You probably expected to pay some attention to the NL West this season. The division has it all, from the reigning World Series champs to the most fun team in baseball to the sport’s best budding rivalry. What a time, you might have thought to yourself this spring, to stay up past 1 a.m. Eastern watching Californians shiver in the light breeze!
You probably didn’t expect that watching the NL West would be like putting on Godzilla vs. Kong only to see Mothra kick everyone’s ass. With all due respect to the Dodgers and Padres, this fledgling season has belonged to the less-than-ballyhooed San Francisco Giants—who not only lead the NL West over teams that Baseball Prospectus projected would win 103 and 96 games, respectively, but in fact are tied for the best record in the National League. It is bizarre. It is wonderful. What in the world is going on?
Oh, you want caveats? Fine. It’s early; we are scarcely a fifth of the way through the season. The Giants are the oldest team in the majors and well into a rebuild engineered by president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi; they have only three players (Evan Longoria, Jake McGee, and Tommy La Stella) with guaranteed contracts heading into the 2022 season. Los Angeles and San Diego might be losing the footrace right now, but they still have exceptional talents like Mookie Betts and Corey Seager, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado. The Giants, meanwhile, have a bullpen that has been known to give up six runs before it can record a game’s final two outs.
But here we are in May, and the 18-13 Giants sit in first place. And the player leading the way is a nice fellow you may or may not have heard of by the name of Buster Posey.
It has perhaps been some time since you thought about the Giants catcher, one of the stars of the group that won a trio of even-year championships in 2010, 2012, and 2014. Posey opted out of the 2020 season; he and his wife, Kristen, had just adopted newborn twin girls, and he wanted to avoid any health concerns that could have come with playing and traveling amid the peak of the pandemic. But his bat had been missing from the Giants lineup even before that. Dating back at least to a 2018 hip surgery, the offensive power that for years made Posey one of MLB’s most valuable catchers had evaporated.
Given that Posey recently turned 34 and that catchers’ primes generally last only through their age-31 seasons, according to research done by The Athletic, all of this was enough to get the dark whispers going. Factor in that Joey Bart—the catching prospect whom the Giants picked second in the 2018 draft—made his long-awaited MLB debut last August, and it seemed that the 2012 NL MVP and six-time All-Star’s days behind the plate were numbered. And, well, Posey and retired Giants manager Bruce Bochy sure seemed to have a lot to talk about in a recent car ad.
Then Posey homered on the third pitch he saw this season. He’s kept up the pace, hitting his seventh homer of the year Tuesday in Colorado—the same total he hit across all of 2019, and the first time he’s exceeded four home runs in the first 20 games of a season in his career. As of Thursday, his OPS was the third-highest in baseball among players with at least 30 at-bats, behind just Mike Trout and Byron Buxton. In that statistic, he ranks ahead of J.D. Martinez and Ronald Acuña. When Posey was pulled from Wednesday’s game in the seventh inning with a tight right hamstring, it prompted heart palpitations across the Bay Area; the move seems to have been precautionary, and so his MVP campaign will carry on.
Posey is joined in his modestly improbable heroics by a resurgent Longoria, who is 35 years young and likewise looking like his younger self; his 22 hits this season are second on the Giants only to Posey. The team is helped by one of baseball’s best rotations: San Francisco’s 3.36 ERA is tied for sixth-best in the majors, led by names such as Kevin Gausman, Aaron Sanchez, and Alex Wood.
The Giants have long cornered the market on bizarrely overachieving players with funny nicknames whose very existence seems made up. And, well, may I bring your attention to the success stories of Donnie Barrels and DICK? This team has Austin Slater and his vague terror as he runs the bases; Mike Yastrzemski, who needs only to grow out his beard a little to allow a plurality of the team to Parent Trap for one another whenever they so desire; and Mauricio Dubon, who is on the record for courting boos at Dodger Stadium. And we haven’t even mentioned the player who was once affectionately known as Babe Ruf and now does things like this:
There are also the old standbys. On Tuesday, Brandon Belt hit a grand slam to spark a 10-run first inning against the Rockies; on Wednesday Brandon Crawford opened up the final game of that series with a two-run homer. If 2021 has felt like a renaissance of those Giants championship teams of yore, it’s at least in part because it is: Tuesday marked the first time that Posey, Belt, and Crawford had all homered in the same game since 2015. Elsewhere, scattered San Francisco luminaries show glimmers of the same magic: Pablo Sandoval, now in Atlanta, has been pinch-hitting moonshots like it’s 2014; Madison Bumgarner, now with Arizona, recently tossed a seven-inning no-hit game that, notably, will not go down in the MLB record books as a no-hitter. Afterward, the southpaw thanked commissioner Rob Manfred before going to celebrate.
And far be it from me to also point out that a certain New York–by Nashville–by New Jersey singer-songwriter’s well-documented even-year metaphysical affinity for the San Francisco baseball team fractured in 2016, at the beginning of a feud between her and Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. That Kardashian and West embarked on their married life with a glitzy proposal at the Giants’ stadium in 2013, and that days after the feud broke out the Giants plummeted down the standings and later fell to the Cubs in the 2016 NLDS, even year be damned. That the link—Taylor Swift controls the fate of the San Francisco Giants; Taylor Swift develops blood that would not widely be considered good with the Kardashian-Wests; Taylor Swift seeks immediate and lasting vengeance on the team whose ballpark solidified that union; the Giants spend the next four and a half seasons running a covert witness protection program for, among others, an outfielder purportedly named “Connor Joe”—is indisputable. That the Kardashian-Wests are now in the midst of divorce proceedings, that the veil has been lifted, and that this website correctly divined Swiftian baseball truths in 2017 and 2020. These are simply facts.
So, you know, there’s that.
At season’s end, Belt and Crawford will become free agents; so too will Posey, although he has a team option and has made clear in the past that he’s unlikely to ever play elsewhere. This season was destined to feel nostalgic in San Francisco no matter how the team fared. But turning a red-hot division on its head? There’s room for some new history, too.