Nevius: Giants' July surge justifies having faith in Farhan Zaidi
How to explain the mind-boggling surge of the Giants?
Since the All-Star break, they’ve gone from a sad little squad, making up “for sale, best offer” posters, to unlikely juggernaut - winning 17 of 20 before the current road trip.
Trade Madison Bumgarner now? Not likely. The fan base would break out the pitchforks and torches.
What happened? Perhaps it is the peculiar voodoo of baseball, where a team will unaccountably catch fire. Maybe the guys are caught up in “win one for good old Bruce Bochy.”
But up in the glass offices at Oracle Park, there have to be moments when a bookish, bespectacled deep thinker leans back in his chair, puts his hands behind his head and smiles.
This is the vindication of Farhan Zaidi.
It wasn’t always so. The director of baseball operations’ whirl-a-gig roster swapping has been frantic. We’d have criticized some of the moves, but by the time we’d processed one, there were three more.
In another world, we’d still be slamming him for the surpassingly weird choice to start unknowns Conner Joe and Michael Reed at the outfield corners on opening day.
But there just hasn’t been time. Joe and Reed disappeared so abruptly they may have been abducted by space aliens. Sudden changes? Ask Aaron Altherr, signed in May and dropped after one at-bat.
It isn’t your imagination. NBC Sports Bay Area calculated that the team used 44 players in the first half of the season. In all of last year they used 48.
And yet … July.
You’ll remember at the start of the season, we media types were wondering which way the Fighting Farhans were going to go. Were they going to get a last gasp out of the old guard: Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and the Brandons, Crawford and Belt?
Or, were they going to go all “You Gotta Like These Kids,” with some lively, fresh young faces?
And the answer is … both.
They’re still playing their greatest hits package, with all the familiar names you’ve come to love from World Series glory. But it is impossible not to notice that the engine of this revival is the new acquisitions.
Zaidi’s fingerprints are on them all.
We have to begin with Alex Dickerson, who has become the Giants’ wait-a-minute-I-want-to-see this-at-bat guy. (And the source of chants of “Dick! Dick! Dick!” in the dugout.) Zaidi picked him up from San Diego for pitcher Franklin Van Gurp. (You heard me.)
The kicker is, Dickerson missed all of 2017 and 2018 with a cranky back. What did Zaidi see?
Dickerson certainly knows how to make an entrance. Called up on June 21 from Sacramento, he went yard with a grand slam in his first game and kept going, driving in nine of 18 runs in a turning-point series win over Arizona. He’s hitting just under .400.
And let’s pause for a moment to consider the dynamics of dugout chanting.
A mere six weeks ago, the Giants were not just below .500 - a funeral pall had settled over the team. Good luck if you wanted to chat with a player before or after a game. The clubhouse was empty and silent.
But now, as even Bochy noted last week, “It’s a different vibe. Our guys are loose and free.”
A part of it has to be the contagious energy of 34-year-old catcher Stephen Vogt, whom Zaidi signed to a minor league contract back in February.
There wasn’t exactly a bidding war for Vogt.
He missed all of last year with a shoulder injury that required surgery. He had been released by Milwaukee.
But Zaidi remembered Vogt from when both of them were with the A’s. At Oakland, Vogt was not only a two-time All-Star, but such a valued clubhouse presence that some A’s players openly mourned his departure two years ago.
Vogt is a proponent of positive reinforcement, goofy nicknames and dugout chants.
“Celebrate all victories,” Vogt says. “And they aren’t always wins. Everybody likes to be told they did a good job. That’s what creates clubhouse culture.”
Vogt’s comedy act as a basketball official gave rise to the players flashing a “T” sign to the dugout after making a play. It’s right off Vogt’s video (if you haven’t checked it out yet, do so) and it’s contagious.
“I did it the other night,” grinned Joe Panik. “And I was like, what am I doing? I never do that.”
They’re all doing it. Austin Slater, recalled from Sacramento July 1, had a pinch-hit HR five days later and then a grand slam the next day. Not bad for “the Nerd,” which is what Sandoval says the former Stanford player is called.
Kevin (Skits) Pillar, picked up in a trade with Toronto after the season started, is leading the team in hits. Mike Yastrzemski, a March acquisition from Baltimore, was hitting .366 in the 10 games before last week’s homestand ended, including a walk-off homer in the 12th against the Mets.
“We’re playing well against good teams,” Panik said. “We played Milwaukee tough (2-1), St. Louis (2-1) and took four in Colorado where we always struggle. When was the last time we swept Colorado?”
The reason? Quality production from some new blood, help from the old guard and a whole new vibe.
“Winning creates chemistry,” Vogt said. “And chemistry creates winning.”
Somewhere, Farhan Zaidi smiles.
Contact C.W. Nevius at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @cwnevius