At long last, the deed is done. The Giants have been vanquished in an even year, and one in which they threatened to have more even-year black magic than ever before. San Francisco, despite bringing in Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija over the winter and then acquiring Eduardo Nunez, Matt Moore and Will Smith during the summer, was not a great team. There were many good pieces, even great ones, but the whole was incomplete and weak.
The Giants felt all the more dangerous for that reason.
Cody Ross. Marco Scutaro. Travis Ishikawa. The Giants have ridden the exploits of the most unlikely of heroes to the promised land in the past, and it seemed as if Conor Gillaspie was destined to join them. Even-Year BS was one of the strongest form of voodoo magics in existence, stronger than the well-documented Cardinals Voodoo Magic. No matter how unlikely, how hilariously inept the team seemed or how much destiny seemed to be on the side of their challengers, the Giants prevailed. They delayed the inevitability of the Royals by a year, kept the Tigers at bay, and started the cycle of pain for the Rangers.
Even as the Giants stumbled over their own shoelaces in the second half after being so dominant in the first, there was always a tinge of fear in the air. Until September, it seemed as if nobody truly wanted to claim a Wild Card spot in the National League. Then the Cardinals fell away, the Mets ran away with the first spot, and San Francisco swept the Dodgers in their last series of the year to make it in.
Against every scrap of logic, the futility of the Giants made their presence in the playoffs all the more intimidating. There were more middling players on the roster and therefore more potential out-of-nowhere heroes. The bullpen was a complete disaster, which meant there were more candidates to suddenly become Dennis Eckersley. The Giants were not a good team when they suited up for the Wild Card game. They’d spent the last five years telling us that was a reason to fear them.
In the end, though, the Giants were merely just a mediocre team. They had two-and-a-half good starters for most of the year, and a bad bullpen to go along with the middling rotation. Buster Posey’s power evaporated for a time. Hunter Pence spent 56 games
harvesting cow dung for the Draxon homeworld he so sorely misses on the DL. Angel Pagan started in a corner outfield position. Matt Duffy was bad and hurt, traded for Moore, and then replaced by Nunez, who promptly stopped hitting as much and got hurt. Oh, and the bullpen came pretty close to setting an all-time record for blown saves.
This was a playoff team.
Normally, we’d talk about how the Giants persevered and had they drawn anybody but the Cubs, perhaps they’d still be alive. Yet there was never any threat that the Cubs would play anyone but the survivor of the Wild Card game. This was set in stone as early as March, if not earlier. Not winning one’s division was asking for a world of trouble in the National League.
It was all well and good that the Giants had Bumgarner and Cueto in the fold. Indeed, Bumgarner showed exactly why he’s the best postseason pitcher ever when he ravaged the Mets in Queens. It was there that Gillaspie made his case to be this year’s nondescript Giants postseason here, and it was there that Bumgarner performed the all-important task of not allowing a Giants reliever to throw a single pitch. Cuteo nearly did the same in Game 1, but still lost. Bumgarner and Cueto were meant to be the backbone of the team, with Samardzija providing innings if nothing else. They did just that.
However, because the front office didn’t secure quality pitching depth and a glut of reliable relievers, the Giants were still remarkable vulnerable on days in which Bumgarner and Cueto did not start. An offense that ranked ninth in the NL in runs scored didn’t give the bullpen many blowouts to work with, either.
When the Giants won a game in which Bumgarner gave up a three-run homer to a pitcher, it seemed as if they really were destined to go all the way. Thank you for playing, Chicago, but we’re done here. Game over. Check please. But the Cubs prevailed, driving a stake into the heart of the weakest undead Giants team yet. Chicago will now deal with their own magical malady, one that has persisted for 108 years. It involves a goat.
The Giants, Gillaspie and all, could have made a much deeper run into the postseason had their pitching staff been just a bit stronger. Injuries are to blame here, as is the front office. Such is baseball. The Even-Year BS is dead, at long last, buried along with Bumgarner’s run of scoreless baseball. So ends one of the greatest and strangest dynasties of recent years, felled by an empire on the rise.
Unless, of course, the Giants win it all in 2018.
Nicolas Stellini is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score. He also writes for Baseball Prospectus and BP Bronx. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets.