This was not how anyone drew it up. At least, not how anyone outside the San Francisco Giants organization envisioned the 2021 season going. The reigning World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers were supposed to roll through the NL West once again, fending off a challenge from the upstart San Diego Padres – but nobody pegged the Giants’ as October-bound this spring.
But with a 9-1 drubbing of the Friars at Oracle Park on Friday night, San Francisco punched their ticket to October – becoming the first big league team to do so this year. How they did it is even more remarkable: trusting an aging core that many believed to be on the decline. Of course, given how the 2021 campaign has played out on the North Side, Chicago Cubs fans are likely to take note of this.
After an 11-game losing streak prior to the trade deadline, Jed Hoyer made the call: his team would sell, and sell hard, in hopes of shortening the impending re-tooling. That culminated in the trades of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Chafin, Trevor Williams, Ryan Tepera, Joc Pederson and Jake Marisnick in the days and weeks leading up to the July 30 deadline.
With weeks left in the season, Chicago enters action Tuesday in Philadelphia with little to play for in terms of the standings – relegated to the role of spoiler down the stretch. The team’s .451 winning percentage is the fifth-lowest in the National League, better than only the Marlins, Nationals, Pirates and Diamondbacks.
Chicago Cubs on the sidelines, watching Kris Bryant return to October yet again
On the flip side of the coin, the Giants just won their 94th game of the season and have come out on top in nine of their last 10 contests. They boast the second-best run differential in the league and their offense has been anchored by a cast of very familiar faces.
You have to start with seven-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion Buster Posey. After opting out of the shortened 2020 season, the 34-year-old catcher has shown he’s far from done, batting .300/.391/.503 in the final guaranteed year of his contract. San Francisco has an option on him for 2022 and at this point, it’s near unthinkable they won’t pick it up.
Looking at the corner infield spots, both Brandon Belt and Evan Longoria are turning back the clock, as well. Longoria, although limited at times due to injury, has hit .293/.391/.540 – good for a 150 OPS+. Keep in mind the last time Longoria batted better than .290 in a year was a decade ago, when he finished sixth in AL MVP voting as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays.
Meanwhile, Belt, who is also in the final year of his contract, carries a .937 OPS – due largely to the fact he’s blasted a career-high 24 home runs in just 85 games this season. He clobbered Cubs pitching over the weekend and picked right up where he left off upon returning home on Monday.
Chicago Cubs lack loyalty while the Giants prove it can be integral to success
Earlier this season, San Francisco management extended shortstop Brandon Crawford, locking up a hometown favorite who, if you can believe it, is also having a big year. All this to say, there’s a lot of guys responsible for playing key roles on this team. But a great many of them are very familiar faces who’ve experienced the highs and battled through the lows – but instead of jettisoning these players, the Giants stuck with them – and supplemented them on the roster with pieces like Kris Bryant, LaMonte Wade, Darin Ruf and others.
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For Chicago fans, this could be a sore spot – especially seeing Bryant celebrate a return to the postseason, his first that won’t be as a member of the Cubs. There’s no guaranteed recipe for success in baseball. But watching the Giants take care of their own and win leaves us wondering, yet again, what might have been.