In June, we noted the death of June Swoon. Turns out the party might have been premature. This season’s collapse came in July, specifically in the second half of July. The Giants ended the first half of the season with a near-no-hitter from Madison Bumgarner and took a 6 1/2 game lead into the All-Star break. They then lost 11 of their final 15 games in July, and August ain’t looking much better. Some of these Monthly Recaps are more fun than the rest, but every month counts the same, so as we always do, we’ll run down the best and worst from the previous four weeks. Here’s The Month That Was, July …
1. The Month That Was: So, what exactly happened? Well you can start with the offense, or lack thereof. The Giants scored 90 runs in 24 July games, which ranked dead last in the National League. When you score six fewer runs than the “Let’s Trade For Matt Kemp So We Have Some Pop” Braves, you’re doing something wrong. Anywhere you look, the numbers were bad. The Giants tied for 13th in the NL with 21 July homers and ranked last with a .387 slugging percentage (Jeff Francoeur is slugging .388 this season, so there’s your comparison). They stole just nine bases and finished last in the NL with two sac bunts, so small ball wasn’t a thing either.
The numbers were particularly ugly in those final 15 games. Starting with the first night of a sweep in San Diego, the Giants posted a .243/.318/.369 slash line for an OPS that was 55 points lower than in the first half. In those 15 games, they left nearly eight runners on base per game.
2. July Swoon! There are two ways to look at that July slump. The Giants remained in first place through the end of the month and they’ll start play tonight with a one-game lead over the Dodgers. They came back to earth, but the hot stretch before the break gave them a needed cushion. On the other hand, you could argue this NL West race should be all but over. The Dodgers haven’t played particularly inspiring baseball over the past month either, and with series against the Padres, Yankees, Reds and Phillies since the All-Star break, the Giants could have pulled away for good. Regardless, they finished July with a two-game lead in the division. You have to go back to 2012 (one-game lead) to find a Giants team that was pacing the NL West on August 1.
3. Madison’s Month: Madison Bumgarner probably would have started the All-Star Game, but he was pushed up to pitch the final game of the first half and he turned in a one-hitter. In five July starts, Bumgarner posted a 1.75 ERA and 0.86 WHIP. He was second to Jose Fernandez with 44 strikeouts, staying on a pace that should shatter a previous career-high. Bumgarner is on track for 264 strikeouts, which would beat his previous best by 30. With Clayton Kershaw out until at least September, Bumgarner finished July as a very real frontrunner for the NL Cy Young Award. That hasn’t changed in August, and Sunday’s performance only helped the cause, even if the Giants couldn’t capitalize.
Oh, just for good measure, Bumgarner added a pinch-hit double on the final day of July. Since the start of 2015, he has three hits and a walk as a pinch-hitter.
4. Arrival of the Mac: The Giants were connected to Jay Bruce in the final days of July, but team officials are intrigued by the possibility of having a Mac Williamson-Jarrett Parker competition (or platoon) next spring. Williamson had his busiest month in the Majors, posting a .264/.371/.528 slash line in July with four homers and 11 RBI in 53 at-bats. Out of NL players who got at least 50 at-bats in July, Williamson ranked 21st in OPS (.899, first on the Giants). He also has played some slick defense.
Williamson simply goes up there and hits the ball hard, even when he's making outs. At the time of his injury, he was 13th in the Majors in average exit velocity at 93.8 MPH, tied with someone named David Ortiz.
5. Play of the Month: Brandon Crawford, of course. This is such a difficult play, and he made it look easy.
6. Ongoing Issue: The Matt Duffy trade was a stunner, and it's fair to wonder if the fan favorite would still be a Giant if his teammates had played a little better on the post-break trip. Specifically, the Giants realized they needed another long-term starter to put behind Bumgarner, because Johnny Cueto can opt out of his deal after next season and Jeff Samardzija's Giants tenure has gone into a tailspin. The Shark gave up 20 runs in 30 1/3 July innings, allowing five homers. The long ball has been the biggest problem for the staff: Samardzija, Matt Cain and Jake Peavy combined to give up 16 homers in July. Thus, the Matt Moore trade.
7. Future Closer? After a long road that included Tommy John surgery, Derek Law now looks like he’s fully back to that "Future Closer" form that he showed as early as A-ball. In 12 July appearances, the rookie right-hander pitched 10 2/3 scoreless innings, allowed seven hits, walked two, and struck out 11. Throw in Hunter Strickland (3.18 ERA in June but 2.68 for the season) and you’ve got two right-handers poised to eventually take over the eighth and ninth (in some order) for a team with a bunch of bullpen free agents.
8. Quotes of the Month: "Canada hates me. I love Canada! I don’t know what the deal is. But they do not like me, and I’m not sure what happened. I love Shania Twain.” — Brandon Belt, on finishing fifth (last) in Canada in the Final Vote.
“I don’t know what they were thinking throwing at Buster, but I think it was pretty obvious. That kind of fired me up. I wanted to make them pay. I’m not going to sugarcoat it.” — Crawford, on a home run that came shortly after the Diamondbacks threw at Buster Posey.
“You’ve got to be big boys. You put your big boy pants on and come out there and be ready to go tomorrow and keep fighting.” — Bruce Bochy, after one of many late-July losses.
“All year long (the results) have been terrible in Minneapolis. I didn’t even know the Giants were struggling.” — Eduardo Nuñez, on the losing streak.
“They were all-in. I want to take credit for it, but I feel like I heard it somewhere else first. But as of right now, I’m going to take credit.” — Belt, on his idea to have all the position players take their gloves and caps off to honor a Cueto gem.
“Right into the glove — I definitely wasn’t trying to do that. It doesn’t look real. It just doesn’t look real.” — Posey, on a throw back to the mound that stunned Peavy (more on this in a bit).
“He sent me the video. I told him, ’At least I didn’t get hurt.’” — Javier Lopez, giving Jeremy Affeldt’s reaction to Lopez tripping on the dugout steps (more on this in a bit).
“It’s one box he hasn’t checked off. He’s done just about everything else. We were pulling for him so hard.” — Bochy, on Bumgarner once again flirting with a no-hitter.
“Speedy over there scores from first a lot.” — Crawford, nodding toward Posey and giving credit for his team-leading RBI total.
“I was just watching it with him. That’s all. I didn’t have anything else to do at the time.” — Bumgarner, when asked why he watched Wil Myers’ slow trip around the bases following a homer.
“He’s a year too late if you ask me. I’d have loved to play that game without him tonight.” — Peavy, on the retiring Ortiz, who hit a three-run homer off Peavy at Fenway Park.
“Every kid growing up, you want to play at Fenway and hit a ball over the Green Monster. It was definitely a special feeling going around the bases.” — Trevor Brown, on his homer to left at Fenway.
“You’re thinking it’s going to be a meaningful piece, but the competition on the premium people is going to be real stiff and it already is. You know you’re going to hurt somewhere, it’s just how much pain you’re going to take. I think you’re seeing in some of these trades, the people who have been really aggressive have really gotten a premium guy back. That’s really what you have to decide — what side of the fence you want to be on.” — Brian Sabean, talking about the trade deadline a week in advance. Turns out there was a lot of pain.
"I believe I earned it. I was on the team. I did something for the team to win the World Series. Yes, I was expecting (to go). I feel it is the team and the organization's responsibility to invite me. I did a job for them. I feel they should have had the courtesy to invite me.” — A disappointed Cueto, on the Royals not inviting him to the White House.
“One of the last things you expect when you’re in that situation is for something like that to happen. It sucks.” — Crawford, on the triple play.
“You can’t take it for granted and you can’t get comfortable. There are a couple of teams that are going to give you a run for it.” — Bumgarner, talking about the NL West lead on the first day of the second half. It was a good warning.
"A lot of the asks are off our Major League club. You’re seeing deals made at very high levels of return. Sellers are motivated because the return is very high. There's always a point where you can make a deal, but the options are more limited and the costs are extremely high.” — Bobby Evans, 24 hours before trading Duffy.
“Some nice high-class Bud Light. And it was perfect.” — Cain, on the 100-win celebration.
9. Social Media Highlights of the Month: We should have known a losing streak was coming when the Giants lost an out on the pop-up that landed in nacho cheese (btw, we did our postgame TV hit from that area ... I examined the ground, and I really don't think he held on to the ball. Doesn't matter now, though). And since this month was mostly about opponents being better, here's Nolan Arenado stealing a feed from his own teammate to turn a double play. And a tip of the cap to Joey Votto, for messing with some Giants fans a few weeks before that viral moment with a Reds fan. Also, a tip of the cap to Giants fans who have had some fun with the team's official Twitter account lately. I enjoyed this one.
There were really only two contenders for best GIF/clip this month. Lopez gave it a strong run with his trip on the dugout stairs and subsequent reaction. He's as smooth as it gets.
But this was as strange as it gets: Posey throwing a ball into Peavy's glove as he looked away. The best part was Peavy went right back to arguing with the third-base umpire.
10. The Month That Will Be: Here's the thing about losing to the Reds and Padres and Phillies, etc ... those are the easy teams on the second-half slate. The Giants start play tonight with a Marlins team that's making a postseason push, and then they return home for the Orioles, Pirates and Mets. Then, a three-game series against the Dodgers, with the schedule finally settling down at the end of the month as the Diamondbacks and Braves come to town. It's not an easy schedule by any means, and while the Giants remain a confident group, they need to find a way to start getting a big hit or two a night. If they don't, they'll be in second place when we do this a month from now.