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The obvious and subtler reasons Giants see 2020 as a success



Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020 Giants finished heartbroken in a fashion unfelt since 2016, when the Cubs bounced them from the postseason. All the drama inherent in a playoff race was there, the season going down to not just the last day but the last inning.

They were not, ultimately, successful, losing the final three games that swung them from in to out of the postseason. And yet, that feeling of utter disappointmet, Farhan Zaidi said, is part of what makes 2020 ultimately a success nonetheless.

“In some ways, that pain and disappointment that we feel is a good thing,” the president of baseball operations said over Zoom in the Giants postmortem Tuesday. “It’s a sign of progress because we’re right at the brink, and that’s how we want to feel. We want to create a sense of expectation that we’re going to be competitive; we’re going to be a team that’s in the playoffs.

“And I think that feeling that we have is going to serve as great motivation for us going forward.”

Going forward, the expectations will be changed. “Progress” is being replaced by “playoffs,” which Zaidi said will be a goal for next year. The Giants exceeded outside expectations, going 29-31 and nearly finding their way into the expanded postseason.

But they did not, even with the steps forward and even with an offense that scored the eighth most runs in baseball. Kapler shouted out Brandon Belt’s offense and Evan Longoria’s defense, as well as the excellence of Kevin Gausman and Drew Smyly. But as much development as there was, there was also that bitter end.

“When I get a little bit critical — and I have over the course of the last couple of days — I look back to moments in the season where we had chances to win games early in the game,” said Kapler, a first-year Giants manager who got Zaidi’s endorsement. “And maybe a little bit more foot-on-the-gas-pedal in those games would have given us an opportunity to have clinched maybe before we got to the very end. But the fact that we were playing those meaningful games really tells me that it was successful.”

Zaidi and Kapler view the campaign as a success, though, for some reasons that a fan watching from home wouldn’t identify. Sure, players such as Mike Yastrzemski, Austin Slater and Donovan Solano took leaps forward and veterans such as Belt and Brandon Crawford rediscovered themselves, but there were also impressive performances from behind-the-scenes folks.

Zaidi praised Alfie Felder, who overseas the ballpark operations department, for ensuring the environment the Giants played in was safe; they lasted 60 games without a legitimate, new COVID case. Zaidi mentioned Mario Alioto, executive vice president of business operations, for selling “more cutouts than any team in baseball,” saying the players gave feedback that the cardboard fans “made it feel as normal as it possibly could.”

“Those are the subtle ways in which the entire organization contributed to what we did on the field in ways that people might not fully appreciate or recognize,” Zaidi said, Oracle Park hosting nearly 14,000 cutouts. “So when you start talking about things like that, you recognize kind of the overall accomplishment of the organization in these difficult times.”

The pain is lingering, in ways that the club can blame both itself and MLB for, Zaidi mentioning that it came “down to a tiebreaker that Major League Baseball has never used before,” as the Brewers advanced because of their intra-division record.

They missed out. But they played 60 games that mattered without COVID endangering any of their players.

“Really the worst feeling in the world [in baseball] is when you come in to work, you come in for a game and that game doesn’t feel like it means anything, kind of playing out the stretch,” Zaidi said. “And we’re really proud of the fact that we played wire-to-wire meaningful games this year.”