Imagine if the Giants had played barely passable baseball from July 28 through August 30, say just above .500 ball.
Do you know where they'd be?
Tied in first place. With the Giants' 9-1 win Friday -- their sixth in a row -- and the Diamondbacks' loss, they would be in the midst of a scintillating pennant race heading into the final week and a half.
If they'd just won 16 games and lost 15 in that time span -- nothing totally unreasonable for a defending world championship team that had just captured two of three over the tough Philadelphia Phillies to move to a 61-44 mark -- the Giants would now be sitting on an 87-64 record. Precisely where Arizona is perched.
Instead, they lost 21 of 31, and here they are, clinging to a faint chance, possibly fools' hope, that the Atlanta Braves will collapse down the stretch and provide an opening to the playoffs by way of the wild card.
It didn't have to be. But the Giants' entire offense shrank from the challenge when it counted, their mysterious vanishing act coinciding strangely with the appearance of their savior, Carlos Beltran.
To be sure, Beltran's star qualities have emerged over the last two weeks. He's led the Giants to 10 wins in their last 15 games (going 21-for-54 in that span, a .389 average, with 4 home runs and 10 RBI). There's even talk of re-signing him since he's shown that his legs still appear fresh, and he's appeared more comfortable in the vast confines of AT&T.
It's not clear that he's willing to return, though, as he made it clear he needs to see the Giants make an effort to improve the lineup, particularly at the leadoff spot (hinting that his old Mets' teammate Jose Reyes would be a good fit), as reported by the Mercury News' Andrew Baggarly.
Beltran's comments were a bit curious. He suggested that even with Buster Posey and Freddy Sanchez returning, the Giants' offense remained lacking. He would only rejoin the lineup if it had the perfect cherry on the top, a classic leadoff hitter.
Those comments were revealing. He essentially said he didn't want to be on a team unless he was surrounded by quality hitters. He obviously does not like being the focal point. He does not like the pressure of being the man.
And he played like that when the Giants' season was in the balance.
Let's look back at the critical moment, the point at which it all began to fall apart for the Giants.
I remember the playful, if ever-so-slightly-nervous, reaction to the Beltran's first game with the Giants, when they beat the Phillies despite the new Giants' 0-for-4 debut. Who needs Beltran? we all asked with collective tongue planted in collective cheek.
But, then, as the Giants failed to muster any offense over the next three days in Cincinnati, Beltran going 2-for-13 in that series sweep, a distinct doubt over the wisdom of the trade started to form. Had the deal messed with the Giants' alchemy? Had the Giants, who had relied on pluck and luck all year, subconsciously lost their feistiness? Were they now sitting around, waiting for Mr. Marquee to carry the load, lighten their burdens?
The dye was cast. As the Giants carried the slump into a Giants' five-game losing streak after that last win over the Phillies, Beltran went 5-for-21 with one RBI; and as it stretched over the nine-game span, in which the Giants lost eight, Beltran hit a soft .270 (10-for-37) with no home runs and two RBI.
And, over the entire 31-game debacle, the failures of Beltran were central to the Giants' fading hopes. He hit .255 with only one home run and four RBI in 18 games, of which the Giants lost 13 (remember, he missed 13 games with a wrist injury, when the Giants went 5-8).
No one can ever answer the psychology of that question of how much of an impact Beltran's presence, and his slow start, had on the rest of the Giants. But the numbers sure bear it out over the fullness of the Giants' darkest days.
Over that 31 game period in which they won 10 and lost 21, the Giants hit .228 with a .276 on base percentage, scoring only 79 runs (an average of 2.5 runs on 7.6 hits per game).
The culprits aren't surprising:
-- Cody Ross hit .168 (15-for-89) with three home runs and 12 RBI.
-- Aaron Rowand hit .186 (11-for-59) with three doubles and zero RBI.
-- Andres Torres hit .191 (9-for-47) with one RBI.
-- Orlando Cabrera hit .227 (20-for-88) with 11 RBI.
-- Beltran hit .255 (20-for-75) with one home run and four RBI.
-- Aubrey Huff remarkably upped his game, hitting a surprising .257 (26-for-101) with three home runs, seven doubles and seven RBI.
Pablo Sandoval, of course, continued his consistent hitting, at .303 (33-for-109) with five home runs and 13 RBI.
There is more to plumb from this ugly epoch, but suffice it to say, the Giants' season-killing funk reflects on their inability to stand up to the pressures of a pennant race. But it also tells a story of how a thing that ain't broke don't need fixin'.
Since we're playing the game of what if ...
There's no getting back those 40 games Sandoval lost to the hammate bone injury he suffered in May. So, his overall numbers are always going to reflect a partial season that don't justify just what kind of season he had.
But if you extrapolate, that's where you get the full impact.
He's played 106 games, so I just added another third of a season to come to this stat line:
599 at bats
30 home runs
.352 on base percentage
.531 slugging percentage
.884 on base plus slugging (OPS)
That would have put him in the discussion for MVP.