“Rebuilding,” a word the Giants still refuse to use, suggests tearing down structures to create new ones from the bottom up. In sports, it equates to shedding the aged and letting the kids run, giving opportunities to younger players who can learn on the fly and might become building blocks.
What has been so strange about these “rebuilding” Giants, though, is that they have been competitive in large part because of progress from players who have been here before. Brandon Belt is having a career year, Brandon Crawford a resurgent one. Evan Longoria looks quite comfortable in the National League. Donovan Solano has been around since 2012, Alex Dickerson since 2015. Darin Ruf is 34 years old. Even Mike Yastrzemski, a rare inexperienced discovery of the club, is 30.
Which makes Game 55 of 60 for the Giants, on a day on which they leapfrogged two teams to take over the percentage-point lead for the seventh spot in the National League playoff picture, so gratifying: Three of their biggest contributors in the biggest victory of the season to this point could be Giants for the next five years.
Three rookies — an opener, a starter-turned-bulk-innings righty, and a bat that became the game’s closer — lifted the Giants to a 7-2 victory over the Rockies at Oracle Park on Wednesday, lifted them above .500 (28-27) and into a playoff spot. Caleb Baragar started it, Logan Webb carried it and Mauricio Dubon finished it off, the trio now with 121 games of major league experience and zero official postseason experience, even if this felt like a playoff game.
“I think one characteristic that Logan, Mauricio and Caleb have in common is their competitiveness and their preparation,” said Gabe Kapler, who went the unconventional route with the first inning.
Barager, a 26-year-old former minor league starter, had gotten word about the plan Tuesday night from pitching coach Andrew Bailey, and his only concern was if Webb would be comfortable with it. Webb gave his OK — after all, he could delay facing the top of the Colorado lineup — and Baragar warmed up as if he were a reliever. He did not emerge from the dugout, as starters do, but instead from the bullpen because that’s how he always enters games.
The Giants did not want him to change anything up because he entered having thrown 11 2/3 scoreless innings straight. Make it 12 2/3.
He had little trouble in retiring Raimel Tapia, Kevin Pillar and Trevor Story on 10 pitches, then gave up a leadoff double to Charlie Blackmon in the second before Webb bailed him out.
“The game is so much more fun here than it is in the minor leagues,” said Baragar, who was last year’s Sacramento starter in the Triple-A championship game. “Everybody’s playing hard, everybody’s trying to win every single game, nobody’s selfish, everybody’s doing their job to help the team. I think just being on a team with that kind of camaraderie and getting us towards the playoffs is awesome. It’s just been an unbelievable experience.”
Webb, as a 23-year-old who made big-league appearance No. 20, is getting a similar experience. The Giants have hung with him through struggles, like his 3 1/3-inning, six-run effort against Oakland on Friday. He did not have his best stuff but did have a better mindset this time, surrendering some hard contact but just two runs in 5 1/3 innings in relief of Baragar. He walked just one and allowed seven hits, always around the strike zone.
He admitted he was focused too much on his mechanics against the A’s, focusing too much on the motion and not enough on just pitching. With Bailey’s help, he simplified the approach and was in his backyard again.
And with just four days left in the season, he wants to do it again, even if the bulk-innings role wouldn’t be as bulky.
“Whatever they need,” Webb said, asked what he could do without another start scheduled. “I probably need a day or two, but after that I’m willing to do whatever to help out and contribute and give some innings. … I’m excited about it.”
Speaking of excited.
“I told my dad,” Dubon said over Zoom, “Today was probably the biggest home run of my career so far.”
He didn’t lie. Dubon’s fifth-inning blast turned a 2-2 tie into a 5-2 lead from which the Giants would not look back. His early-season ineffectiveness, neither hits nor walks nor pop appearing, seems years ago and not five weeks ago. This year’s a tryout for everyone, but especially for a player who spent seven seasons in the minors with Boston and Milwaukee before getting his chance in San Francisco, and it’s one he does not want to lose.
In a season he does not want to end.
“You’re playing meaningful baseball,” said Dubon, who’s now slashing .286/.346/.386. “Every hit, every run, every home run, every catch you make counts right now, so that’s the fun part of it.”
There are so many fun parts for the Giants. Including the aspect that this run toward the postseason will be experience rookies can learn from and take with them as a rebuild becomes a build.