This has been a very good and then very bad year for the Giants. At 57-34, San Francisco had baseball's very best record in the first half. Even better than the Cubs. The even year magic was in full effect.
The second half has been a much different story. With Monday night's heartbreaking loss to the Dodgers (LA 2, SF 1), the Giants are now 22-38 in the second half, which is the worst record in baseball. Before the All-Star break they were the Cubs. Since they break they've been the Twins. The Giants are on pace to make ignominious history:
If the Giants win their next 12, they'll only have the second-biggest collapse in history from a team with the best record at the break.— Grant Brisbee (@mccoveychron) September 20, 2016
Simply put, the Giants are in the middle of one of the biggest collapses in MLB history. It's hard to believe a team with this much talent and this much experience has fallen so hard in the second half.
And yet, despite that ugly 22-38 record in the second half, the Giants are still in postseason position right now. They're currently tied with the Cardinals for the second wild card spot, one game back of the Mets. If the season ended today, the Giants and Cardinals would play a Game 163 tiebreaker to determine the second wild card team.
The Giants built themselves a nice cushion in the first half, plus more than one-third of the NL is rebuilding, so they've been able to survive this second half collapse. Don't get me wrong, there's still time for them to slip out of postseason position, but for now they're still in the race. And if the Giants do get into the playoffs, there are reasons to believe they can be a dangerous opponent.
1. Bumgarner is one of the best postseason pitchers ever
As it stands right now, Madison Bumgarner is lined up to start the Wild Card game, and that is a dude no team wants to face in a winner-take-all situation. Bumgarner's postseason credentials are as good as anyone's in history, and it's not only his 2014 performance. Look:
|2010|| 20 2/3 ||18||5||5||5||18||1||2.18||1.11|
| 2012 ||15||17||10||10||4||14||3||6.00||1.40|
|2014|| 52 2/3 ||28||7||6||6||45||3||1.03||0.65|
|Total|| 88 1/3 ||63||22||21||15||77||7||2.14||0.88|
Bumgarner has had basically one bad outing in his entire postseason career; he allowed six run in 3 2/3 innings in Game 1 of the 2012 NLCS against the Cardinals. That skews his 2012 postseason numbers.
Overall though, Bumgarner is one of the greatest playoff pitchers in history, and when you have him in your corner, you're not going to be a pushover in a short series.
2. Cueto is a second ace
Even though he started the All-Star Game, it feels like Johnny Cueto's excellence is being overlooked due to his team's collapse. Cueto has a 2.86 ERA (142 ERA+) in 30 starts and 207 1/3 total innings this year, his first with the Giants.
Last year Cueto helped the Royals win the World Series, and while his time in Kansas City was very up and down, he had some huge starts in the postseason. Cueto allowed two runs in eight innings in the decisive Game 5 of the ALDS ...
... then allowed one run on two hits in his complete game in Game 2 of the World Series ...
... so while his overall 5.40 ERA in last year's postseason is ugly, he did throw two gems. No, Cueto is not Bumgarner, but he's really good in his own right. Those two form an excellent one-two punch on par with any other you'll find in October.
3. They have plenty of postseason experience
I'm a stats guy. Stats tell us a lot of cool stuff and, let's be honest, our eyes and our memories lie to us. All the time. Stats are a factual record of what happens on the field, and these days we have more ways to measure baseball than ever before. It's amazing and intimidating at the same time. There's so much stuff!
Years and years ago the sabermetric credo was intangibles don't matter. You can't measure them, so they have no real impact. I'd like to think that most folks have since realize that yeah, things like intangibles and leadership and chemistry do matter. Are they the most important thing? Nah. But they're not nothing either.
The Giants have more postseason experience than any team in the race this year. Bumgarner and Buster Posey have been a battery for three World Series titles. Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Hunter Pence, and Angel Pagan were around for the 2012 and 2014 titles. Then there's Jake Peavy, Sergio Romo, Matt Cain, Javier Lopez ... on and on it goes.
If nothing else, the Giants have an edge in experience going into the postseason. The vast majority of their players have been there, done that, and won't get overwhelmed by the situation. Talent still reigns supreme, it always will, but San Francisco is going to have the intangibles advantage regardless of who they face, and that can valuable.
4. The postseason is a fresh start
No team needs a fresh start more than the Giants. They need to wipe away the stink of the second half and put it behind them. The postseason is indeed a fresh start. Heck, each round is a fresh start. Regular season records don't matter. Everyone is on equal footing once the playoffs begin. Should they qualify for the postseason, the Giants are going to be a team with two bonafide aces, a wealth of playoff experience, and a sense of relief the second half if behind them. That could make them a very formidable opponent in a short series.
Of course, none of that is going to fix the team's sagging offense and their leaky bullpen, which are real weaknesses that could prevent San Francisco from even qualifying for the postseason. But, if they do hang on and get to play October baseball, the Giants are not a team anyone wants to face. They have talent and they have the intangibles too.