If last season had been played under the 2020 guidelines, Gabe Kapler never would have become the manager of the Giants.
Kapler's Phillies got off to good starts in both of his years there, and in 2019 they were 33-27 through 60 games. That had them atop the NL East and fourth overall in the league, theoretically headed for a first-round postseason matchup with the Brewers.
Teams don't fire managers after winning the division, but the Phillies tailed off down the stretch, finishing 81-81. Kapler was let go after just two seasons in Philadelphia.
"Both years we were 60-game-stretch champions," Kapler said on this week's Giants Insider Podcast. " We were really good in a 60-game stretch and we weren't able to maintain that, we were just a little bit short in a number of different areas."
It took just a few weeks for Kapler to land in San Francisco, where he will work with Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris in trying to get the Giants back to the postseason. The trio has said all the right things publicly, insisting that every season is about being as competitive as possible, even as the Giants rebuild behind the scenes. They mostly have held to that motto, too.
Zaidi made moves around the edges last year to give Bruce Bochy some help on the field, while also trading for young players like Mauricio Dubon and Jaylin Davis and shedding future salary commitments. Since Harris and Kapler were hired in November, the Giants have added Kevin Gausman, Drew Smyly, Hunter Pence, Billy Hamilton and other veterans who were supposed to help bridge the gap in 2020. They also have continued to stockpile lottery tickets and bolster the farm system.
But a funny thing happened on the way to another rebuilding year. COVID-19 shut the sport down, and the Giants will return to Oracle Park on July 1 with just 60 games ahead of them. Anything can happen over 60 games, and Kapler intends to manage with that in mind every single inning.
"Strategically, we can play games like playoff games, and there's a number of reasons we can do that," Kapler said. "Most importantly it's because it's a sprint. In a 60-game season, it's very likely that we're going to enter September in a race."
Since 2016, when the Giants reached the NLDS, September at Oracle Park has generally looked like an extension of the minor league season. The 2017 team lost 98 games and turned the month over to call-ups, and while 2018 was more competitive overall, the Giants were officially done in late August when Buster Posey underwent surgery and Andrew McCutchen was traded. Last year's club briefly flirted with the Wild Card in late July and early August, but by the final month, the vibe was nearly entirely centered around Bochy's retirement.
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Barring a catastrophe, this season will be different. The Giants could go 13-17 over the first month and still find themselves a good series or two from a postseason spot. September should matter, and they feel they're well-positioned to stay competitive, in large part because of that schedule. Kapler certainly isn't going to gather his group at Oracle Park next week and point out that the Dodgers have 102 fewer games with which to run away from the rest of the division, but that doesn't hurt.
"I will say this, and I'm going to say it more generally and stay away from focusing on any one team in particular," he said, "The longer a season is, the more talent on paper matters. The shorter a season is, the less important talent is on paper. It's still really important and if you look at some of the sim games, even in a 60-game season, you'll see that play out."
The Giants still have a talent disparity compared to the teams they're chasing, but they feel there are some ways around that. Platoons will be heavily used. They won't have a true starting rotation, relying in large part on openers, piggybacking starters, and finding unique ways to pile up outs. Even before all of this, they were talking of going without a set closer. While an older roster -- which the Giants have -- breaks down over six months, guys like Buster Posey and Brandon Belt, both of whom have seen their power tail off in recent second halves, should be able to stay fresh.
A 60-game season is a mysterious lump of clay, and while the Giants knew they probably couldn't compete for a full 162, they feel like they have the pieces in place to handle a sprint.
"I feel good about our roster being able to mix and match the pieces that we have," Kapler said. "I think our roster is built where one roster piece complements another, and I think that was just a tremendous job by Farhan and Scott putting that together. I'm excited about the creative options we have, putting a lineup out there against left and a lineup out there against right. "
How Giants' Gabe Kapler plans to handle 2020 season 'like playoff games' originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area