Sometimes Baseball in all of its glory, can be a love-hate relationship. It can bring unmatched joy and excitement, and then take it all away in a moment that tears your heart out and leaves you breathless and feeling empty. Over the last half decade, while claiming three World Series Championships, Giants fans have been lucky enough to avoid that emptiness, and have been showered with moment after moment of joy. But boy oh boy did the end of the 2016 season punch every Giants fan in the gut and remind them of the reality that baseball isn’t always shiny trophies and heroic performances, but that sometimes, it can break your heart; a feeling all too familiar to those that followed the Giants before the Glory of 2010 began.
This season started with the excitement of an even year, and the investment of two-hundred and twenty million dollars into two shiny new pitchers: Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardjiza, brought in to back Madison Bumgarner. These additions only added to the excitement and expectation that, maybe just maybe, there was something to this every other year phenomenon. The season’s first month had mixed results while giving only glimpses of the team’s potential, as they went a mediocre 12-13, highlighted by Cueto’s dominance as he went four and one in the month with a 2.65 ERA, while dazzling the fans and the competition, giving them a taste of what his season would look like the rest of the way.
As the calendar flipped to May the team found its stride while cruising to a 21-8 record for the month, guided by the strength of the club, its stellar starting pitching. Led by Bumgarner who went 4-0 with a minuscule 1.05 ERA, Cueto (4-0) 2.03 ERA, and Samardjiza (4-2) 2.08 ERA, the Giants showed they were a force to be reckoned with and had the potential to make the even year dreams a reality.
June and the beginning of July, into the allstar break, was much of the same as they went 24-12, and headed into the break with the best record in baseball at 57-33, and a six and a half game lead in the division. The only signs of slowing were with Samardjiza, as he struggled in June to a 1-2 record with a 6.83 ERA. However, with Bumgarner and Cueto surfacing as legitimate Cy Young contenders, and the Giants offense being much better than advertised, and putting up enough runs to back their pitching, the anticipation of the playoffs and what they could do was building.
And as the story goes, the Giants went on to win their fourth World Series title in seven years, proving that the even year phenomenon is a certainty and leading to a string of even year titles that continued until the end of time, and Giants fans were blessed and joyous…. This would have been true, if only the wheels had not fallen off and everything that was good in the world hadn’t been sucked away.
The second half did NOT quite go as well as the first: understatement of the year. Without delving too deeply into depression, let’s get the cliffnotes version of the demise of the second half. The bullpen became a dumpster fire and totally unreliable… mostly for the last three outs, but we will get to that; the Giants traded away a fan favorite Matt Duffy and his cat, for the endless potential of Matt Moore, and traded their top prospect and former fan favorite Andrew Susac for lefty reliever Will Smith. However, they forgot to get a closer, but I’m sure that wasn’t a decision that would come back to haunt them… except they blew 30 saves. It was the oddest of feelings, when the Giants would cruise through eight innings of a game only to cough it up in the last three outs, and it wasn’t just one guy. Most of the blame went to Casilla, but even after he lost his role after a two run blown save against the Cardinals, that sat us in second place in the wild card, the troubles continued as Bochy tried Law, Strickland, Romo, and even a combination of the entire bullpen; all to no avail as the mystery of the ninth could not be solved, and those final three outs proved impossible. The problems of the bullpen overshadowed the Giants other second half problems, as their bats went silent, and even their starting pitching regressed at the worst possible time, resulting in a death spiral as they stumbled to a 30-42 second half record. The spiral culminated in needing to sweep the Dodgers in the last series to even claim the second wild card spot. The second half struggles can be summed up by the 1-7 road trip to start, Buster Posey going over 100 at bats without a homerun and even the starting pitching slowly faltering, such that it couldn’t make up for the other struggles the team faced. But we limped in and once you’re in you’re in and anything can happen.
Facing elimination once again in the wildcard game against the high powered Mets and Noah Syndergard, the Giants played the role of even year Giants, and Madison Bumgarner extended his legend, with a shutout and an unlikely offensive hero in Conor Gillaspie. All which had fans thinking this was the playoff Giants and that maybe they were the team of destiny. And on to Chicago they went.
After an amazing game 1 in which Cueto and Lester dueled through eight innings, and the heart break of Cueto giving up one big hit in the bottom of the eighth, the Giants showed they had some fight and that the series was going to be close throughout. Then came game two, which was the only game that was in the bag throughout, during the whole series. Down 0-2 they headed to SF in a hole, but with thoughts of the 2012 comeback, nine straight elimination game victories, and Madison on the hill there was at least hope. Watching game 3 was one of the most exciting back and forth battles I have ever seen on a baseball field. After staging an eighth inning comeback with another Conor Gillaspie miracle the Giants took a two run lead into the ninth, with major foreshadowing in store. Romo gave up a game tying two run shot to Kris Bryant that took the wind out of the inexplicable comeback they had mounted against Aroldis Chapman the inning before. However, hope was reborn when in the 13th inning when Joe Panik hit a walkoff double that restored a little faith and brought a game 4.
As the Giants and Matt Moore cruised through eight innings in game four; a familiar feeling, fans and both teams felt the excitement of an impending game 5 with Lester and Cueto dueling it out once again. Taking a three run lead into a game that needed only three more outs to send it back to Chicago, and put all of the pressure on the Cubs, the Giants and their fans could feel the excitement building. However, the Giants once again could not get those last three outs and their season ended in heart wrenching, gut punching, poetic fashion in a four run ninth where they could do nothing right and left fans, and players with emptiness and a whole lot of what ifs. The loss plunged them into the dark long winter, in which the thoughts of the game 4 implosion will remain for months. The ninth consisted of five relievers and four runs, as each did their part in the implosion, and fans could only watch as Matt Moore’s unbelievable game faded into one of the worst feelings since the 2002 World Series. In the end, the Giants could not overcome their thirty-second blown save, and the question of the offseason will be what to do with the bullpen.
While facing the darkness and emptiness of winter, especially after a loss like that, where there was so much potential, Giants fans can cling to hope for the next season and know that come spring, we have a pretty good ball club with tremendous potential, and one of the best starting rotations in the league. With a little bullpen help acquired over the winter, they may be able to do something special. Enjoy the coming months, even though baseball tore our hearts out and made us question why we spend so much time investing our lives in it, I for one cannot wait till spring and the hope of a new season.