SAN FRANCISCO -- The 2020 season demanded constant resilience from the Giants, and for the most part, they managed to surmount the stream of obstacles that cropped up over the course of this unprecedented year. They couldn’t clear the final hurdle, though.
The Giants stumbled at the finish line, as they were eliminated on the final day of the regular season following a 5-4 loss to the Padres in Sunday afternoon’s finale at Oracle Park.
At 29-31, the Giants finished the 60-game campaign tied with the Brewers for the eighth and final playoff spot in the National League, but they were edged out because Milwaukee owned the tiebreaker by virtue of its better intradivisional record. The Brewers finished 19-21 against the NL Central, while the Giants went 18-22 against the NL West.
“We just needed to win another game or two the last couple of series to get in,” shortstop Brandon Crawford said. “We played great the last six or eight weeks, so yeah, to not take the opportunity to win a couple of these last games and get into the playoffs, it definitely hurts.”
The Giants entered the final weekend of the regular season firmly in control of their own destiny, but they missed a chance to secure their first postseason berth since 2016 after ending their year with three consecutive losses to the Padres. After the Cardinals beat the Brewers, 5-2, in St. Louis, the Giants needed only a win on Sunday to punch their ticket to the playoffs, but their late comeback attempt ultimately fell short.
Trailing, 5-1, in the seventh inning, the Giants pulled within one following a two-run home run by Crawford and a solo shot to the opposite field from Wilmer Flores in the eighth. But they were shut down in the bottom of the ninth by Padres closer Trevor Rosenthal, who retired Crawford, Joey Bart and Austin Slater to officially end the Giants’ season.
Slater struck out on a called third strike by home-plate umpire Rob Drake, a fastball that appeared to be below the zone, drawing furious yells from the Giants dugout.
“Baseball happened,” right fielder Mike Yastrzemski said. “That's how the game goes. We ran into a good team, and they were executing. Every time that we would punch, they would punch back. They didn't take any games off, and I think that we just fell a little bit short.”
Few believed the Giants would even be in this position at the beginning of the season. The departure of Bruce Bochy and the arrival of Gabe Kapler ushered in a new era for the Giants, who were expected to enter another rebuilding phase in their second year under president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi.
Zaidi maintained that the goal for 2020 was to play meaningful baseball as deep into the season as possible, but it was clear the overarching theme was initially player development and identifying pieces for the next great Giants teams.
Those priorities began to change following the implementation of a pandemic-shortened 60-game regular season and an expanded playoff format. The Giants sensed an opportunity to surprise, though they appeared to be long shots for the postseason after erstwhile closer Trevor Gott blew three consecutive saves to sink the club to 8-16 on Aug. 17.
But the Giants once again managed to defy the odds, reeling off a 15-5 run that rescued their season and vaulted them right back into the National League Wild Card mix.
An offense that ranked as one of the worst in the Majors in 2019 suddenly flexed newfound punch behind the emergence of under-the-radar acquisitions like Yastrzemski, Donovan Solano and Alex Dickerson, resurgent campaigns from Brandon Belt and Crawford, contributions from newcomers Flores and Darin Ruf and breakthroughs from Slater and Mauricio Dubón.
An inexperienced bullpen that suffered several high-profile blowups early in the season stabilized with the leadership of Tony Watson, the growth of Tyler Rogers and Caleb Baragar and the arrival of waiver claim Jarlín García. Kevin Gausman and Drew Smyly, who missed six weeks with a left finger injury but returned to strike out 10 over 5 1/3 innings on Sunday, emerged as the Giants’ best starters after signing one-year deals over the offseason and should be candidates to re-sign this winter.
Kapler and his 13-person coaching staff deserve credit, too, as they brought fresh ideas and philosophies to the organization and managed to secure buy-in from veterans like Belt and Crawford, who will head into the final year of their contracts next year with renewed confidence after rebounding from career-worst offensive years in 2019.
“I think a lot of it worked,” Crawford said. “You look at what our team did this year and how nobody really expected that. A lot of the stuff that we went over, especially like as a hitter, we had a really good idea of what pitchers were trying to do this year, which is maybe a little different from years past.”
Kapler tried to get the most out of his roster by embracing platoons and other data-driven strategies, but the Giants still faced a talent deficit when matching up against elite clubs, as evidenced by their 7-19 record against teams above .500 and their 22-12 record against teams below .500. The missed opportunities down the stretch will sting, but there is cause for optimism heading into 2021 and beyond.
“We set out to play meaningful games until the end of the season, and we did that. We played 60 meaningful games,” Kapler said. “We fought in every single one of them. We battled back from deficits and gut-punches throughout the season. Our bullpen got better. We had young players develop this season. The goal was to get to the playoffs. The goal was to go deep into the playoffs. The goal was to win the World Series. We were unable to accomplish that goal, but there were a lot of other wins along the way, independent of our win-loss record.”