Who Are These San Francisco Giants and Why Are They in First Place?

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

The San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers renewed their storied rivalry Friday at Oracle Park in San Francisco, the Dodgers coming out on top 2-1 behind a stellar pitching performance by last year’s American League Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer, his record ascending to 5-2 with an ERA of 1.98. Alex Wood took the loss for the Giants, his record dipping to 5-1 with an ERA of 1.93. Bauer struck out eleven, while Wood struck out seven. You might say tonight was a pitchers’ duel. You would be correct in doing so.

The loss lowered the Giants’ record to 28-17, still good enough for a first place tie with the San Diego Padres who have won seven in a row and nine of their last ten. The Dodgers are one game back, having won five in a row and, like the Padres, nine of their last ten games.

While it comes as no surprise to anyone that the Dodgers and Padres are flying high, the Giants’ presence right alongside them is hardly one anyone expected before the season began. The Dodgers are defending World Series champions, adding strength to strength by signing Bauer during the offseason. The Padres are throwing money around like there’s no tomorrow, fielding a lineup loaded for bear — or in this case Dodger Dogs — with superstars like Manny Machado and superdeeduperstars like Fernando Tatis Jr. The Giants? Other than Buster Posey, the casual fan is hardpressed to name anyone else on the roster. So how are they doing it?

Making it all the more perplexing is that the Giants, the seventeen run outburst earlier this week against the Cincinnati Reds notwithstanding, aren’t exactly sending the second coming of Murderers Row to the plate. Among regular players, only Posey is hitting over .300. They are playing long ball, currently fourth in the majors with 62 big flys at the conclusion of Friday’s game. The Giants are also playing solid defense, currently leading the majors with a .991 fielding percentage. However, these are but half of the story.

It is on the mound where the Giants are making their claim as a team to beat. Third in the majors in team ERA at 3.14 (it’s worth noting the Padres are first and the Dodgers are second). San Francisco is tied for second in quality starts, this defined as the starting pitcher going a minimum of six innings while allowing three runs or less. The bullpen is no slouch, currently leading the majors with eighteen saves.

The question arises if the Giants can keep this up all season, which they are going to have to do considering the fast company they’re keeping. Some key performers are definitely having career best seasons thus far. Starting pitcher Kevin Gausman, who since coming to the majors in 2013 has never finished a season above .500 or with an ERA below 3.57, is suddenly lights out with a 4-0 record and a 1.66 ERA. Anthony DeSclafani is much in the same mold, having done nothing extraordinary before this season where he’s 4-1 with a 2.03 ERA. Will Gausman and DeSclafani revert to their usual average bordering on mediocre selves as the season progresses? The aforementioned Wood scuffled mightily the past two years before reverting to his 2017 form (16-3 with a 2.72 ERA) thus far in 2021. Can he keep it going? Questions only the remainder of the season can answer.

And there you have it. What was expected to be a two team race for the National League West title has turned into a three team affair. It wasn’t what anyone expected, but for now at least, there is excitement in McCovey Cove as the fish therein are donning batting helmets in anticipation of many more home runs by the home team.