Evan Longoria had just missed the postseason for a seventh straight season. He will be 35 next week and is on the downslope of his career, each missed opportunity becoming a possible last chance for his baseball glory.
And yet, he was able to see past how the Giants’ season ended — three straight losses to fall out of the playoff picture when just one win would have clinched — and looked back at how the 2020 Giants matched up against the club they were perceived to be.
“It was a year where we exceeded expectations,” Longoria said Sunday, correctly, as a club that was amid a rebuild nearly, and should have, made the postseason. “There were a lot of good things that came out of this year, I think some guys that really emerged and showed what they’re capable of doing. And so I think that gives us hope going forward as an organization.”
Longoria, a three-time All-Star, is among the good things to come out of this year, having slumped late but putting together a solid season, especially defensively, that showed he is not finished. Neither is Brandon Belt nor Brandon Crawford, both posting seasons that can rival their best at a time when there was wonder if their careers were over.
The three new hitting coaches were brought aboard to 1) wring all the talent from the veterans and 2) help the progress of the younger players, and both were achieved. With a mentality to crush pitches that found their way into the hitters’ sweet spots and mostly ignore pitches thrown elsewhere, which in turn would help counts grow longer, the Giants posted the sixth best OPS in baseball (.785). For more traditional fans, they also notched the fifth most hits with 532.
They wanted balls in the air, and their 40.5 percent groundball percentage was the sixth best and 34.7 hard-hit percentage the seventh best. The hitting was not supposed to be a strength and it became one under Donnie Ecker, Justin Viele, Justin Lind and Gabe Kapler — the manager tried to get every platoon advantage he could.
In Sunday’s finale, Darin Ruf started and got an at-bat against a lefty. Donovan Solano came off the bench and saw an at-bat against a lefty. It did not work out, but the process to put hitters in the best position to succeed was on display.
“It’s not the ending that we wanted, but this team showed a lot of heart, showed a lot of grit,” Mike Yastrzemski said. “And it’s really promising to see moving forward where we’re going to go with it.”
Yastrzemski may have been the biggest find a year after he was, well, their biggest find. He progressed from a major league outfielder to a star and should get MVP votes. His 2.7 WAR finished as the eighth best in MLB, showing he can hit against lefties as well as righties, play a solid right field and fight his way through injury, as he did to close the year.
Solano and Austin Slater, too, emerged as late bloomers of varying degree. Joey Bart displayed he’s a major league catcher but has plenty of work to do offensively.
The pitching side will have more questions, as Kevin Gausman and Drew Smyly will be free agents the Giants will want back. Jeff Samardzija is gone, while Johnny Cueto, Logan Webb and Tyler Anderson will return to a rotation that lacks an ace. The Giants cobbled together a bullpen that was impressive by season’s end, Tyler Rogers, Jarlin Garcia, Caleb Baragar, Sam Selman and Wandy Peralta all looking like keepers.
They were better than they were supposed to be but not as good as they needed to be. They are heading north, even if they wanted to head south to Los Angeles.
“We’re going to start thinking about what we could have done better throughout the season,” Kapler said, both looking back and forward. “Areas for improvements for both our players and our process. And that’s going to be ongoing every day until until spring training.”