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Are the FIRST PLACE Giants For Real?

Only the sunniest of Giants fans would have envisioned the team to be in first place, ahead of the Dodgers and Padres, after a month of real live games. That isn't meant to be a diss of this Giants team, it speaks more to the elite rosters of the Dodgers and Padres. Most every baseball fan, expert, and media person not only believed San Diego and LA were the best teams in the NL West, but in the National League. Yet here we sit just a few days into May, and the Giants are all alone in first place after staving off a sweep in San Diego, where they've gone 3-3 on the young season so far. The Giants haven't faced the Dodgers yet, but they'll get that test later this month. They have feasted on the Rockies who are properly terrible, but the Giants have been competitive in every series they've played so far, which leads to the question, are the Giants for real? Can they keep it up?

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let's be realistic. As fun as it is to say the Giants are alone in first place, they're alone by a half game, which may disappear tonight. The Dodgers are right behind them and the Padres are 1.5 games back. These standings can flip flop real quick. April is a month of hope for every team, especially teams that weren't expected to be good and start off on the right foot in MLB's inaugural month. Inevitably, the talent shines through and teams that start hot but aren't good sink to the bottom of the standings. The Pirates and the Orioles were supposed to be the worst teams in their respective leagues by far yet they have both hung around .500. Will these teams come close to finishing .500 at the end of the season? Absolutely not. Yet, the Giants... well, no one really knew what to expect from them. Most people picked them to finish 3rd in the NL West with their record being either a handful of games under .500 or right around .500. PECOTA had them pegged for 4th place with a 78-84 record and that didn't seem unreasonable, really, though slightly insulting they thought the Dbacks would be better, even by the slimmest of margins. The point is, people looked at the Giants roster, shrugged, and thought maybe they could be mediocre, a little more than mediocre, or a little less. No one believed they could stand toe to toe with the Dodgers and Padres in the division. Well, they may still not, but through the first month of the season, they have. They've played the Padres twice in San Diego and have matched them evenly. They've done what the've needed to do and are in first place because of it. The surprise is that it's been because of the pitching, as their offense has largely been MIA in the first month. 

Can it keep up? Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris put together a pitching staff with a lot of talent on paper, but also a lot of injury risk. Alex Wood, Aaron Sanchez, Anthony DeSclafani, and Johnny Cueto all have had major injury issues the last few seasons. The bullpen, even with the additions of Matt Wisler, Jose Alvarez, Jake McGee, and the assumed comeback of Reyes Moronta still had a lot of question marks going into the season. After a month, Wisler has looked lost, Jarlin Garcia has been injured and ineffective when healthy, Alvarez has been unreliable, and Moronta may be heading for Tommy John surgery. Only Jake McGee and Tyler Rogers seem to have Gabe Kapler's trust and they have been used early and often, with Rogers on pace to appear in over 100 games. That cannot keep up. They need other bullpen arms to step up and the Giants already have seen flashes from Camilo Doval, Caleb Baragar, Zack Littell, and Gregory Santos but they need consistency. The pitching has largely kept the Giants in every game they've played and it's eerie how much this team feels like the 2011 version, where the rotation and bullpen was elite but the offense was Pablo Sandoval and a bunch of guys with OPS's in the .700's or worse. The difference is there is a confidence the offense will come around with this squad versus the 2011 team, who inexplicably allowed Chris Stewart and Eli Whiteside to stay in the line-up all season after Buster Posey was Scott Cousin'd. Ugh, let's not think about 2011, that season still angers me. I digress...

Are the Giants good? It would not be surprising at all to see the pitching come down a bit while the offense levels up, but even if the pitching talent is diluted the offense should carry the team at points. The Giants are currently 17-11 which is a .607 winning percentage. Could they sustain that for the remaining 5 months of the season? No, but even if they played mediocre baseball the rest of the way (which they were predicted to do) they would be in the hunt for a playoff spot. That doesn't even take into account what Zaidi and Harris might do if the Giants are legitimately in contention. Let's remember the Giants have big money coming off the books after the season, which means they could throw their financial might around the deadline to acquire actual difference makers for the short and long term. 

Of course, baseball is anything but predictable and with no data to back this up, it feels like injuries are more prevalent this year than not. The Dodgers have been without Cody Bellinger for a spell and they just lost Dustin May to Tommy John surgery. The Padres got almost 2 full innings out of Dinelson Lamet before he went back on the IL after starting the season there, not to mention they already were going to not have Mike Clevinger all season. They also lost their 6th starter Adrian Morejon for a year and lost 4th starter Chris Paddack to, assumedly, COVID, at least for now. They also had a Fernando Tatis Jr scare which would have sucked for the sport. The Giants haven't been spared, they lost Cueto, who had pitched as well as he ever had with the club after three starts, they lost Moronta potentially for the season, and they've lost Donovan Solano, Mikey Yaz, and now Tommy LaStella. San Francisco has hardly been at full strength themselves. What is there to make of it all? Who knows!? That's the beauty of baseball. It's why they play the games. Will the Giants outlast the Dodgers and Padres to claim their first division title since 2012? Probably not, but they may not be as mediocre as originally projected. For Giants fans, that's a fun and exciting thought. It also would be so much sweeter to see them give the Dodgers heart palpitations in a full 162 game season since THE DODGERS WON AN ASTERISK TROPHY IN 2020!!! 

In case you haven't caught the theme of this year's posts, it's that the Dodgers championship is a joke. I will die on this hill. 1988 Dodgers! That's the last time you've won something that mattered!

Anyways, the Giants just got postponed in Denver, meaning they could slip out of first place tonight just by being inactive. And maybe they'll never see first place again this season. But for now, let's enjoy it Giants fans. Because tomorrow, the Giants and Rockies will have a very stupid double header that end after 7-innings, unless they end in a tie, and then they'd play more innings where a runner who made the last out the previous inning has a chance to score a winning run in "extra" innings. Keep in mind though, if either the Rockies or Giants go a full 7 innings and throw a no-hitter, it doesn't count, because even baseball knows these rules are full of it, just like the Dodgers 2020 participation trophy. 

As always, Beat LA!

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