By David Chin
Baseball may be the most unpredictable sport in the world and the 2021 San Francisco Giants are the best example of this. From the resurgence of all of their veteran players to the emergence of newer faces, the Giants this season are living proof that no one should take analytics at face value. On March 30, 2021, ESPN published an article titled, “2021 MLB season preview: Power rankings, best (and worst) case and most exciting player for all 30 teams,” in which they forecasted a Giants team to finish 23rd out of 30 and explained why Buster Posey is
their most exciting player. MLB themselves shared a similar sentiment, ranking the Giants 22nd.
Perhaps the only thing that came to fruition about this article is the fact that Buster Posey has been very exciting to watch this year. Yet, neither I nor the expert analysts at ESPN could have predicted the sheer dominance displayed this season by our proud, first-place Giants team this season.
A Stacked NL West
Before beginning to understand where the recent success for the Giants stems from, one must first acknowledge that the division competitors to the Giants: the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres, were coming off of massive success in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
For the Dodgers, who had won the World Series in 2020, clear skies and rainbows stood tall over Los Angeles as they were coming into the 2021 season as confident and optimistic as ever. A star-laden rotation of well-known pitchers was ready to give the entire league a run for their money with names like Clayton Kershaw, who is bound for the Hall of Fame, and the award-winning Trevor Bauer.
The San Diego Padres came into the 2021 season with the hopes of dethroning the reigning Dodgers with big-time young talent in Fernando Tatis Jr. and solid veteran depth in Blake Snell and Yu Darvish.
A Cast of Misfits
So what did the Giants have going for them going into 2021? The short answer: Mike Yastrzemski and Donovan Solano. Yastrzemski was brought up around the league in MVP conversations by the end of the 2020 season, and Solano won a Silver Slugger award. These two were the hope being held onto by desperate Giants fans going into the 2021 season.
If one were to tell a Giants fan before the start of the 2021 season that their team by mid-September would carry the best record in MLB for most of the season; with a top-tier bullpen and the second-most home runs in the league, they would think you have no idea what you’re talking about.
The success story starts with the name known across the Bay Area as the former MVP, Rookie of the Year, and three-time world champion Buster Posey. In 2019, Posey’s stats were dwindling, and it was obvious that something wasn’t there compared to his former self. After taking the 2020 season off in order to be a parent, Posey came back into the 2021 season as if he were still in his prime, gaining a slot on the starting lineup for MLB’s All-Star game.
Strengthening the argument for the Giants being the best team in baseball is their All-Star veteran shortstop Brandon Crawford and is held up with some of the best infielders the league has to offer. He seems to be performing better than his prime, being ranked 17th in the league for batting average, 23rd for on-base percentage and 21st for slugging percentage, all while maintaining his Golden Glove performance of 2016.
At the time of 2021’s trade deadline, I was beginning to get worried, as Farhan Zaidi, the Giants’ president of baseball operations, waited until the last minute before the deadline to make a move, but he delivered in spades. Traded from the Chicago Cubs over to the Giants was former Rookie of the Year, four-time All-Star, and 2016 MVP Kris Bryant, who would provide the utility depth and batting push that the Giants desperately wanted. Bryant has become the offensive nudge the Giants needed in order to reliably out-score tougher defensive opponents like the Dodgers or Milwaukee Brewers. Also traded from the Los Angeles Angels to the Giants was relief pitcher Tony Watson who has offered an extra level of depth to the Giants’ already astonishing bullpen.
Strength in Numbers
Of course, baseball isn’t about just a few stars, it’s about a team, and how can any team perform well if every one of its members is going out there and giving their best efforts to the game. A mixture of veterans like Brandon Belt, and Evan Longoria, along with breakout players like Darin Ruf, LaMonte Wade Jr., and Wilmer Flores have all done their part and more in contributing to the Giants’ success.
The Giants currently have the second-best record for most league home runs at 212, second to the Toronto Blue Jays, and it isn’t because of a new Barry Bonds. The Giants are leading the league with a staggering 10 players with 10 or more home runs, showing how essential runs scored via a home run is to this Giants team.
After observing the accomplishments of the Giants offense one may think that it is their biggest strength, but this couldn’t be further from the truth when San Francisco’s pitching staff is recognized as one of the most dominant in the league. The assembly of diverse pitchers within the Giants’ bullpen is remarkable with shutdown guys like Tyler Rogers and Jake McGee leading the way in the late innings of a game. The Giants’ bullpen leads the league in earned run average, saves, earned runs, walks/hits per innings pitched, and fewest walks allowed.
The Giants’ starting pitching staff has also held their line as much as anyone else has, and when compared to the 104 million dollar payroll of the Dodger pitching staff, things really start to look impressive. Ace and veteran Kevin Gausman has led the way with his breakout year, shutting down opponents with his career-best earned run average and one walk/hit per innings pitched. Another notable breakout performance can be seen in Anthony DeSclafani’s robust earned run average and walks/hits per innings pitched. Logan Webb is a name that nobody outside of San Francisco had ever heard of until this year, where he has absolutely dominated potent offenses with an unexpected 2.64 earned run average and 1.098 walks/hits per innings pitched, providing an extra push the Giants’ had been looking for and needed.
Altogether, the Giants have rediscovered the success of their early 2010’s runs which nobody could have predicted. The way things were looking during the preseason, many predicted the Giants to be in third place for most of the season, and instead, have led the entire MLB as the team to beat for the vast majority of the season. It remains to be seen what the Giants have in store for fans during the postseason. However, the only thing predictable about it is the fact that the Giants will not go down without a fight.