. The next night it’s Brandon Crawford hitting into the first 3-3-5 triple play in Major League Baseball history.

San Francisco’s giant collapse on the field looks even worse on paper. Some of the numbers are beyond  baffling; so historically awful that they’d be hard to believe if we weren’t watching the Giants spiral out of contention before our eyes.

  • Since the All-Star break, San Francisco is the only team in baseball without a winning streak of at least 3 games.
  • With an 0-55 record when trailing after 8 innings, they are about to become the first Giants team in the San Francisco era to go an entire season without a single comeback win in the 9th inning. They’ve also lost 6 times when leading after 8 innings — the same margin by which they trail the Dodgers in the National League West.
  • Optimistic Giants fans looking for their team to flip a switch in September have been sorely disappointed. San Francisco opened the final month of the season with a 1-4 record and hit yet another historic milestone. They became the first Giants team in the modern era — and second team in MLB history — to record 4 or fewer hits in 5 consecutive games. Their team batting average during those 5 games? .099.

 

We’re no longer watching an average cold stretch here. This is bad. A special kind of bad. A bad that has gone far beyond any June swoon or slow second half start that we’ve seen from recent Giants teams before they clutch-hit and pitched their way to World Series Championships. It’s a kind of bad that has eclipsed any odd-year playoff-hiatus type of season, and is now in the area of Monstars-descending-on-AT&T-Park-to-steal-their-powers kind of bad.

The Season-Long Warning Signs

No one expected a collapse of this magnitude, though in hindsight there were always signs that this team had flaws and would more than likely come back down to earth.

They did little in the off-season to improve their bench, which was one of their glaring weaknesses a year ago. Their bullpen — a cornerstone of each of their 3 World Series teams — is now full of inexperienced arms and has been a work in progress all season. Their deadline deal to acquire reliever Will Smith hasn’t panned out, and Santiago Casilla is no longer an effective closer.

The Giants’ offense has been largely inconsistent. Even their 57-33 run was much more the result of a dominant starting rotation — specifically Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto — than of a balanced and consistent club. Both Hunter Pence and Joe Panik have spent long stretches on the DL. Buster Posey hasn’t homered in over 40 games and is having one of his worst offensive seasons.  Brandon Belt’s strikeout numbers are piling up. Eduardo Nunez, who was having a career year in Minnesota when the Giants traded for him at the deadline, is hitting under .250 as a Giant.

The ultimate sign of their anemic offense? Not a single Giants hitter will finish this season with a .300 average, or 20 homeruns, or 100 RBI.

Maybe the pre-All-Star Giants were simply a product of their schedule. San Francisco’s final 26 games of the first half were against teams under .500. Most of their games against elite clubs like the Cubs, Nationals, Mets, Red Sox and Orioles didn’t come until the second half, which would explain why their 3.6 team ERA before the break has since ballooned to 4.3, and why they’re scoring nearly a full run less per game during the latter half of the season. That schedule won’t get any easier down the stretch. Half of their September opponents are serious playoff contenders.

Can the Giants Still Save their Season?

Of course, they’re still the Giants. This is what they do, right?  Just two years ago, with many of the same players that make up this current roster, San Francisco surrendered a 10-game division lead to LA and dropped 9 of its final 15 games of the season. Only by the skin of their teeth were they able to hang on and punch their ticket to the playoffs as the second wildcard team.

Then the calendar flipped into October…and the Giants flipped into playoff mode.

So can this Giants team, with these glaring flaws, repeat that type of run? I suppose it’s possible, and I know better than to completely count them out. But they’ll have to find that October magic in early September this year to do so, which right now seems as unlikely and improbable as their current collapse.

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