The Giants became the first team to enter the 2021 postseason Monday night. What they really want is to be the last one standing at the end of the World Series.
No matter, they partied appropriately, turning the home clubhouse at Oracle Park into the hottest disco in San Francisco.
They have 94 victories with 18 games to play, so the Giants figure to zoom past 100 wins handily as they also try to fend off the Dodgers for the NL West title and, with that, avoid the one-game Wild Card round. If they do, it's likely they'll also enter the playoffs with the best regular-season record.
Not that such a distinction necessarily matters once the postseason starts.
Since MLB divided the NL and AL into divisions and the playoff era started in 1969, only 14 teams that finished with the best regular-season record also won the World Series. Over the past decade, being the best team pre-playoffs doesn't seem to hurt — with the Dodgers pulling the double in the pandemic-shortened 60-game 2020 season, the Red Sox doing it in 2018, the Cubs in 2016, and the Red Sox in 2013.
Missing from that list: all three Giants' World Series winners. None of them finished with the best regular-season record. The Giants didn't even win the division every time; in '14, they beat the Royals in the World Series as a Wild Card.
Do any of these distinctions matter? They could; we just don't know which ones yet. Brandon Belt, part of two Giants championships and having the best offensive season of his career, at age 33, told reporters that finishing ahead of the Dodgers is on their minds, even as they dance the night away to celebrate making the playoffs.
“We’re definitely happy that we’re going to the playoffs, there’s no doubt about that,” Belt said. “But we want to win the division. This is the first step, but we didn’t come here just to make it in. We came here to win the whole thing, so that’s what we’re looking forward to.”
The World Series-winning Giants of the 2010s were all true team efforts, constructed to withstand the rigors of the regular season while later dominating the postseason with pitching. The Giants of now wouldn’t seem to have another Madison Bumgarner waiting in the wings to rip through opponents and set unmatchable standards. But they do have a deep bullpen that can keep teams off the scoreboard. Collectively, the Giants have the best relief ERA in the majors — 3.02 over 542 ⅔ innings pitched.
In the clincher against the Padres, the Giants opposed Yu Darvish with six relievers — starter Dominic Leone, Jarlín García, Zack Littell, José Álvarez, Camilo Doval and Kervin Castro. Giants batters knocked around Darvish for eight runs; Giants relievers limited the Padres to eight hits, and struck out 11.
The Padres, and not the Giants, were the ones widely expected to possibly hang with the Dodgers. But the Padres, anymore, can only hope to hang in the Wild Card race. Despite their plummeting record, they’re just a ½ game behind the Reds.
The Giants don’t only pitch. Only five more teams in the league have scored more runs than the Giants, no matter the unconventional nature of their roster. Evan Longoria, who hasn’t been this effective at the plate in almost 10 years, homered and drove in four runs. LaMonte Wade Jr., slugging over .500 after being picked up from the Twins in the offseason for a reliever that Minnesota later cut in June, drove in a run and scored twice. Mike Yastrzemski, while not as robust as he was in 2019 or 2020 after coming over trom the Orioles for minor league lefty Tyler Herb, still has 23 home runs, and is among the top 30 players in the majors for Defensive Runs Saved.
The mix of contributors to the box score was a microcosm of how the Giants have stayed in first place for the greater part of three months. It’s quite possible we’re still going to be asking how they did it long after they have sneaked away with the trophy. But even if they don’t win the World Series, what they’ve done so far should not be trifled.
Buster Posey, the team’s catcher for all three World Series winners, said the Giants already have achieved something close to perfection in the regular season.
“If you could dream up a team to get to go through the grind of a big league season with, this one is going to be pretty close to being it,” Posey said.