The Giants opened the month of May seven games back in the National League West, their largest deficit in the standings after the first month of the season in more than a decade.
Their ace, Madison Bumgarner, sported an ERA above 4.00. No regular members of their lineup posted a batting average above .247. Their top two prospects are hurt, their CEO is suspended and their attendance plummeted 17 percent from April 2018.
The first month of the season wasn’t quite an unmitigated disaster, but it wasn’t far off.
“We’re disappointed with the results so far,” president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi admitted Wednesday on KNBR.
The results included a 12-18 record, a historically bad offense and a slew of underperforming core players. It all added up to a last-place standing in the division.
No one is suggesting the slipper will eventually fit the 2019 Giants, but Zaidi also indicated things aren’t as bad as they may seem.
“Having seen the players and coaching staff first hand, being in the clubhouse a lot, I’m certainly not disappointed in the effort and the preparation,” Zaidi continued. “We’ve had a bunch of games and we’ve really been in every game so far. You really like that competitiveness.”
As the calendar turned Wednesday, the Giants gave fans reason to believe April showers could lead to May flowers. Bumgarner stifled the Los Angeles Dodgers with six impressive innings of one-run ball and catcher Buster Posey delivered a series-clinching walk-off single against the six-time reigning NL West champs.
Over the last 10 games, Posey is hitting .333 and after a frustrating April, Bumgarner began May with improved fastball and cutter velocity and showcased his willingness to attack and dictate the tone of the game against a potent Dodgers lineup.
“All year it’s felt like it’s right there but not quite what I’m looking for,” Bumgarner said. “I’ve been studying stuff and trying different things to get to where I want to be and in my mind, that’s a perfect delivery. I don’t think it’s there, but it’s definitely better than it has been.”
The days of Bumgarner and Posey willing the Giants to victories on their own are largely over. The two-longest tenured players on the roster appear to be turning a corner, but they’ll need help. In Wednesday’s walk-off win, aid came from struggling outfielder Steven Duggar.
Duggar delivered a career-high three hits, all against left-handed pitchers, and started the game-winning ninth-inning rally. The fastest player on the roster scored from second on Posey’s bloop single to left field and afterward, Duggar felt like he finally put a month filled with disappointing results behind him.
“I haven’t been happy with the way I played for the last week and a half or so since we left DC,” Duggar said. “You put in some extra time and you focus on what you’re trying to accomplish with the approach and the swing itself.”
The Giants’ starting staff has struggled over the last two weeks, but Zaidi is attempting to fortify the rotation by calling up pitching prospect Tyler Beede. Beede will start Friday’s series opener in Cincinnati and could run away with a spot in the rotation if he builds off a dominant five-start stretch to open the year with Triple-A Sacramento.
With the additions of Beede and reserve catcher Stephen Vogt, the Giants are finally beginning to tinker with the roster as they look to swap out struggling players for different options. During a radio appearance Wednesday, Zaidi said that’s been the plan all along.
“We could easily be sitting here with five or six more wins,” Zaidi said. “One of the things we’ve talked about is once you get past that one month mark, 30 to 40 games in, you need to start going about ways to actively improve the roster.”
It won’t take long for the Giants to figure out if May will lead to more success than they found in April. The club begins a seven-game road trip Friday with stops at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati and Coors Field in Denver.
Over the past two seasons, the Giants are a combined 2-23 in those stadiums, which are considered two of the most hitter-friendly parks in the league.
“It sounds silly because Cincinnati is historically a hitter’s park, we just haven’t played well there,” Posey said. “We just have to fly there tomorrow and mentally be geared and ready to go and not come out lackadaisical after the off day.”
The starting staff must improve, one of the league’s worst offenses must show signs of competence and the team’s core players must put a bad month behind them. That’s asking a lot of a Giants team many in the industry expected little from, but earning a series win against the first-place Dodgers shows the club is much closer to playing up to its potential than it was at the start of the year.