If last season had been played under the 2020 guidelines, Gabe Kapler would never have become manager of the Giants.
The Kapler Phillies got off to a good start in their two years there, and in 2019 they were 33-27 through 60 games. That led them to the top of the NL East Division and fourth overall in the league, theoretically heading into a first-round postseason matchup with the Brewers.
Teams don’t fire managers after winning the division, but the Phillies slowed down the stretch, finishing 81-81. Kapler was fired after just two seasons in Philly.
“We were both 60-game champions both years,” Kapler said on this week’s Giants Insider podcast. “We were really good in a 60 game stretch and we couldn’t keep that up, we were just a little short in several different areas.”
It took Kapler only a few weeks to get to San Francisco, where he will work with Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris to try to get the Giants back to the postseason. The trio have publicly said all the right things, insisting that each season is about being as competitive as possible, even when the Giants rebuild themselves behind the scenes. For the most part, they have also upheld that motto.
Zaidi made moves last year to help out Bruce Bochy on the field, as he traded young players like Mauricio Dubon and Jaylin Davis and missed future salary commitments. Since Harris and Kapler were hired in November, the Giants have added Kevin Gausman, Drew Smyly, Hunter Pence, Billy Hamilton, and other veterans who were supposed to help bridge the gap in 2020. They have also continued to rack up lottery tickets and beef up the farm. system.
But something strange happened on the way to another year of reconstruction. COVID-19 closed the sport, and the Giants will return to Oracle Park on July 1 with just 60 games to go. Anything can happen in over 60 games, and Kapler intends to handle every entry with that in mind.
“Strategically, we can play games like the playoffs, and there are several reasons why we can do it,” Kapler said. “The most important thing is because it is a sprint. In a 60 game season we are very likely to enter September in a race.”
Since 2016, when the Giants came to the NLDS, September at Oracle Park has generally seemed like an extension of the minor league season. The 2017 team lost 98 games and spent the month on calls, and although 2018 was more competitive overall, the Giants were officially made in late August when Buster Posey underwent surgery and Andrew McCutchen was traded. Last year’s club briefly flirted with the Wild Card in late July and early August, but for the final month the vibe was almost entirely focused on Bochy’s retirement.
Except for a catastrophe, this season will be different. The Giants could go 13-17 for the first month and still find a good series or two from a postseason spot. September should matter, and they feel they are well positioned to remain competitive, largely due to that schedule. Kapler is certainly not going to reunite his group at Oracle Park next week, noting that the Dodgers have 102 fewer games to run away with from the rest of the division, but that doesn’t hurt.
“I will say this, and I will say it more generally and I will stay away from focusing on a particular team,” he said, “the longer a season is, the more talent you have on paper. The shorter the season is I mean, the least important talent is on paper. It’s still really important and if you look at some of the pretend games, even in a 60 game season, you’ll see that it plays. “
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The Giants still have a talent gap compared to the teams they are chasing, but they feel there are some ways to avoid it. Platoons will be widely used. They won’t have a true start rotation, relying heavily on openers, starters and finding unique ways to stack. Even before all of this, they were talking about going without a set closer. While an older roster, which the Giants have, breaks down over six months, guys like Buster Posey and Brandon Belt, who have seen their power shrink in the last two halves, should be able to stay fresh.
A 60-game season is a mysterious chunk of clay, and while the Giants knew they probably couldn’t compete for a total of 162, they feel like they have the pieces in place to handle a sprint.
“I feel good because our list can mix and match the pieces we have,” said Kapler. “I think our list is built where one piece on the list complements another, and I think it was a tremendous job for Farhan and Scott to put that together. I’m excited about the creative options we have, putting an alignment there against left and right ” a lineup out there against the right. “
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