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The Giants Are Good, and 2016 Is Divisible by Two

Getty Images/Ringer illustration
Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Welcome to The Lineup! This is a weekly column that will examine — you guessed it — nine topics from the world of baseball in numbered order.

1 Can Peter Angelos just … not?

It’s almost routine now: Every time the Orioles front office agrees to acquire a player, majority owner Peter Angelos steps in and says, “Actually, I don’t feel like paying that much. Can you find a way to renege on the deal?”

It’s exactly what I do when negotiating trades in Out of the Park Baseball, which has no stakes and does not involve placing real-life human beings in professional limbo. This offseason, the Angelos bait-and-switch worked on Yovani Gallardo, essentially knocking one year and $13 million off what is now a two-year deal for $22 million guaranteed, with a team option for 2018. But it cost the Orioles Dexter Fowler and Grant Balfour. In fact, Angelos has been doing this since the 1990s, as detailed by Jack Moore in a story titled, “Why would anybody want to work for Orioles owner Peter Angelos?

Why, indeed? Why would a player want to work for an owner who negotiates in bad faith? Why would a GM want to work for an owner who consistently takes his legs out from under him?

In all honesty, Melvin Upton Jr. probably wouldn’t have been the difference between Baltimore making the playoffs or not, but it’d be nice to see Angelos comport himself in a way that doesn’t descend so obviously into self-parody.

2 It’s time to check in on “Even Year Bullshit.”

I think the ongoing joke about how the Giants will waltz to the World Series this year because it’s an even year is still a joke — but I’m not as sure anymore.

The Dodgers and Diamondbacks have sucked up a lot of the national attention on the NL West this year, because they’ve had a lot of interesting problems. Los Angeles has struggled to cobble together a full rotation all year, making headlines by promoting 19-year-old Julio Urias to the rotation, then making more headlines when Clayton Kershaw, en route to a historic season, suddenly went on the DL with a back injury that was supposed to be minor but has now kept him on the shelf for a month, with no firm return date. Arizona, meanwhile, is having a season best summed up by this statement: “We traded the no. 1 overall pick and two other guys for Shelby Miller, who posted a 7.14 ERA and is now in Triple-A, and we’re trying to trade him after less than eight months.”

And there I go, trying to talk about the Giants and getting sidetracked. The point is: Nobody notices when a car is just humming along on the highway, but everyone stops and rubbernecks at a burning tractor trailer in a ditch. Sometimes, quiet competence just isn’t that interesting.

The Giants are 59–41, 2.5 games up on the Dodgers in the NL West, and five games up on the Marlins for the second wild card. Despite dropping eight of 10 games since the All-Star break, they’re rounding into form at the right time. Second baseman Joe Panik, third baseman Matt Duffy, and right fielder Hunter Pence are all due to return in the next couple of weeks, restoring the Giants’ lineup to its original condition just before the stretch run begins.

Madison Bumgarner (Getty Images)
Madison Bumgarner (Getty Images)

We talk about Even Year like it’s an inexplicable external force, but a lot of what makes the Giants successful in the playoffs every other year is really quite obvious. Despite missing most of the 2011 season with a leg injury, catcher Buster Posey has been the fourth-most valuable position player in the National League since 2010, according to Baseball-Reference WAR. Plus, the Giants tend to put together great starting rotations, and Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto are a match for any 1–2 combination in the league this year. Of course, it’s also easy to pitch in AT&T Park in front of a defense that rates fifth in the league in park-adjusted defensive efficiency.

And at this point, manager Bruce Bochy and several key players have been through a World Series run three times already. Playoff experience won’t get you as far as talent, but Bochy can get the most out of his bullpen, Posey won’t wilt under the bright lights, and if you need him to, Bumgarner can throw 52.2 innings in a single playoff run and not wear down. I don’t care who you are — the unknown can be scary, and not much is unknown to the Giants at this point.

San Francisco serves as a walking example of Clarke’s Third Law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Put another way, every championship team needs a little magic, but you don’t need as much when you have Buster Posey.

3 The Royals call up the newest Mondesi.

If you’re interested in feeling old, you’re going to love the Kansas City Royals, who just promoted infielder Raul Mondesi, son of the former National League Rookie of the Year Raul Mondesi, and younger brother of former Brewers minor leaguer Raul Mondesi. These are heady days for Newhart fans.

The youngest Mondesi turns 21 on Wednesday, and while he’s just now getting his first regular-season MLB action, he became the first player to make his big league debut during a World Series. (He struck out in his one plate appearance.) Mondesi has been a consensus top-100 prospect for three years, and unlike his father, a corner outfielder who posted nine straight 20-home run seasons, he profiles as a defense-first middle infielder. In fact, Mondesi has been a sub-.700 OPS hitter for most of his minor league career, but the Royals have promoted him aggressively, letting the glove carry him while he’s challenged at the plate against competition usually five years older than he is.

In the long term, Mondesi will be Kansas City’s successor to Alcides Escobar at shortstop — likely in 2018, if the Royals pick up Escobar’s option for next year. In the short term, he’s an immense upgrade defensively at second base over Whit Merrifield, who returns to Triple-A ball in Omaha, site of his walk-off hit against UCLA to win South Carolina the 2010 College World Series. Merrifield was only putting up an 80 OPS+ in the big leagues, so it’s hard to imagine Mondesi doing any worse at the plate. He should fill the hole at second base that — last year’s Ben Zobrist cameo notwithstanding — has dogged the Royals since Mike Aviles was traded to Boston in 2011.

4 Chris Sale speaks out.

Left-handed pitcher and fashion enthusiast Chris Sale spoke publicly for the first time since his bizarre uniform-destroying incident on Saturday night, and he repeated the grievances that apparently led to the incident in the first place — the jerseys would impact his performance, the White Sox were prioritizing marketing over winning, and manager Robin Ventura ought to have stood up to management to prevent the team from having to wear the uniforms.

None of those are unreasonable statements, but eventually — and I say this as someone who takes the players’ side over management almost every time — Sale’s got to take the L and wear the uniform the team tells him to. Sometimes you just have to follow orders.

Anyway, it’s unlikely this incident will impact how potential trade partners actually value Sale — when you’re as good as he is, you’re allowed to be a little nuts — but the perception that the White Sox need to move their malcontent probably reduces Chicago’s leverage at this very moment. Unless the White Sox get offered something huge, like, say, a package headlined by Julio Urias, it would make sense to wait until the offseason to move Sale, if they move him at all.

5 The WPA Graph of the Week goes to the Rays and Athletics.

This was a fun ninth inning.

FanGraphs
FanGraphs

In as routine a save situation as you could ask for, Rays closer Álex Colomé took the mound against Oakland with a 3–1 lead. He walked Khris Davis, but struck out Yonder Alonso to make Tampa Bay a 9-to-1 favorite to win. Then he coughed up a game-tying home run to Jake Smolinski, coaxed a deep fly out from Marcus Semien, and gave up the game-winning home run by Ryon Healy. This game went from “in the bag” to “lost” in just a few minutes, and watching it unfold live was like watching a child let go of a balloon and then stare hopelessly as it flies away, never to be seen again.

6 Trevor Story is at it again.

This is just getting hilarious. Story, a 6-foot-1, 180-pound rookie shortstop, is leading the National League in home runs after a six-homer binge since July 18 that earned him Player of the Week honors. Some of this is Coors Field, but not all of it.

I mean, that first homer is nonsense — a guy his size reaching for a shin-high breaking ball and taking it out 456 feet. Story’s pretty much having the same offensive season as Mark Trumbo — he’s got the third-highest isolated power in MLB and the fifth-highest strikeout rate — but Trumbo’s built like Kenneth Faried. I make no promises about Story’s future — with that strikeout rate, 31.5 percent, things could get ugly if the power drops off at all. But at least for the moment, Story’s putting up a fascinating season.

7 Where is the next John Jaha?

Story’s high-strikeout, high-power approach reminded me of a breed of hitter from the 1990s that’s rare today: the fire hydrant–shaped first baseman/DH who managed to stick around for a decade despite having the appearance and overall game of a very good slow-pitch softball player. We used to be neck-deep in those guys (Jaha, Matt Stairs, Dmitri Young), and now they’re all but extinct. You can sort of fit Luis Valbuena or Adam Duvall into that category — or Prince Fielder, though he was probably too good at his peak to qualify — but nowadays power hitters at 6-foot-1 or shorter and 220 pounds or heavier are guys like Yoenis Céspedes, who only weigh 220 pounds because they’re swole as hell.

I guess it’s good that the game demands a higher level of athleticism, because that’s what allows Kris Bryant to play third base at 6-foot-5 and Noah Syndergaard to throw 100 mph, but those Jaha types were a lot of fun, and I miss them.

8 Hey Boston: Stop screwing around and call up Andrew Benintendi.

In this current crop of trade rumors, the name getting thrown around Boston as untouchable is second baseman Yoan Moncada, and that’s understandable. Moncada’s got the mystery of a high-profile Cuban prospect, plus the largest amateur signing bonus in baseball history. But the guy I’m most interested in is outfielder Andrew Benintendi.

Andrew Benintendi (Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
Andrew Benintendi (Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

As a draft-eligible sophomore at the University of Arkansas last spring, Benintendi went from being a relative unknown to winning the Golden Spikes Award (baseball’s equivalent of the Heisman Trophy, if the Heisman were also a decent predictor of professional success) to being drafted seventh overall. Since then, the 5-foot-10, 170-pound Benintendi has continued to show absurd power for a hitter his size, as well as good athleticism and the ability to make adjustments.

Meanwhile, Boston is in need of an upgrade in left field. Red Sox position players trail only the Cubs in wins above average, and they rank first at DH, first in right field, second in center field (thanks a lot, Mike Trout), but only 13th in left field. Calling up Benintendi could not only give the Red Sox three above-average hitters who can all play center field — along with Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. — but three pocket-size power hitters. That’d be fun as hell, and I’m over here stamping my feet and pounding my fist on the table, demanding that it happen.

9 Do you want a haiku about Clayton Kershaw?

Sure you do: