SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Sure, baseball has patterns. It prefers the word “tendencies.” This covers the expected outcome of a given event. It also allows for the random goofy baseball stuff that, given enough time, consequence and emotional attachment, will detonate a tendency with such force the goo will soak both your analytics experts and your most veteran scouts, who wouldn’t of course even be in the same room.
“Can’t predict ball,” is what they call it, even by those paid pretty well to predict ball. They just don’t say it as loud. It’s the sort of thing that once drove Kirk Gibson to hunt a backdoor slider. It’s why Sergio Romo ended a season by throwing the softest, quietest, most hittable fastball ever past Miguel Cabrera. It’s how the Marlins win as many titles as the Yankees over a decade and a half. There is no why and there is no how, until there is.
Patterns, man. Tendencies. The oddness of the game. The evenness of cool, rational thought.
Which brings us — sort of — to the San Francisco Giants and the straight voodoo of World Series championships of 2010, 2012 and 2014 alongside the relative plagues of 2011, 2013 and 2015, and finally pitchers and catchers reporting in 2016.
Nobody with any wits at all believes in this even-year/odd-year, our-time/their-time hooey, least of all the men in the clubhouse who dreamt it and lived it and have the rings to prove they were there. Except now it’s 2016, so it’s now in their best interest to believe, believe, believe, which is awkward and dumb and entirely believable enough to allay for the moment one’s suspicion of the totally random pattern, oxymoronic as it sounds. Hey, whatever gets you through the day, right?
They’d say they expect to win because they’re a good ballclub, because they’ve added two starting pitchers and an outfielder, and because they are healthy, none of which has anything to do with the years A.D. being divisible by two. Except they are divisible by two, which is math. And in those years the Giants are magic, which is science.
And here’s the other thing: Only once in those odd years were the Giants really lousy. They’ve hit on what works in a game where you can take your pick, and they won three times with, as general manager Bobby Evans recounted Monday afternoon, three different closers and three different second basemen and so many moving parts Bruce Bochy should work the game on a scooter. They’ve won in some part because of what we like to call their “culture,” which as a measurable dynamic falls in just behind “vibes” and just ahead of “a horseshoe in their back pocket.”
Along those lines, the Giants already love the Johnny Cueto mojo and the Jeff Samardzija groove. Madison Bumgarner brought his horses with him from home. That can only be a good thing. In the early hours of camp, Matt Cain is letting go of the ball like he did when he was winning 16 games, which could become the most pivotal element of an even year. Tim Lincecum is gone for now, a somewhat jarring reality when there’s someone else in the corner locker. He did visit the Giants’ clubhouse earlier in spring, however, and the Giants are expected to attend a showcase later this month in which Lincecum will unveil his new and improved hip. Who knows, maybe Lincecum assents to being their next Yusmeiro Petit. Or, given time, their same old Timmy.
It’s all a little wispy, these notions of what teams can be great and which ones actually will be. What we know is the Giants have a knack for finding the way, even while people are also touting the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks in their own division, and a handful of teams outside it. Perhaps especially so. At a time of real parity in baseball, the difference between 84 wins and 90 might actually look like the inside of the Giants’ clubhouse, which looks like everyone else’s, mostly, but manages more.
Evans, the general manager, took a moment Monday to consider the even-year virtues of his franchise, a not fresh conversation topic. He shook his head.
“What we do recognize is the uniqueness of the leadership of the Madison Bumgarners and the Buster Poseys and the Hunter Pences,” he said.
He continued on the blessings of a homegrown infield, a manager who can’t be outmaneuvered, owners who see the value of a relevant team in San Francisco. His voice faded as though to suggest he could go on and on, if necessary, but he would never arrive at The Even Year Theory.
“We all see this,” he said, “as a special time. We realize the importance of making the most of it.”
Guess you gotta believe in something.