San Francisco Giants: Friday’s Win Shows What Could Have Been This Season

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 18: Manager Bruce Bochy
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 18: Manager Bruce Bochy /

The San Francisco Giants put together a great win on Friday against the Philadelphia Phillies, and it shows what could have been this season.

This weekend’s four-game series at AT&T Park features the National League’s two worst clubs. The Philadelphia Phillies entered the Bay with a 43-75 record, the worst mark in baseball, while their hosts, the San Francisco Giants, were the third-worst team in the game at 48-74.

Those two teams took very different paths to get there. The Phillies are intentionally bad this season, strategically losing as part of an ongoing rebuilding effort to move on from an older roster and allow young talent to prove themselves at the big league level.

The Giants, on the other hand, came into the season with high expectations, hoping to build off a NLDS loss last season and improve that mark. Instead, consistent underperformance, a revolving door on the roster caused by injuries, and some awful luck have brought them where they are now.

But on Friday night, there was a glimpse into what could have been this season, and it started on the mound. After a victory on Thursday night, the Giants turned to Matt Moore, one of those players that falls into the “consistent underperformance” category. Moore was supposed to be a lynchpin in the middle of the Giants’ rotation, taking a step forward after a strong finish to the 2016 season. Instead, he came into Friday’s start with a 5.71 ERA (worst in the NL among qualified pitchers) and every time it seemed like he took a step forward, he took three steps backward.

That didn’t happen this time. Moore had one of the “step forward” games last Sunday, holding the high-powered Washington Nationals’ offense to two runs over seven strong innings. He built off that with one of his best starts of the season, pitching into the eighth inning and holding the Phillies off the board.

He allowed just two hits in 7.1 innings of work, and didn’t have runs charged to his record until after he had already departed. The inherited runners scoring erased Moore’s shutout, but nothing could erase the ovation he received as he walked off the field. This was the Moore that was to be expected this year, and the fans let him know they were happy to see him on Friday.

In support of Moore, the offense had one of their best games of the year, which also brought up thoughts of “what if” regarding this season. Hunter Pence and Brandon Crawford did most of the heavy lifting on Friday.

In the first inning, Pence threw his bat at an outside pitch and drove it into right field for a double. In the second inning, he slammed a hanging curveball over the left field fence for his 11th home run of the year.

In the third inning, Crawford drilled a center-cut fastball the other way, sending it sailing into the left-center field stands for his 10th home run of the season. In the eighth inning, he stayed balanced on a hard splitter away and below the knees, and crushed it off the wall in center field.

Watching these two players hit the ball hard, and hit it over the fence, invoked those “what if” questions again. What if Pence didn’t start the season by hitting .244 with only 17 extra-base hits in the first 85 games? What if he could have played anywhere near the level he has in August, where he’s hit .351/.413/.632 with eight extra-base hits and 14 RBI in 16 games? What if Crawford didn’t suffer through a season-long slump, with a .229/.279/.368 slash-line that are all at or near career-low levels?

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And what if Jarrett Parker didn’t break his collarbone nine games into the season, and got the opportunity to work through his early season woes? When Parker sent a double past the shift in the second inning, it was his eighth two-bagger in 51 at-bats since coming back, and it drove in his 11th and 12th runs since returning. He’s hit .315/.339/.519 in 14 games off the disabled list, numbers that would have been welcome with open arms as left fielder after left fielder faltered in the early part of the year.

Those “what if” questions don’t matter. This season has already gone the way it has, and no amount of second guessing and questioning can change that. Now, the “what if”s turn to next season. What if Moore has figured something out and can take that into 2018? What if Pence and Crawford have gotten their swings together and are ready to be big-time contributors in the heart of the order again next season? What if Parker is ready to take the next step in his major league career?

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A lot of things need to change, need to go right, for the Giants to contend in 2018 as they hope to do. For one night in August, with the team already well out of any playoff race, contention doesn’t seem as far away as it once did. There is still work to be done, and a lot of it, but hope is a beautiful thing, isn’t it?