Dominant defense defines Giants' double-sided '16

Crawford, Posey, Cueto stand out as second-half bullpen blunders weaken first-half strength

Dominant defense defines Giants' double-sided '16

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants' first-half swagger yielded to a second-half stagger in 2016, as the team with the Major Leagues' best record at the All-Star break barely qualified for the postseason before losing to the eventual World Series-champion Cubs in the National League Division Series.

San Francisco's season ended with a 6-5 loss in Game 4 against Chicago, which scored four ninth-inning runs against the Giants' helpless relievers. But the bullpen, which amassed a franchise-record 30 blown saves, wasn't the ballclub's lone source of trouble.

The offense was frequently uninspiring. San Francisco finished 0-62 when trailing after eight innings, the club's worst performance in this category since the franchise moved west in 1958. The Giants' 130 homers, which represented the third-lowest total in the Majors, was at least partly responsible for their meek late-inning presence.

The Giants thrived enough to obscure their flaws through most of the season. Stout starting pitching and sharp defense helped them take a 57-33 record into the Midsummer Classic, which happened to feature right-hander Johnny Cueto starting for the NL.

Cueto's dominant complete game

But when the Giants faded, their slump was irreversible. They ceded first place in the NL West to the Dodgers on Aug. 21 after occupying the division's top spot for 111 of the previous 115 days. San Francisco lurched to a 30-42 second-half record, fourth worst in the Majors.

Here's a look at five noteworthy elements from 2016, in ascending order of importance:

5. Tightening their Belt
First baseman Brandon Belt signed a six-year, $79 million contract extension in early April. The deal covered his final two years of salary-arbitration eligibility. Belt initially delivered on his promise by securing a spot on the NL All-Star squad through the Esurance Final Vote. Sagging along with the rest of the Giants, Belt batted .241 with seven homers and 35 RBIs in 69 second-half games. He still finished fifth in the NL with a .394 on-base percentage. That was attributable to Belt drawing 104 walks, the highest total by a Giant since Barry Bonds had 132 in 2007.

Belt key to Giants in 2016

4. Premier performers
Catcher Buster Posey and shortstop Brandon Crawford further established themselves among the league's best at their respective positions. Though Posey's offensive numbers dipped, he remained valuable by winning his first Rawlings Gold Glove Award for defensive excellence. The Giants relied heavily on Posey's smooth collaboration with pitchers and his ability to "frame" their deliveries to prompt extra strike calls. Crawford won his second Gold Glove Award in a row and drove in 84 runs for the second straight year. He went 7-for-8 on Aug. 8 at Miami, becoming the sixth Major Leaguer to collect that many hits in a game.

Crawford's historic hitting

3. Thinking ahead, reluctantly
Taking an aggressive approach in the free-agent market during the 2015-16 offseason, the Giants strengthened their starting rotation by signing Cueto and Jeff Samardzija. But as the '16 season elapsed, they realized not only that they needed even more pitching help, but also that they'd be unlikely to find another capable starter in the '16-17 free-agent class. They stayed a step ahead by acquiring left-hander Matt Moore from Tampa Bay shortly before the non-waiver Trade Deadline. But the price for Moore was steep, as San Francisco had to part with third baseman Matt Duffy, the '15 Willie Mac Award winner as the team's most inspirational player. The Giants' faith in the organization's top prospect, infielder Christian Arroyo, enabled them to contemplate trading Duffy. Moore made the deal look good for the Giants, at least for the short term, by winning six of his final eight starts.

Moore's near no-hitter

2. Fading offense
Though the bullpen absorbed most of the blame for the Giants' unraveling, the offense was figuratively and literally powerless to stop the slide. During a season laden with home runs, none of the Giants reached 20; Belt led the team with 17. None of the regulars batted .300 or higher; Hunter Pence's .289 was the best that any of them could muster. Matters worsened for the Giants after the All-Star break. During the second half, they ranked 12th in OPS, 13th in runs scored and 14th in homers in the NL. San Francisco's lack of power was especially glaring. The club recorded 55 second-half homers, compared with the Major League average of 84.

Posey, Pence go back-to-back

1. Bullpen's a bust
By now, the Giants and their fans probably can recite the facts and figures associated with the decline of the club's bullpen in their tortured sleep. Santiago Casilla blew four of his final eight save opportunities, forcing his removal from the closer's role. Lacking the anchor provided by a legitimate closer, manager Bruce Bochy assigned San Francisco's other relievers to varying roles, causing an instability that became apparent in the season's final weeks. The Giants lost a franchise-record nine games which they led entering the ninth inning. Five of those losses occurred in September, when San Francisco topped the Majors with nine blown saves. The Giants also lost six games after leading by at least four runs. That matched Colorado's total for the most losses of that ilk in the Majors. The Giants lost only five such games in 2014-15.

Evans on Giants' bullpen

Chris Haft has covered the Giants since 2005, and for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.