In an ugly, error-filled game, Tim Lincecum failed to beat the worst team in baseball, as the Giants lost to the Nationals to fall back to .500. After 50 games, the team has scored and allowed almost the exact same number of runs, and without a major trade, will be lucky to maintain their current pace for much longer. No pitcher can carry the load of having to be perfect every game, just ask Johan Santana, who has been given the worst run support imaginable the last season and a half. The Giants pitching staff has been dealing with this kind of pressure for a couple of seasons now, and there's not much real hope for the rest of '09.
By the way, for everyone who keeps insisting that the Dodgers can be had, they've allowed almost the exact same number of runs the Giants have. Of course, they've also scored 100 more runs. Not to belabor the obvious, but that means they are outscoring the Giants by 2 full runs per game. Just in case you haven't had your coffee yet, let me elaborate…. if the Giants traded Travis Ishikawa straight up for Albert Pujols, they wouldn't make up that difference. If they traded Ishikawa for the 2003-05 version of Bonds they wouldn't score two more runs per game, although they'd probably come close.
My point is that the real contenders are the teams that are outscoring their opponents. Forget about won loss records, just look at ESPN's upgraded standings page, and check out the runs differential column. That'll tell you everything you need to know. 50 games in, we know who we are. 50 games is a large enough sample. I just read Verducci explaining that the number of teams who've made the playoff after being five games below .500 at the start of June is three:
…. Here are the facts. There have been 104 teams to make the playoffs in the 13 full seasons of the wild-card era. Exactly three of them, or 2.9 percent, were worse than five games below .500 when June began. Here are the three outliers:
1. 2005 Astros (19-32 start; 89-73 final record).
2. 2007 Cubs (22-29; 85-77).
3. 2007 Yankees (22-29; 94-68).
That's just another way of saying the same thing. Over the course of a season, the teams that outscore their opponents by the largest margins will be the ones that –with the occasional exception–make the playoffs. So here's a different way of looking at those three teams, looking at where they were on the morning of June 1st of those seasons:
2005 Astros 18-32 -48 runs differential Expected Won-Loss 18-32
2007 Cubs 22-29 +11 runs differential Expected Won-Loss 27-24
2007 Yankees 22-29 +24 runs differential Expected Won-Loss 29-22
You wanna know how Houston made up that deficit? They outscored their opponents by 132 runs over the last 112 games of the season, which is normally a full seasons' worth of extra runs for a contending team. In fact, only one team in the NL outscored their opponents by more than 132 runs that year, the St. Louis Cardinals, who didn't make the Series in what was widely considered an upset. But, from June 1st on, the Astros were the better team. Over those last 112 games, the Cardinals runs differential was only 116. The Astros won 5 more games than the Cards over that stretch, and then won the NL pennant before falling to the White Sox in the Serious.
As of today, no team is significantly outperforming their expected winning percentage, a couple should have a few more wins, notably, the Nationals, who should have about four more, and the Tampa Bay Rays, who are also about four or five wins worse than they should be. Most teams are right where they should be, which is another way of saying this:
The Giants have no chance of competing for a championship this season.
The minor league system has been restocked, and there should be help, in the form of real hitters, coming up next season, and hopefully we will see the Giants become a team that has a steady supply of good, young talent in the future. It's important that Brain Sabean remembers that championships are built, not bought. He knows that the Yankees recent dynasty –contrary to
popular belief– was built upon the nucleus of home grown talent, by the maturation of Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Bernie WIlliams, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera, who all came up through the Yankees system. That Yankee team was built upon that core group of All Stars, who were then surrounded by key free agents and savvy veterans; think along the lines of David Wells, David Cone, Wade Boggs, Paul O'Neil, Scott Brosius…. those kinds of guys. In fact, it was only when the Yankees began to swing for the fences, signing the best free agents out there, when they began to look like an All Star team, that the dynasty started to falter.
The Giants should be sellers, not buyers. They should be looking to unload the collection of overpaid mediocrities masquerading as middle of the order talent. They should be looking to trade Winn, and Rowand and Molina, and Renteria, and collect even more minor league talent, young talent. They should wash their hands of these money sucking role players, and start looking to 2010, because none of these players will be around when Giants players are pouring champagne on each other.
The Giants have two studs right now, two. Cain and Lincecum. Pablo Sandoval looks pretty good, albeit a little rough around the edges. Perhaps Burriss grows into an everyday second baseman. Fred Lewis will be 29 years old at the start of 2010, and he's done exactly, what? Maybe Jonathan Sanchez will be part of a contending Giants team. Maybe. Who else in yesterday's lineup will be?
The Giants need three or four elite players to come up through the system in the next two seasons. A first baseman, Posey, and an outfielder or two would be perfect. Then the players that Sabean is so fond of would actually have real worth. Signing the Aaron Rowands and the Randy Winns of the baseball world would be a fine strategy if the Giants got 90 home runs and 250 runs batted in from their first baseman, left fielder and their catcher.
Trading anybody younger than 28 years old in an effort to make the playoffs this season would be a huge mistake, because you'd be betting half your stack knowing that you're a 10-1 underdog. Trading a player as valuable as Matt Cain would be catastrophic.
UPDATE: I just have to….
Many major media outlets continue to insist that the Yankees surge to the best record in baseball is somehow tied to A-Rod's return, or to the terrific defense they've been getting from Melky Cabrera and Mark Texeira, or from their pitching staff finally coming together. Here's none other than OBM supporter Peter Gammons:
…. Recently, the Yankees have gone on a big-time roll and taken first place in the AL East, all after the return of Alex Rodriguez. However, the key difference hasn't been offense, although the tandem of A-Rod and Mark Teixeira is similar to what David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez once were with Boston. With A-Rod and Teixeira in the order, the Yankees' runs per game have only risen slightly. The Yankees' ERA, though, has dropped by more than two runs, as CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Joba Chamberlain and Co. have come together as a power rotation.
The Yankees' rotation is made up of hard throwers who get minimal hard contact, and put little pressure on the defense. Teixeira, the owner of two Gold Gloves, has made the infield much better, and Melky Cabrera's defensive matrix is the best of any major league center fielder.
None of that is true. Well, it's not that that's not true, it just overstates the case. The Yankees were 14-15 on May 8th, the day A-Rod hit the first pitch he saw for a three-run homer. In those 29 games, they had a run differential of -16, having allowed a staggering 178 runs in those 29 games, over 6 per game. But they'd allowed 44 of those runs in just three games, the three games Chien-Ming Wang started before they put him on the DL. Take those games out, and the Yankees gave up 134 runs in 26 games, or just over 5 runs per game. Over their last 23 games, they've allowed 91 runs, around 4 runs per game. This improvement, in fact, can and should be attributed to better defense, and the pitchers starting to reach mid-season form.
This is why Brian Cashman signed Burnett, Sabathia and Texiera. Those players are delivering.