By Morris Phillips
Manager Gabe Kapler knows this situation all too well. The Giants franchise hasn’t ever experienced a break-even, season finish in their history dating back to 1883.
Finishing at .500 (81-81) one season after winning 107 games isn’t ideal, but it is history. The Giants finish to 2022 marks just the fifth time a 100-win club has finished the following season without a winning record. The Giants may have not wanted that distinction, but they’ll take this one: they’re the first team since the 1925 Cardinals to be as many as eight games below .500 with 16 games remaining to finish .500 or better. Beating the Padres 8-1 on Wednesday gave them a 12-4 finish, and a clear sign that the club is engaged, not splintering, under Kapler’s leadership.
Some good, some bad. But more good than bad, just ask the manager.
Kapler has five seasons leading a big league club under his belt–the last three in San Francisco–and his 2019 Phillies team also finished 81-81. Conversely, that club lost 12 of its final 17 to finish that season at .500, and in his first season in Philly (2018) Kapler’s club led the NL East in early August only to win just 16 of their last 49 and finish with a losing record (80-82).
On the final day of 2019, the Phillies fell behind the Marlins 4-0 only to rally and come up short in a 4-3 loss. Eight times that day, Phillies’ hitters came up empty with runners in scoring position when one, successful at-bat could have pulled them even with the Marlins and given them a chance to win, and post a winning record. The Citizens Bank Park fans weighed in as always, by cheering Bryce Harper, who completed his first season in Philadelphia with 35 homers and 114 RBI, and booing Kapler.
“Expectations were high and we didn’t get the job done, but it wasn’t for lack of effort,” Kapler said after that game.
Eleven days later, Kapler was fired by Philadelphia, which freed him up to interview and be tabbed by the Giants to become their manager in 2020.
This finish will be far easier to digest for the team and the manager. David Villar homered twice in the win over the Padres, the second one with style as Villar’s drive bounced off the racing Jurickson Profar’s glove and into the first row of seats in left field. That gave the Giants a 7-1 lead in the eighth inning as they took full advantage of a Padres’ team that was more focused on their cross-country flight to New York for their first their first post-season encounter with the Mets on Friday night.
Austin Slater also homered in the win, and Lamonte Wade Jr. had three hits and an RBI. The three knocks were just enough to get Wade’s batting average to .207, a far more dignified end to his season than with the .198 average he started the day with.
Mike Yastrzemski had a pair of hits and two RBI. Yaz finished the season as one of only four Giants to get over 100 hits (104).
Joey Bart had a day as polarizing as his season as a whole. While he finished with a single and a run scored, he also struck out three times. Bart will need to cut down on his strikeouts (112 K’s in 97 game appearances) going forward, but his first, full season as the club’s catcher was a success behind the plate. Bart’s defense was impressive and memorable, as was his handling of the pitchers. On Wednesday, Bart helped eight relievers navigate the paired-down Padres lineup, allowing just four hits and a run, with the run allowed by opener John Brebbia in the first inning.
Again the bad: the Giants finished the season with 28 losses to the Padres and Dodgers combined. Against all other opponents they were 71-53. The newly-configured schedule for 2023 will see the Giants play their two tormenters six fewer times each as MLB switches to a more balanced schedule with increased interleague play.
Will that help the Giants? It could, but a headline-generating off-season filled with a couple of splashy, free agent signings will be the key to answering that question. All signs point to the Giants being heavily involved in attempting to sign slugger Aaron Judge, as well as their own free agent, starting pitcher, Carlos Rodon.
The Padres (89-73) qualified for the post-season for only the second time in the last eight seasons, but now find themselves facing a daunting task. They’ll play a best-of-three series in New York against the 100-win Mets. In order to prevail, they’ll have to face the challenge of seeing standout starting pitchers Jacob de Grom, Max Scherzer and Chris Bassitt on consecutive days. If they don’t prevail, post-season baseball won’t come to Petco Park.
From a business and a momentum-building standpoint, nothing could be more important. In 2022, the Padres drew 2,987,470 fans, the fifth-highest in the majors this year and the second-highest in franchise history behind 3,016,752 in Petco Park’s inaugural season of 2004.
“More than anything we want to win the series so we can see playoff baseball here in San Diego,” slugger Wil Myers said.