SAN FRANCISCO -- When the Nationals blew a late lead and fell to the Mets on May 23, they dropped to 19-31, their season seemingly on the verge of being over. At the time, they were actually 2 1/2 games behind the Giants in the Wild Card standings.
Five months later, the Nationals are preparing for a Game 7 while the Giants will watch from home, and there's no way for any of them to really say, "That could have been us."
The Nationals always had the talent to get here, with a rotation featuring Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin and a lineup led by Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto. The Astros are even more loaded, and their appearance is absolutely no surprise.
The Giants have been in this situation before, of course. They played a historic Game 7 just five years ago, but the seasons since have included just one playoff appearance and an average of 85 losses a year.
How can they get back to being in position for a Game 7? We took a look at the rosters of the Nationals and Astros to see if there's a roadmap:
To be fair to Giants ownership, few teams have spent more in free agency over the past half-decade, and the Giants were willing to go well over $300 million last offseason for Bryce Harper. The Nationals are a reminder that you can't shy away from that approach.
The Nationals gave Scherzer $210 million as a free agent and last year hauled in Corbin with a $140 million deal. Strasburg, their former No. 1 pick, is playing on a $175 million extension. Even Anibal Sanchez, the fourth starter, is on a $19 million deal, which is about twice as much as the Giants guaranteed in all of free agency last winter. Over on the other side, the Astros traded for the massive contracts of Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke.
The Giants gave large deals to Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija after 2015 and both have been reasonably productive, even with Cueto missing a year because of Tommy John. They'll spend much of this offseason trying to decide whether Madison Bumgarner is worth the investment.
Between Bumgarner, Gerrit Cole and potentially Strasburg (he has an opt-out), there will be plenty of high-end pitching on the market. The Giants have the wherewithal to be in on a player like Cole, and that would go a long way towards getting them back in the race.
Bottom Out If You Have To
The biggest mistake the Giants made in recent years was going for it after a 98-loss season. There was no reason to think 2017 was some crazy aberration, but the Giants dealt for Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen, losing Rookie of the Year candidate Bryan Reynolds in the process. They should have gone the other way, selling their veterans for prospects and getting another top three draft pick.
The Astros famously went ALL-IN on tank mode, restocking with high picks like Carlos Correa (No. 1 overall in 2012) and Alex Bregman (No. 2 in 2015). The Nationals for years have benefitted from getting Strasburg and Bryce Harper at the top of the draft.
The Giants got a potential star in Joey Bart, but it's too late for them to really dip back into this approach. They should keep all this in mind, though, if the 2020 team gets off to another poor start. There's a lot to be said for trying to be competitive, but Giants fans have been through a lot over the past three years and will understand if familiar names are dealt in search of prospects and better draft positioning. Being in the middle of the pack is the worst place to be.
Keep It International
The Giants struck out on the international market for a decade but have made huge strides in the past couple of years, with Marco Luciano in particular looking like a future centerpiece. They know they need to keep at it, and the Astros and Nationals are a reminder of how fruitful international spending can be.
Jose Altuve was signed out of Venezuela in 2007. Juan Soto signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2015. A player like that can turn your franchise around and do it cheaply, and the Giants hope they found such a gem in Luciano.
Be Aggressive With Youth
Again, this is something the Giants are already doing, particularly with 20-year-old Heliot Ramos, who reached Double-A this season.
The Astros gave Bregman a look the year after he was drafted out of LSU, called up Correa at the age of 20, and Altuve and Yordan Alvarez at 21. Soto made his debut as a 19-year-old, Victor Robles came up at 20, and Trea Turner debuted the year after he was drafted.
It's not always easy at first. Bregman was 1-for-32 over his first eight big league games but eventually became an MVP candidate. Robles struggled at times and was hurt last season but became a 4-WAR player as a 22-year-old.
The Giants threw Logan Webb into the deep end this season and let him figure it out at the big league level. Long term, they'll benefit from doing the same with Bart, Ramos, Luciano and others.