If the San Francisco Giants had any gumption or dignity, they would have seen to it that Madison Bumgarner had gotten his perfect game Sunday and put the properly garish bow on this unlikely half (well, 56-100ths of a) season.
But stupid narrative twists should not come so easily, and even though the Giants have the best record in baseball at the All-Star break, it is fun to watch people flounder about and wonder why (a) it is so, and (b) why it matters.
The answer to the first is simple, of course. The Giants have played more games against teams with losing records than anyone else, and done more with them.
This is, of course, a facile answer in that the schedule gives what it gives and it is the job of the practitioner to make the best of it. In other words, you can only beat the people sent to you, and every win counts the same until the postseason.
And in this case, the Giants have been sent the most bottom-heavy division in the game.
[RELATED: MLB standings]
The pitching, you know about. They have two of the three best starters in the National League in Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto, and their best three match up well with any group of three in the game (say, your Cubs, Nats and Sawx). The defense, too -- top six in the most important metrics. And the hitting is below average for power but middle of the pack in runs created, OPS-plus and the other flotsam and jetsam of the Decimal Point Brigadiers.
You also know about the injuries, although that has been somewhat overblown by the fact that the Giants have lost 407 games to the disabled lists this year, only 647 fewer than the Dodgers. In other words, pipe down about your injuries.
In short, the Giants have earned their place among the game’s elite teams by playing .727 ball (40-15, with a plus-78 run differential) since May 10, when their record was an NL West-worthy 17-18. The only teams close are Cleveland (36-22, plus-65), Washington (34-23, plus-64) and the Dodgers (34-24, plus-40). The Cubs, for your information, are a drab 28-29.
The schedule, though, should not be ignored amid all this preening. The NL West is the second best in baseball behind the AL East in aggregate record, but that is all due to the work of the Giants and Dodgers. Colorado, San Diego and Arizona are a smooth 35 games under .500, and every other division has at least three teams with winning records.
Moreover, the Giants have played more games against losing teams (59 out of 90) than anyone else, making the task to date at least slightly easier than anyone else’s.
We mention this for one reason and one alone -- having the best record midway through a season is one of those honorifics that means little, because it is the post-All Star Game drive that matters, and especially the last three weeks. Rosters will change dramatically starting now, with the healthier getting healthier at the expense of the weak, the infirm and the capitulant, and the Giants have their needs (bullpen, outfield) like everyone else.
The Giants are not shy at the deadline about spending money, but always seem light on prospects to fuel the big deals that get people’s attentions. Their biggest deal of recent deadlines was the Carlos Beltran-for-Zach Wheeler trade, which as we all know has helped neither the Giants nor the Mets.
But that, like the losing teams number, is all backchat. Baseball’s regular season has become more like those of basketball and hockey in that it is all about positioning. Right now, only Baltimore’s divisional lead is under five games, and the Nationals (who just reminded the Mets what’s what) and Cubs (still seven up on St. Louis and 7 ½ on Pittsburgh) maintain their grip on their divisional races. They’re all in good shape for the stretch, but that’s all they are because, as baseball has shown us, having the best record means you win the World Series about one in six times.
The team with the best record has won five World Series in the last 30 years -- the Yankees in 1998 and 2009, the Red Sox in 2007 and 2013, and the A’s in 1989. The last National League team to do the double was the 1986 Mets. In other words, having the best record now is about as useful as having the best record at the end of the season. Nice, but hardly dispositive.
But if you need this to be comforted, if you choose to forget the lesson taught you just recently by the Golden State Warriors, there is this: Of the Giants’ final 35 games, they still have lots of games with the Diamondbacks, Padres, Rockies and Braves -- plus the Cubs, if they keep bottoming out.
And as we’ve tried to say here, a win is a win, no matter against whom. The schedule doesn’t even out because it isn’t supposed to, but there is comfort in knowing that it doesn’t actually matter if you’re in the Top 10.
There are only two things to achieve in 162 games these days -- getting in the playoffs, and having the most pitching at the end. On those two scores, the Giants look like the record you see before you today. If that’s not enough for you, then we can be of no further help.
Highest winning percentage at All-Star break in Giants history
1935 .696 48-21
1954* .679 57-27
1993 .663 59-30
1962* .648 57-31
1938 .643 45-25
2016 .633 57-33
*Went to World Series
Best overall record at All-Star break (last five seasons)
2011 Phillies 57-34 102-60 N.L. East Champs (Lost in NLDS)
2012 Yankees 52-33 95-67 A.L. East Champs (Lost in ALCS)
2013 Cardinals 57-36 97-65 N.L. Central Champs (Lost World Series)
2014 Athletics 59-36 88-74 A.L. Wild Card (Lost WC Game)
2015 Cardinals 56-33 100-62 N.L. Central Champs (Lost in NLDS)
2016 Giants 57-33 ???
*Last Team with Best Record at ASB and Win World Series: 2007 Red Sox
Best overall record at end of year
2010 Phillies Giants won WS (5th best record)
2011 Phillies Cardinals (T8th)
2012 Nationals Giants won WS (4th)
2013 Cardinals/Red Sox Red Sox won WS (T1st)
2014 Angels Giants won WS (T8th)
2015 Cardinals Royals won WS (4th)