Kawakami: Here’s why the Giants will make the playoffs this season (and they’d better)

SAN FRANCISCO — Let’s set a low bar for the 2024 Giants: Just be better than the last two sagging seasons. Just be more interesting. Just be steadier. Just feel like they’re moving forward, not stuck in no-energy neutral.

OK, the Giants just need to get into the playoffs or else. It’s not that hard anymore in the National League, where the Arizona Diamondbacks and Miami Marlins both made it in with 84 wins last year, just five more than those boring, listless 2023 Giants, and the Diamondbacks took advantage of that by making a run all the way to the World Series. It shouldn’t be that hard for a Giants team that just added Matt Chapman and Blake Snell in the last few weeks at discount deals that nevertheless pushed the payroll into the luxury tax.

Let’s go ahead and make a prediction, too: The Giants will be better, they will be more interesting, they will be more stable and they will make the playoffs as a wild-card team this season. They might even win a whopping 85 or 86 games! Whew, that shouldn’t be as daring/foolhardy as it just felt to type those last two sentences, but these have been a strange and discomfiting last few seasons at 24 Willie Mays Plaza, all the way up to the bizarre dispatching of much-loved P.A. announcer Renel Brooks-Moon earlier this month.

I’m not going to predict that there will be dozens of sellouts at Oracle Park, because I’m not sure the Giants’ huge fan base will be convinced by anything short of their first World Series trip since 2014 and possibly a 14-0 sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the regular season and then 4-0 in the NLCS. I’m not going to predict that everything goes wonderfully for Farhan Zaidi’s reconstructed grand plan, because the Giants still don’t have the farm system humming and they’re making several short-term bets on their imported veterans that might not pan out. I’m not going to guess that new manager Bob Melvin has it all dialed up, because there are potential pitfalls in the back end of the rotation and the lineup.

But almost everything the Giants tried to do was a failure last year and … they still were only five wins from the playoffs. And now they’ve got Jung Hoo Lee, Chapman, Jorge Soler, Snell and Jordan Hicks and will have Robbie Ray later in the season. All of those additions are better, straight-up, than the players they’re replacing. And they still have Logan Webb, Wilmer Flores, Thairo Estrada, Patrick Bailey and Camilo Doval. That should be enough, even factoring potential injuries and long slumps, for six or seven more wins and many more watchable games all the way into October, right?

Here are some more specific reasons I’m guessing that the 2024 Giants will be much more compelling than they were in ’22 and ’23:

They’ve designed this to be a much more stable lineup, mostly free of all those confusing and ineffective platoons of the last few years.

How do you get out of the tedious habit of platooning several mediocre left-handed hitters for several mediocre right-handed hitters in every single monotonous game? You pay what it takes to add guys who are good enough to play every day and, quite frankly, are too expensive not to be in the lineup every moment possible.

“Just the guys we brought in, right?” Melvin said before Tuesday’s final exhibition game at Oracle Park. “With Lee and Soler and Chapman, there’s going to be way less of that.”

Last year, no Giants player had 550 or more plate appearances; meanwhile, the Dodgers had five such players, including Mookie Betts, who had 693, and Freddie Freeman, who had 730. Good players play a lot. The Giants didn’t have enough good players last year. They’ve tried to fix that, and unless there are injuries, I’d expect Lee, Chapman, Soler, Estrada, Michael Conforto and Mike Yastrzemski to all be over 500 plate appearances this season, with the first three pushing toward 600.

Melvin quickly added that this doesn’t mean there won’t be moments when he is searching for matchups with platoons or key pinch-hit moves. But there will be less of that in 2024. And millions of Giants fans are thankful.

“There’s going to be some leverage spots,” Melvin said. “If Wilmer’s on the bench, it’s going to be tough not to use him at some point. If (LaMonte) Wade’s on the bench, it’s tough not to use him at some point. Every team does a fair amount of pinch-hitting and puts together their roster that way. We’re not unlike that, either. But I think it’s going to be way less than maybe you’ve seen in the past here.”



The likeliest scenario for the 2024 Giants

On paper, this is the Giants’ best Opening Day roster of the Zaidi era.

No, I’m not saying this is the best team of Zaidi’s time here. That obviously came in 2021, when an unheralded bunch got epic seasons from Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford and raced to 107 wins. But before that season started, Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA formula projected that the Giants would win 75 games.

This season, adding in the late Chapman and Snell signings, PECOTA has the Giants at 86 wins, which is the franchise’s most auspicious projection since Madison Bumgarner was in his prime and is the third-best projection in the National League behind only the Atlanta Braves and Dodgers.

When I mentioned this to a Giants person on Tuesday, the official cracked: “Well, great, so that means we’ll win more than 107 games.”

Ha-ha. Maybe if the Giants get to 86 wins this season it’ll feel like 108?

Anyway, let’s just run through the PECOTA projections for previous Zaidi years:

In 2019, the PECOTA projection for the Giants was 72 wins. (They ended up with 77.)

In 2020, the PECOTA projection was 68 wins. (The COVID season was shortened to 60 games. The Giants won 29, which pro-rates to 78 wins in a full season.)

In 2021, as noted, the PECOTA projection was 75 wins and the Giants ended up with 107 (and then two more in a divisional-round loss to the Dodgers).

In 2022, the PECOTA projection was 78 wins. (The Giants ended up with 81, out of the playoffs.)

In 2023, the PECOTA projection was 82 wins. (They ended up with 79, out of the playoffs.)

So now PECOTA has the Giants at 86 wins, behind only the Dodgers and Braves in the National League.

It guarantees nothing. PECOTA is just an estimation. But it’s better to be projected as a playoff team going into Opening Day than as something worse.

The defense should be much better, which should help the pitching, which was surprisingly good last season and should be better in 2024.

I’m not going to go through the individual defensive metrics, but Chapman is a four-time Gold Glove winner at third base and Nick Ahmed won Gold Gloves at shortstop in 2018 and 2019. Ahmed’s replacing Brandon Crawford, another two-time Gold Glove guy, but Ahmed is three years younger; Crawford’s defense notably fell off in recent years.

Lee should be better than the guys the Giants forced into center field the last few years. Yastrzemski is a very good full-time right fielder (after he wasn’t so great as a part-time center fielder). Joc Pederson and his unique left-field outings are long gone. Bailey is a potential Gold Glove winner at catcher.

Given all that, can the Giants get more from the middle of the rotation than they got from Anthony DeSclafani or Whoever You Decide Their Third Starter Was last season? Yes, I think so. If you put Webb down as the incumbent No. 1 and Snell as the No. 2 when he’s ready, the rest fills in nicely: Hicks, Kyle Harrison, Alex Cobb when he’s back and Ray when he’s back.

The Giants had the third-lowest ERA in the NL last year, at 4.02. They’ve got better pitchers now. They might have one of the best starting rotations in baseball when Cobb and Ray are healthy. And they should win at least six or seven more games if they do what they did last season and the Giants’ offense produces just a little more than it did in 2023.

It shouldn’t be that hard. The Giants should make it into the playoffs. They won’t win the World Series, but they should be in the tournament. They should be relatively exciting to watch. It’s a pretty low bar. And if they can’t make it over that bar this season, I really don’t know when they will.



The worst-case scenario for the 2024 Giants

(Photo of Jung Hoo Lee during a March spring training game: Christian Petersen / Getty Images)

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