SAN FRANCISCO — What can a team meeting accomplish? A regular feature of many clubhouses over the years, it’s something that’s easy to credit when it’s followed by success and equally easy to dismiss when it doesn’t lead to the desired results.
“I’ve always been against meetings,” Giants reliever Luke Jackson said before their series finale against the Rockies, ESPN’s Sunday night game of the week. “I’ve been a part of most meetings and we lose afterward and they’re terrible. But this year, we’re 2-0 after meetings.”
The latest, first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, came Friday, before their first game against the Rockies, and the message came from on high. President Farhan Zaidi was first to address the group, but speakers also included longtime coach Ron Wotus and a handful of veterans.
What followed were back-to-back wins, their first of September after starting the month with six straight losses. The team also responded to a rousing pregame speech from Thairo Estrada a couple weeks ago with a win over the Braves that kicked off a stretch of four of five that they won.
“I’ve been a part of a few meetings like that, especially this time of year,” said shortstop Paul DeJong, a veteran of the Cardinals’ perennial playoff teams. “It’s good to clear the air as far as everyone gets on the same page. It’s almost like a reset button for everybody. We all know what we’re working for, but it’s nice to hear it spoken out loud and in a group setting. I think that’s important sometimes.”
“Things that needed to be said were said, and I think it went over well,” outfielder Austin Slater said, declining to provide any additional details, as a number of other veterans did when asked about the meeting. It was meant to stay in house, but Blake Sabol spilled the beans when speaking to reporters after Friday night’s game.
Manager Gabe Kapler and starter Logan Webb provided some insight into what was said.
“Farhan, he’s really good at speaking from his heart. And he’s really good at being disarming,” Kapler said Saturday. “He’s got a ton of experience in playoff chases. A ton of experience around a lot of different types of clubs. Any time he comes in and speaks from the heart, I think it lands really well. I thought it landed really well (Friday).”
Zaidi reminded the club that they were the same group that reeled off 10 wins in a row, that climbed 13 games over .500 and once owned the third-best record in the National League. That, however, had all slipped away by Friday afternoon, entering their penultimate home stand with as many wins as losses and out of control of their own destiny in the playoff chase.
“Something has to be said when you don’t play good, right? said Wilmer Flores, one of the club’s most respected veterans who took part in a mini meeting with Kapler and Mike Yastrzemski after their deflating series loss in San Diego. “It’s inexcusable to play the way we have with the players we have. It sucks when you play bad and you know you have good players. It’d be OK if we had bad players, right? But we know that’s not who we are.”
That was the message reinforced by Zaidi, the architect of this roster and the top decision-maker who opted not to add to it at the trade deadline.
“Farhan also shared that he believed in the group and that’s something that I think goes a long way for players, I think it goes a long way for staff, that kind of endorsement and trust,” Kapler said. “I think it demonstrates that we’re all – myself, our front office, our players, our coaching staff, the business side – working as a team. We’re all in it together.”
Wotus, while no longer on the bench or in the third-base coach’s box during games, is still a daily presence with the team. Along with Brandon Crawford, he is one of the few remaining links to their World Series-winning teams from the 2010s.
“Anytime he speaks, you listen,” Webb said. “You’re not part of three World Series teams by coincidence. He’s got a lot of knowledge. …
“He said you show up every year in spring training to get to this position, so why would you get to this position and not try? You work hard for six straight months, seven straight, eight, honestly 12 months, why would you get to this position and not give it your best, give it your all?
“I think for us it’s a great message. No matter what happens at the end of the year, we’re just going to go right back to the offseason, show up in spring training and we’re going to try to get to this position we’re in right now. We’re in the playoff hunt. We’ve got a chance to do something cool, something special. I think that’s a cool message. Just go out there and bust your ass everyday.”
It’s hard to argue with the results, albeit with the addendum that it has come against a team that has served as the Giants’ punching bag the past few years. A team meeting can be a cure, sure, but so can a steady diet of Rockies pitching. Nevertheless, they didn’t quit when they trailed 4-0 on Friday, or when they trailed again 7-4, and on Saturday didn’t let Colorado sniff a lead in a 9-1 thumping.
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“Obviously it showed,” DeJong said. “We played a crazy game. It didn’t matter what happened in the game, we just kept coming back and picking each other up. I think it was very well-timed. … I think it just puts things into perspective for us to flip on that switch. Like, OK, it’s do-or-die pretty much everyday. You can’t play like that all year. You’d be exhausted. But when September hits, you get that extra rush.”
Jackson has good reason not to associate positive thoughts with team meetings. Usually, it means things aren’t going well.
“I kind of wish we didn’t have team meetings, if that makes sense,” Webb said. “But sometimes it’s necessary. Kind of a kick in the ass. You’ve gotta figure some (stuff) out.”
— The next step for Marco Luciano is a return to Triple-A Sacramento, where he will play nine innings for the first time since straining his hamstring last month. Kapler said the Giants’ top hitting prospect “could be an option” to help the big-league club down the stretch. … Other reinforcements are on the way in the form of Michael Conforto, who could be an option Monday if he responds well to his second day of running the bases on Sunday.