How could this happen? The Chicago Cubs were dominating. You take both eyes off the big league ball for a short time to pay attention to a summer collegiate league, and this happens. The big leaguers go to their All-Star Break, and somehow the San Francisco Giants have the best record.
The Cubs shot out out the gate like no one else knew there was a race. Remember? They were 17-5 in April. When May turned to June, the Cubbies were 35-15—a winning percentage of .700. North-siders have seen their team lose for over a century, so they weren't ready to give the team the division yet, but everybody else was. Joe Maddon wasn't just the toast of the town, but all of a sudden, the greatest executive of all time. The Cubs won 12 of their first 17 games in June, and by the summer solstice, were 47-20 (.701). They were on a pace to win 114 games!
While 114-52 is doable, some sort of reality check was going to happen. The Cubs were swept three games at home by the Cardinals. No big deal. They split four with the Marlins. Not exactly doomsday. They swept three from the Reds in Cincinnati, and all was right with the world again, but it wasn't.
Like Great Britain deciding to leave the European Union, and at about the same time as it turned out, the crash came. The Cubs, starting with that sweep by the Cardinals, lost 15 out of 20. ESPN pointed out they had the worst record in baseball during that stretch. Meanwhile, the Giants kept on winning. Remember the Giants? This is a column about the Giants (in deference to Arlo Guthrie there).
It's always hard to figure out how the Giants keep winning games, and it has been for a couple of years now. Madison Bumgarner has been great, their starting pitching has overachieved, they've had several injuries in their lineup, and their bullpen is horrible. They do have a great defense, though, and they also have Buster Posey.
San Francisco was 12-13 in April. Together, we're Giant? Hardly. They split the first 10 games in May, but then (cue the angelic chorus) they went 16-3 the rest of May, including taking two out of three against the Cubs. They were 17-10 in June, including an 8-game winning streak that started against the Dodgers. They lost three in a row to the A's at the end of the month, but exited June with a Bay Bridge victory. They are also 7-2 in July, and picked up a lot of games on the Cubs in a hurry.
We don't to hear about the 'even year' thing, but it is scary to think that the Giants have the potential to get better. Guys are coming back from injury (Pence and Panik are on rehab assignments). Johnny Cueto is a legit 13-1 but has to struggle sometime right? Jeff Samardzija will never be worth the 90-million the Giants gave him, but he seems to eat innings. Look for a reliever, two, and maybe even a bat at the trade deadline, and it could be trouble.
As for the Cubs, they aren't going to have any more 15-out-of-20 loss stretches, and still lead the NL Central by 7 games. The Giants are ensconced atop the NL West with a 6˝-game lead over the Dodgers, who currently hold the number one wild card position. The Giants won it all in the last 'even year' and we wondered how. This even year, the team is even better.
Mid-summer “classic”?: It is what it is, as they say today, but think about this while watching tomorrow's MLB All-Star game. The pitchers with the two best earned run averages in the majors will not be playing. Clayton Kershaw (1.79) is on the Disabled List, and Madison Bumgarner (1.94) is ineligible because he pitched on Sunday. Bumgarner put on a show of his own, though, against Arizona, taking a no-hitter into the eighth-inning, allowing only one hit on the night and striking out 14. Let's see tomorrow's MVP top that.
Umpire-gate: Some bumps with the umps in the fledgling Great West (Collegiate Baseball) League. Friday night in Marysville, a Chico catcher and his manager were thrown out of the game for arguing a pitch that they both thought was strike three. Tensions were high, considering the Marysville Gold Sox scored 8 runs in that eighth inning, and turned a 7-1 deficit into a 9-7 win. The Chico manager also bumped the umpire, but the following night, the manager was not suspended and the umpire was gone. Then on Saturday, Marysville's first base coach was ejected for repeatedly telling the base umpire that the pitcher was committing a balk. The coach was suspended for tonight's game even though he never swore at the official (like the Chico player and coach reportedly did). Both matters are under further review.
Giants post-script: Mentioned by ESPN Sunday night. The only time the San Francisco Giants (before moving from New York) ever had the best record at the All-Star Break was 1993. Fans may remember the Giants went 103-59 that year and did not make the playoffs. The Dodgers beat the Giants the final Saturday to eliminate them. The Atlanta Braves won the NL West with a record of 104-58. Certainly, Dodger fans will not forget. Probably not coincidentally, the Wild Card was created the next year.