photo: San Francisco Giants general manager Farhan Zaidi was dealing on Monday as the Giants acquired left hand pitcher Anthony Banda from the Tampa Bay Rays
By Morris Phillips
The Giants won a road series for the first time in 2020, no small feat when you consider the physical and mental challenges involved with travel during the pandemic, along with trying to turn around 93 mph splitters.
The team picked to finish last in the last in the NL West is now a game behind third-place Colorado, and has won nine of 12 games. Baseball-Reference is feeling the Giants as well, saying they’re the (slight) favorite to overtake the Rockies for the last playoff spot in the National League’s expanded field of eight teams.
So the August 31 trade deadline must have been eventful for a club looking for reinforcements for the stretch run. Right?
The answer: not really.
The Giants acquired pitcher Anthony Banda, who had been placed on irrevocable waivers by the Rays. Dereck Rodriguez, who was designated for assignment by the Giants, got picked up by the Tigers. Two transactions, no trades for the Giants.
The message undoubtedly is that the front office likes this group, despite its flaws and bullpen deficiencies. But the greater point is–and this goes for all 30 teams–the 2020 deadline is no place for significant, and costly, player movement given the uncertainty for the rest of the season, and beyond with no framework for a new collective bargaining agreement in place for 2021 and beyond.
But for now, this point rings true: the Giants like this group, and more so, they like the significant improvement in their farm system and were reluctant to part with any prized assets.
“You can tell there’s a lot of belief within the group about what we can accomplish here down the stretch,” president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said on Monday after the 1pm deadline passed.
The Giants are offensively competent for the first time in years. From Mike Yastrzemski and Donovan Solano, who have appeared at the top of the NL’s offensive categories throughout the first half of the season, to Brandon Belt, Evan Longoria and Alex Dickerson, the Giants have capable hitters throughout their lineup. At home, the group has averaged six runs per game, making Oracle Park seem hitter friendly maybe for the first time ever.
The pitching and defense have improved as the season has progressed, despite injuries to Jeff Samardzija and Drew Smyly, and the failure of Trevor Gott to seize the closer’s role.
Johnny Cueto has anchored the staff with a string of quality starts, including Sunday at Arizona where he allowed a run in 6 2/3 innings of work. Moving Cueto at the trade deadline never came to pass as teams passed on the hefty remainder of his contract.
The Giants biggest advantage however, maybe their remaining schedule. They remain one of the few teams that hasn’t experienced any disruptions to its schedule–excepting last week’s postponement in protest of Jacob Blake’s shooting. Their next two road contests loom as their biggest as the Giants visit Colorado for games on Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon. Their last 10 contests all take place in the Bay Area: three at Oakland, followed by the final seven at Oracle Park.
The eight qualifiers for the playoffs will be the top two finishers in each division, plus the next two best records. Because no one is playing league games outside their division, and the interleague schedule hasn’t seen any teams compile a difference-making record, finishing third in the West is the goal for the Giants. The Dodgers and Padres appear to be too far in front, and the third place finisher in the West should qualify, while the fourth place finisher probably won’t qualify.
The Rockies upgraded at the trade deadline, ironically by acquiring Kevin Pillar from the Red Sox to give them greater flexibility in the outfield. Pillar revived his career with the Giants in 2019, only to not be offered a deal by the club for this season.
The Giants send Kevin Gausman to the mound on Tuesday to face Jon Gray. Logan Webb will pitch Wednesday versus Kyle Freeland.