We asked our resident Giants and Royals fans to walk us through their respective 2014 seasons, from spring training to the 7-game World Series. In part 6 of the 7-part series, Darius Austin looks back at SF’s second half. (Previously: Part 5 – KC’s second half)
San Francisco halted their slide in the second half and kept the division competitive for the remainder of the season without ever reaching those early heights again. Although they couldn’t overturn the deficit to the Dodgers in the final weeks, a 35-31 second half was enough to take the second wild card with an 88-74 record.
The doom and gloom of the weeks preceding the All-Star break was lifted by a good start to the second half, as five wins out of six against the Marlins and Phillies lifted the Giants back into a 2 1/2 game lead. The bats again fell silent almost immediately in a six-game losing streak that included a sweep by the Dodgers, dropping San Francisco out of the division lead for good. The Giants would score only six runs over those six games and, not for the last time in 2014, struggled mightily against Kershaw and Greinke. The inability to compete in those crucial division series, especially against the top of that rotation, would cost San Francisco any shot of winning the NL West.
With Cain’s season in doubt because of elbow troubles, a move was made in late July to address the rotation as pitching prospects Edwin Escobar and Heath Hembree were sent to the Red Sox for Jake Peavy. It was a move that I was dubious of; Peavy had been unimpressive in 2013 and worse in 2014, allowing 20 home runs in 124 innings and posting one of the worst walk rates of his career, a combination that led to a 4.72 ERA in Boston. Escobar was rated as a top-100 prospect and second in the organisation by both MLB.com and Fangraphs, with the potential to be a reliable mid-rotation starter. Hembree was not as exciting a prospect, having taken a long time to come through the system and with a relief role ahead of him, but it still felt like a trade that seemed unlikely to pay dividends even in the short term.
As it turned out, Peavy was one of the highlights of the second half for the Giants. Every start was at least solid and he turned in a number of excellent outings to drop his ERA by a full run by the end of the season, posting a 2.17 mark and 1.042 WHIP with the Giants. Although his peripherals didn’t quite match, his 3.03 FIP in San Francisco was still comfortably his best since 2009.
One area that was not adequately addressed by the trade deadline was second base. The only move the Giants made was to pick up Dan Uggla, who had finally been released by the Braves despite Atlanta still having around $19 million left to pay on his contract, reflecting just how much the second baseman had declined. Uggla would record just 12 plate appearances in San Francisco, reaching base only once, before they also released him. With Scutaro’s back not allowing him to play more than five games before he had to return to the disabled list for the remainder of the season, the options left to the Giants were essentially rookies Joe Panik, Matt Duffy and Ehire Adrianza.
It was Panik who took hold of the job in early August and made it his own after a difficult start to his major league career. He showed an impressive ability to hit to all fields along with a good contact rate and a relatively low strikeout rate, compensating at least somewhat for the total absence of power. Panik didn’t surprise anyone with his glove but he did prove to be a solid option at the keystone over the final two months, something the Giants had been lacking for some time.
The mixing and matching didn’t stop when a second base solution was found. Brandon Belt’s bad luck had continued when he was concussed by a stray throw in batting practice in July and it took him until the second half of September to shake the symptoms which sent him to the DL twice. In the interim Posey, Morse, Travis Ishikawa, Joaquin Arias and rookie Adam Duvall all got starts at first. Gregor Blanco twice filled in for the ailing Pagan and much like Panik, was capable if not flashy. The Giants finally tired of Lincecum’s sub-par performance and replaced him in the rotation with Yusmeiro Petit, who started a record-setting streak of consecutive batters retired from the bullpen and broke the record in his first start replacing Lincecum. Although almost anything would have been an improvement, for the final five weeks this would prove to be a very useful upgrade over one of the worst regular starters in all of MLB.
Through these unexpected successes, San Francisco had kept pace with LA. Posey came alive in the second half, hitting .353/.403/.575 to lift an offence that had been sorely in need of a spark and the Giants were just two games back when the Dodgers came to town on September 12th. Madison Bumgarner shut out the Dodgers in that contest to reduce the deficit to a single game, but they subsequently ran into Kershaw and Greinke again. They pitched 14 innings of two-run ball between them to ensure that they left AT&T with a three-game lead. Any chance to put pressure on in the final SF-LA series of the season was all but lost in the previous three-game set against the Padres, when the Giants were swept in San Diego.
The good news for San Francisco was that two of the main contenders for the wild card, Atlanta and Milwaukee, were poor in the second half and particularly dismal down the stretch. Both played sub-.400 ball in September, putting absolutely no pressure on the Giants and the other wild card contenders, Pittsburgh. The Reds had been in it at the break but had already played themselves out of contention with a disappointing August. A September record of 13-11 was therefore good enough to take a wild card spot with relative comfort.
Although I had confidence going into the wild card game with Bumgarner on the mound, there was a serious question mark in left field, where Ishikawa was going to start as a result of an oblique injury to Morse. Ishikawa had barely played the position in his career and had only three starts at the end of September in which to gain experience. Pagan’s season was over with back surgery scheduled, Hudson had been lit up to the tune of an 8.72 ERA in September and even the normally reliable Pence had inexplicably cratered over the final month with a sub-.500 OPS. I therefore expected a Washington Nationals team, with what appeared to be the most balanced roster in the postseason, to be one obstacle too far even if the Pirates were defeated.Next post: How To Survive the Baseball Offseason
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