On Aug. 6, 2021, the Atlanta Braves were 56-56. Then they won 12 of their next 13 games, all of which came against non-playoff teams.
About a year later, the Giants are 57-57. They don’t have nearly the star power Atlanta did, but they do have experience and finally a fully healthy roster. They also have a favorable schedule for the next 10 days, providing a runway to make a push.
The Giants remain 6.5 games out of a wild card slot. Fangraphs gives them a 4.9% chance at reaching the postseason. World Series thoughts are a maniac’s pipe dream. But a run to the playoffs? Joc Pederson, a member of that Braves World Series club, knows as well as anybody that crazier things have happened.
“It’s not about the team that wins the most games in the regular season, it’s about the team that gets hot,” Pederson said. “Anything’s possible. Just build on that and find a way to continue to win ball games.”
If a run comes, it’ll be jump-started by this weekend’s three-game sweep of the Pirates, ignited by Thairo Estrada’s first career walk-off home run and buoyed from the foundation of health.
“There’s a lot of fight still left in that room,” manager Gabe Kapler said after Sunday’s win.
The Giants have now won six of their last eight games, and they’ve done it without even playing their best for the most part. The bullpen has looked overtaxed, Manny Machado’s walk-off stole a game, and the Padres ran up 20 runs in two contests.
But San Francisco has gotten brilliant pitching performances out of Logan Webb, Alex Wood and Carlos Rodón. Like it has all season, SF’s success begins with its rotation. And the offense is heating up.
Instead of taking a big swing at the trade deadline or retreating dramatically in the opposite direction, the Giants wagered that getting their key players — Brandon Crawford, Evan Longoria and Thairo Estrada — back from the injured list would provide a boost. So far, that logic hasn’t been foolish.
Now with a full stock of position players, the Giants can deploy optimal defensive lineups and maximize their platooning strategy. For the first time all year, SF has graduated from last place of Fangraphs’ catch-all defensive metric. Yermín Mercedes isn’t hitting cleanup anymore. There are no more Dixon Machado, David Villar or Donovan Walton at-bats.
“We need to be at full health to be able to operate the way we operate,” Wood, Sunday’s starter, said.
“If that depth wasn’t there, I might not feel as confidently,” Kapler said.
No one player will turn the season around, but LaMonte Wade Jr. can carry the offense for stretches. After a string of injuries disrupted his season, he’s back to feeling confident in the batter’s box, dictating at-bats by controlling the strike zone and hunting pitches to drive. In the Giants’ past seven games, he’s blasted four homers.
Wade’s homer Sunday built a lead, and Estrada’s walk-off sealed it. The sweep wasn’t pretty — there were mental mistakes on the base paths, a bullpen implosion and a costly error — but the wins still count.
“Every game counts,” Wade said. “For us to get those three games in a row right there, that’s big for us. And that momentum, we need to take into this next series and for the rest of the season, really.”
Three subpar months stole the Giants’ benefit of doubt, but they’re still confident enough to expect to sweep the last-place Pirates. Their next nine games come against losing teams too, representing possibly their best remaining chance to make up ground in the standings.
“It’s been an up and down year, obviously,” Wood said. “Days like today when you get a walkoff homer like that, you’ve got to be in the moment and let that ignite you a little bit. It was really nice to get a good sweep here at home, hopefully get something going here. It’s going to be a big next two weeks for us.”
All year, the Giants — players, coaches and executives — have publicly projected faith that this team is capable of playing playoff-caliber ball. The fight Kapler described hasn’t wavered, despite uneven performance and head-scratching moments. The manager said he feels it in the clubhouse regardless of result.
“Everybody is exclusively going to see the product on the field, and it’s totally reasonable to kind of make assumptions based on what we’re seeing on the field,” Kapler said. “But what we see and what we hear in our conversations every day, is guys who are very invested every single day when they come to the clubhouse in their work and what happens with their teammates and what we do during the game and what we do after the game. Constant adjustments are being made, and that’s usually the sign of a team that’s really fighting hard.”
In the clubhouse after Sunday’s victory, Wade mozied up to the pop-a-shot machine. His preferred method is alternating shots from each hand, tossing up balls in rapid succession.
Wade sank almost every one, with most swishing through the metal net. To make the playoffs, the Giants may have to execute just as perfectly. If the fight’s still there, anything’s possible.