The Giants are likely to be the biggest major league surprise this year. San Francisco began Saturday with the best record in the majors, leading 1.5 games over current World Series champions Dodgers in the NL West.
Although they have been surprising in practically every facet of the game, perhaps the most unexpected thing is the success they have had in the power department: they lead the National League and are second in the majors with 181 homers in the year. (The Blue Jays have given 183 with five different players with 20 or more, led by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. with 35).
Though the team that leads the league in home runs would be expected to have at least one player with 30 or more at this point in the year or project to finish with more than 30. But San Francisco is nowhere near – their leader in Brandon Crawford, at 19 (newly acquired Kris Bryant has butted 21 home runs this year, but just three with the Giants thus far.)
We are in the middle of August and these Giants of 2021 already have more home runs than they gave in the entire 2019 campaign (167). They’re on track to set the franchise record for the most home runs in a year – and remember, they had a kid named Barry Bonds hit 73 in 2001, when the club totaled 235 overall to set the mark.
That the Giants don’t have anyone with more than 20 home runs at this point isn’t necessarily a surprise. San Francisco doesn’t have a player with at least 30 homers in a year since 2004, when Bonds spliced 45. To put things in perspective, every team in the majors except the Giants, Marlins and Tigers had at least to a hitter with a minimum of 30 homers in 2019. Detroit had one in 2016 and the Marlins had Giancarlo Stanton, who hit 59 in 2017.
But with San Francisco atop the home runs in 2021, the Giants could end up being the team to win the home run crown with no players at 30.
Not counting seasons shortened by pandemic or protest, that’s something that hasn’t happened in 35 years – the last team to do so were the Tigers in 1986, when Darrell Evans led the club with 29 homers. How did they do it that time in Detroit? Well, they had up to six different players with at least 20 homers. In addition to Evans, there were Kirk Gibson (28), Lance Parrish (22), Alan Trammell (21), Darnell Coles (20) and Lou Whitaker (20).
As for the Giants, this is how the team looks until Friday:
Brandon Crawford: 19
Mike Yastrzemski: 19
Brandon Belt: 16
Buster Posey: 15
Wilmer Flores: 15
LaMonte Wade Jr .: 15
Alex Dickerson: 13
Darin Ruf: 13
Evan Longoria: 10
There is a big name that is not on that list, because he has only had three homers in the year with San Francisco. Not his fault, he was busy splicing 18 with the Cubs, before they traded him to the Giants last month. Bryant increases the chance that the Bay team will finish as the leader in home runs.
One of the reasons the Giants are leading the NL West and have a chance to win the home run crown is because they have a rejuvenated Buster Posey. The veteran catcher’s power returned after missing the shortened 2020 campaign. Posey is back to form close to what he was in 2012, when he was the NL MVP – his 15 home runs for the year exceed his number. in 2018 and 2019 combined (12). That, along with averages of .322 / .416 / .536 (OPS + of 155).
Then there’s Brandon Crawford, who is putting together the best offensive season of his career with a .902 OPS and 19 homers, along with his customary all-star defense from shortstop. Brandon Belt is hitting home runs more often than ever, averaging one every 13 at-bats this year (16 homers in a year in which he has been limited to 208 times at bat due to injuries).
The Giants have also received a significant contribution from transactions that have passed under the radar in the last two offseason, such as acquiring Wade from the Twins and signing Ruf before the start of last season, after spending three years in the Korean baseball.
Wade, who hadn’t played more than 26 games in a year before since 2021, has been a constant threat of power, hitting 15 homers in 214 at-bats (averaging one HR every 14.3). And Ruf, who was known as a gunner with the Phillies between 2014 and 2016, has had a comeback with a .919 OPS and 18 homers in 129 games since arriving in San Francisco.
When you take all of that into account, it starts to make sense. What’s interesting is that Oracle Park has been one of the most difficult stadiums to get the ball out of in recent years. Based on the park factors of Statcast, Oracle Park and Kauffman Stadium, they have been the venues where it is more difficult to hit home runs.
Although it’s a bit hard to believe, the balanced power lineup helps answer the question we’ve been asking ourselves for months: How are the Giants doing?
Nor is the team too far removed from the trend – San Francisco’s World Series titles in 2020, 2012 and 2014 stunned the baseball world because of the roster they had on paper. The question now is, can they do it again in 2021?