© Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports
Towards the beginning of spring training, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale pegged the San Francisco Giants as a sleeper team to clinch a wild card spot in 2018.
But after Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija fell victim to late-spring injuries, Nightengale confessed on Tolbert & Lund Wednesday afternoon that he has changed his mind about the Giants.
“The Giants were in my picks too for a wild spot until the Bumgarner injury and with Samardzija before that it’s tough to overcome,” Nightengale said.
Nonetheless, Nightengale went on to give his best case scenario for 2018, one that he believes would keep the Giants in contention while Bumgarner and Samardzija are sidelined.
“I’d say five games [back],” Nightengale said. “At least in striking distance, where you’re hanging around. Not buried in the standings like you were last year.”
In 2017, the Giants stumbled to a 9-17 record through the month of April. Although they were only seven games out of first place, they shortly fell to 11 games back in mid-May. It wasn’t long after that they fell back down to 10 games behind and didn’t get any closer through the rest of the season.
“Last year, it seems when Bumgarner got into the ATV accident it was over,” Nightengale said. “It was almost like they threw their hands in the air and said, ‘we’re not going to catch up here.’ So they might have learned their lesson and said, ‘you know what, we can still make things go. Let’s try to hang around until he gets back.'”
If the Giants hope to stay afloat without two of their key starting pitchers, Nightengale believes they’ll need keep within five games of first place after a month packed with NL West matchups.
After opening up the season against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Giants stay in the division for 18 of their 26 games in April. That includes seven against the Dodgers, six against the Arizona Diamondbacks, and five against the San Diego Padres.
“I really picked the Giants for a wild card spot,” Nightengale said. “But once you see Bumgarner go down for two months, that’s a gut punch right there. Now you play the Dodgers 10 times in April and not going to have either guy, that’s tough to take.”
After 11 innings of work this spring, Samardzija strained his right pectoral muscle. The Giants put him on the disabled list for the first time in his career.
Hardly a day after the Giants learned they’ll be without Samardzija for 3-4 weeks, Bumgarner’s left hand was fractured by a comeback line drive in his final start of spring training. He had surgery on March 24 to insert stabilizing pins into his pitching hand, but he isn’t expected to return until mid-June.
To listen to the full interview check out the podcast below, and start from the beginning for Nightengale on the Giants.