Good teams get better players. Bad teams fire their managers.
The San Francisco Giants, a franchise that was considered to be a class act with Bruce Bochy at the helm, is now panicking and on Friday did a fairly un-class-act thing. On the same night Thairo Estrada was celebrated as being the team’s inspirational leader and the team’s Willie Mac Award winner, the attention was not on him. It was on an uninspiring front office. It was on a team that was 8-16 in the month of September, had been eliminated from playoff contention and was doing almost nothing well on the field. Still, at 78-81, the Giants had a chance to finish .500 and give promising rookies like Tyler Fitzgerald and Marco Luciano a look as the team built toward the future. Instead, the team fired Gabe Kapler as manager after a stint that included a 295-248 overall record, 107 wins two years ago, and a plaque on the wall that says, “Manager of the Year.”
This would be the third sub .500 year out of Kapler’s four and management decided three games remaining was the best time to cut him loose. But it seems they did so without knowing why. “We played our worst baseball when it mattered the most…We have a lot of work to figure out how that happened,” said Zaidi, laying the blame at Kapler’s feet without saying exactly how the skipper was at fault or what he could have done better.
Perhaps, Zaidi should look in the mirror. It would be one thing if this was a group of all-stars but it’s not. Lamont Wade is probably the best player on the team and started off September on fire. But then he fell apart, hitting .226 the last 15 games. Wilmer Flores? .226. Joe Pederson? .158 (roughly 100 points below his ever-increasing weight ). The rest of the guys beside Austin Slater? It’s a bunch of castoffs and retreads and kids. And when the going got tough, the players Zaidi put in place started looking around to see who might be challenging them for a job instead of looking to see how they could help the team win. “There was just a little fend for yourself kind of attitude…I don’t know where it came from,” said right fielder Mike Yastrzemski to a group of reporters after the announcement.
Like Wade, the beginning of the month was fine offensively. Despite six losses in a row to the Padres and Cubs, the Giants were still in position to make the playoffs. Then they won five-of-six against Colorado and Cleveland and it looked like they were closing the deal. But then they were thoroughly outmatched while losing five-of-seven to the Dodgers and Padres.
The defense did not help. Wilmer Flores cost them two games single-handedly. But it wasn’t just him and it wasn’t just this fortnight. The Giants have been skillet-handed the whole year. They have kicked, bludgeoned or stabbed the ball 117 times in 159 games. That’s 62 more than the Arizona Diamondbacks.
There was also the pitching. The arms thot needed to carry the team did not. Scott Alexander (6.75 ERA), Taylor Rodgers (9.00), Ross Stripling (8.59 ERA), John Brebbia (6.00 ERA) and Ryan Walker (18.69 ERA) could have lead the bullpen. You can see by the numbers that they did not. Logan Webb and the resurgent Sean Manaea did their jobs starting. Both had ERAs under two-and-a-half. Webb apologized when he didn’t have to Friday, “I don’t think we’ve done the best job for him, but it’s part of the business.”
San Francisco needed another starter but didn’t have one. Obviously that is not Kapler’s job. The Giants -and who exactly is running this show is in question now- chose openers Walker and Keaton Winn (8.68 ERA) instead of going with former starter Alex Wood. For a team that has prided itself on numbers-crunching and data and upper management working as a team with on-field staff, this would seem to be a great big,”Whoops!”
Other players mentioned Kapler’s hands-off approach and the team’s inability to play together. The allegations were cloudy at best, much like Kapler’s hand tattoo (Maybe that was the problem? It couldn’t have helped…)
Regardless, Zaidi is now on the hot seat and the manager-must-have-done-it strategy is likely a one-time thing. Maybe Kapler really does stink and maybe the manager’s record in September of 58-75 proved something. Or maybe it shows that other teams bring up speedsters to steal bases and this team is last in stolen bases. Maybe it shows that other teams’ rookies come up and produce, which helps an existing strong core and this team is third from last in batting average. Maybe it shows that other teams build around defense and this team can’t spell team without two E’s in the middle and one at the end.
This much is certain: if the next manager also comes in at .500 or below, it will not be long before ownership wonders how it is the managers are the problem and the general manager is somehow blameless. Zaidi would do well to engage in some self-reflection before the next pink slip has his name on it.