The SF Giants are at a crossroads. A little over a week after the All-Star break, they sit at an even
.500 and almost 20 games back of rival Los Angeles in the National League West standings.
Coming off a franchise-record 107-win 2021 in which they outlasted the Dodgers by one game for the division title, this performance certainly wasn't the expectation. Sure, some regression from all of their over-the-hill stars was expected, but Buster Posey's retirement and repeated Injured List stints for Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt and Evan Longoria weren't when the previous season ended.
Much has been made of the possibilities for the Giants at the trade deadline, set for Tuesday at 6 p.m. Eastern. Do they try to trade away important pieces that will bring back good prospects and build for the next few years? Send some role-player help to another contender and ask for anything that will help the big league defense right now? Or go all-in for a big name, as in the latest rumors, to see if that will boost the rest of the team? in the hopes that the core will be healthy and productive come playoff time?
Certainly, before finishing off a series win over the Chicago Cubs on Sunday to get back to .500, many assumed the Giants would sell off players such as LHP Carlos Rodon and OF Joc Pederson, who have had outstanding years and could be enticing rentals for other teams more likely to make the playoffs and contend for the World Series.
But what if Farhan Zaidi and co. hold on, bolster their roster here and there and assume that the core will be healthy and productive come playoff time? Is there a path to realistic World Series contention from a .500 record at the end of July?
Some recent champions were in the same position
A glance at the trophy cases of some recent teams with similar quandaries tells us that YES, a championship is possible.
Take a look at this Tweet from ESPN baseball reporter Buster Olney:
The 2021 Atlanta Braves were under-.500 on July 31. They finished 88-73, good enough for the NL East title and a playoff spot, which was all they needed to catch fire and beat the Milwaukee Brewers, Dodgers and Houston Astros for their first World Series title since 1995.
In a similar vein, the 2019 Washington Nationals were just a few games above treading water and a handful out of first in the East, and they finished strong at 93-69 to earn a Wild Card spot before taking out the Brewers, Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals and Astros for their first Commissioner's Trophy in franchise history.
Take out the 17.5-game deficit the Giants currently face in the West division (which has the potential to change by multiple games one way or the other as the Giants host the Dodgers for a four-game series this week) and just pay attention to the four games they need to make up for a Wild Card spot.
With a lot of their expected starters spending time on the IL and not performing well when "healthy", they definitely haven't reached their potential. A Giants team intact or with another small asset or two can be expected to play well down the stretch.
Once you make the playoffs, anything can happen. Maybe it will be best to give this team that opportunity after how they played all of last year.