Nevius: Are Giants contenders, or will they fade fast?

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Most Giants fans seem to have the same reaction when asked what they think of the team this year.

It’s complicated.

After three consecutive sub-.500 seasons, we didn’t expect them to be good. And they weren’t. For an extended period of time.

May turned to June with few signs of life. We sat with our arms folded and an are-we-going-to-have-to-watch-this-for-another-three-months look on our faces.

And then, around the shoulders of the All-Star break, they lurched into a trot. And then, unexpectedly, a gallop.

Suddenly hitting, they rang up a 19-6 July and were — to the surprise of everyone — in the conversation for the wild-card playoffs.

Lately there have been signs of slowing down. They were swept by the Nationals — making the Nats 5-1 vs. the Giants this year. But more than that, they look a little weary and lost, inspirational starts by Madison Bumgarner notwithstanding.

Still, let’s be honest. At the start of the year, we’d have gladly taken this. The team making a little noise, with some new players to check out (maybe Farhan Zaidi does know what he’s doing) and the potential for meaningful games in September.

But which team are they? The collection of aging veterans playing out big contracts? Or the energized youthful group that chants nicknames in the dugout and dresses like Pablo?

I’d say the answer can be found on a flagpole beyond center field in Oracle Park. There, in a nice old-timey gesture (by Peter Magowan?), are the pennants of the five teams in the National League West.

In order. So you can look at the flagpole and see the standings. Spoiler alert: the Giants spent a lot of time as the fifth flag.

It was remarkable, really. Between April 26 and July 15, the Giants played 78 games. In 75 of them, they were in last place.

That’s a sizable sample size. And it suggests this is a fifth-place team that experienced a little youth-enthused surge. That they caught fire for a while and played over their heads.

Catcher Stephen Vogt pushes back aggressively on that idea. His point is that a streak like 10-1 is fluky, but …

“A 19-6,” he said last week, “that’s the measure of a team.”

OK, we will see.

Meanwhile, there are things to watch.

When the season started, who knew we’d be fretting about the health of slugger Alex Dickerson, who is hurt again.

The team’s resurgence began with Dickerson, who debuted with a grand slam and hasn’t looked back except to complain that Major League Baseball won’t let him put “Dick” on the back of his jersey for nickname weekend later this month.

The Giants have tried several nickname alternatives, but the stuffy MLB turned them all down. If the team would like a suggestion, I’d go with “Weather Vane.” Because as Dickerson goes, the team goes.

Now that he’s out, the mojo seems missing. The need for a thumper in the middle of the lineup has never been more evident.

Another factor is that the team returned home.

At the end of the Washington series, the locals were 25-31 in SF and 31-28 on the road. Bruce Bochy insists it is a puzzle why they don’t win at Oracle, but is it really?

Tuesday night Vogt clobbered a ball, with runners on, that looked gone. When it was caught at the wall, Vogt threw up both hands in frustration.

“You hit a ball that would be out of many ballparks,” he said. “I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t wear on you.”

Of course, although there’s been no official announcement, it appears certain that the fences are going to be brought in.

The numbers are hard to ignore.

“Every other team has multiple 20-home run guys,” Vogt said. “We’ve got guys in the teens.”

In fact, the Giants haven’t had a 20-plus homer guy since Brandon Crawford (of all people) hit 21 in 2015.

And finally, it should be noted that we will all miss Joe Panik. The team will miss his steady play and the media will miss a good guy who was unfailingly cooperative and thoughtful.

However …

Coldly cutting a fan favorite reinforces Zaidi as a bit of a badass. He seems kind of happy-go-lucky in conversation, but the move with Panik, and the slick deal where he not only got rid of Mark Melancon but convinced Atlanta to pay his salary, speak volumes.

It’s pretty clear it is going to be a strict numbers deal on Team Farhan. If you’re producing — and you check the other boxes, like on-base percentage and versatility — you’re here.

If not, the team has a discount rate for trips to Sacramento. Or you may get an outright release.

Zaidi is running a tight ship. The U.S.S. Sentimental has sailed.

So that’s a kind of interesting place to be. You’ve got a team, still relevant when we thought they were finished, with an up-and-coming group making some noise late in the season.

Let’s run that up the flagpole and see how it flies.

Contact C.W. Nevius at Twitter: @cwnevius

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