The season started in Houston, the Giants beating the Astros (and Roy Oswalt!) behind Tim Lincecum. This was The Formula™, of course, pitch like crazy and cross-your-fingers for run support. It was a tough time for yours truly--I kept looking at that lineup and saying "no way, no way, no-effing-way this team wins a championship." Aaron Rowand and Edgar Renteria were batting first and second. Mark DeRosa and Aubrey Huff were the big-gun free agent acquisitions. Freddy Sanchez was too hurt to play and Juan Uribe was the second baseman. Bengie Molina was "in the squat and puttin' down the signs" (as is said in Krukovian). John Bowker was in right field, Brandon Medders and Waldis Joaquin in the bullpen. The team chugged along at .500 or so through the end of June (40-39 on Friday 2 July). It wasn't so much that I knew The Emperor Had No Clothes. I was convinced, in my despair, that the Giants thought they had the best haberdasher in town, that management actually believed this club was first-place material. An entire off-season of whining was coming true!
Two things happened, ironic for team that's enjoyed a run of remarkable good health: Mark DeRosa and Aaron Rowand got hurt. L'Affaire DeRosa was entirely predictable. A 35-year old guy coming off wrist surgery was expected to make a large contribution, but cruel reality set in and he wound up having to miss the entire season. Aaron Rowand, on the other hand, was destined to give us 500-600 PAs of below-average production, and there seemed no way to overcome that $60 million dollar handicap. Fate intervened--he was beaned by Vicente Padilla on the 16th of April. That is not something I would wish on any ballplayer, but it happened, and the Giants discovered something they didn't know they had, a 6 WAR player. Everyone liked Andres Torres, he was a speedy glove man with good skills who could spot start and come off the bench and really help the club, but I'll venture 1 in 100 Giants fans thought he had the ability to play All-Star caliber baseball for an entire season. Nonetheless, the injuries to Rowand and DeRosa enabled Torres to play regularly and he showed all of baseball what he could do. Rowand, to his credit, actually had a good stretch in the first half of May after returning to the lineup, but Torres took his leadoff job and centerfield position by the end of the month and never looked back.
Thankfully, the Sabean & Co. were smarter than I gave them credit for. Signing Aubrey Huff looked like another re-tread desperation move in the off-season, but he responded by being the best free agent acquisition of the year. After a slow start, he started raking NL pitching and became a fixture on the leaderboards. His versatility, personality, and performance won over the fans and he emerged as something of a team spokesman as more and more microphones were shoved in his face. Despite the surprising emergence of the Torres-Huff duo, it was pretty clear the Giants still needed offensive help, and the bosses could see that, too. Fishing for cast-offs once more, Sabes & Co. nabbed Pat Burrell after he was released by Tampa Bay. Pat the Bat, despite my skepticism, still had something left and still had something to prove, and suddenly the Giants had another real threat in the lineup. With John Bowker, Travis Ishikawa, and Nate Schierholtz unable to hit consistently, and the Giants relying on Bengie Molina for leadership and production, the offense still demanded an upgrade. That came at the end of May in the person of Buster Posey. The front office then did the biggest and boldest move of the year at the end of June--they traded Molina away and installed Posey at catcher. He's been as good as advertised, in fact, he's been one of the best players in baseball. Suddenly The Missing Bat we'd been screaming for all last year, all off-season, and all this spring was in the lineup every day. Not only that, his glove work and pitching smarts were off the charts, and he emerged at the team's clear MVP. (You think not? Would a 52-33 team record since July 1st change your mind?) Not bad for a rookie. August pick-ups Jose Guillen and Cody Ross weren't game-changers, but they were reasonably competent major-leaguers who could contribute. Suddenly we had a damn-close-to-average offense! What a thing to get excited about! Freddy Sanchez got healthy in the middle of May and started flashing primo leather immediately. His late-season surge with the bat, after a horrid July, turned him into a very valuable player. He's the poster boy for everything that infuriates me about Sabean (old, injured, expensive), so it was fitting he'd get the biggest hit of the year in Game 162! Take that, O'Connor! Juan Uribe, just like last year, was another unsung hero of the lineup, playing multiple positions and hitting career-highs in both homers and bases on balls. Pablo Sandoval, counted on to be a star, had a discouraging drop in performance, but has recently shown signs of rediscovering his stroke. The Giants "quantity over quality" haul of players was able to paper over the Panda void until he began to contribute again.
"It's all about the pitching" was my mate JC's constant admonition to me whenever I bemoaned our team's fortunes. We all knew the pitching was special. When your ace is 9th in the league in FIP, 1st in strikeouts, and worth 5+ WAR on an "off" year, you know you've got a great player. Tim Lincecum is, indeed, The Franchise. He's a genuine superstar, admirably filling the massive void left by the departure of Barry Bonds. Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez, who could be aces on some ML teams and certainly match up favorably with any second and third starters anywhere, round out a young, powerful trio that forms the nucleus of the club. Madison Bumgarner, much like Buster Posey, got a mid-season shot at being a star and responded brilliantly. In 18 starts he threw only a couple of stinkers, and showed that he belonged in the bigs with the rest of the studs. Credit the Brian Trust for finding and developing another outstanding arm. Billion Dollar Boy Barry Zito delivered some quality starts, and threw almost 200 innings, but continued to deliver only league-average (at best) performance. What will the Giants do with him going forward? The Giants still had work to do, though, as the bullpen--other than the awesome Brian Wilson--was terribly inconsistent in the early going. The front office responded to the crisis by picking up Javier Lopez, Ramon Ramirez, and Santiago Casilla, who've been absolutely lights-out. Sergio Romo, after some early struggles, really came on in the stretch run to emerge as a reliable set-up man. The team put together an historic run of pitching excellence in September, and goes into the playoffs with the best staff in the majors.
The Giants overcame an opponent, who, like them, lacked the offense to adequately complement their great pitching. The Padres finally ran out of steam at the end of the season as their young arms couldn't carry the whole load. It reminded me of what happened last year to the Giants. The offense the Giants assembled throughout the season was obviously capable of winning the West, thus changing my description of them from inadequate to barely adequate to adequate. Wow, high praise! Entering the post-season, it is clear the team will be challenged to score. Lacking firepower, they can't fall behind against good teams. The pitching will have to lead the way, and any drop-off by key guys could be catastrophic to their chances. Then again, anything can happen in a short series, as we know, and if they get hot they could make a run and win the 11 games they need for The Big Prize. Having strikeout pitchers and power hitters are the big keys to playoff success. The Giants, believe it or not, led the NL in homers in September.
The Giants are the NL West champions for 2010. What a thing to say! What a thing to savor! Man, it has been a crazy, crazy season. The madness of the post-season doesn't start until Thursday, so we can all rest up and relax before the shit hits the fan. Fortunately, the Giants have the home-field in the first round, and that has to help as the Braves are not as tough on the road (.432 win percentage). The Freak--Big Time Timmer Jim--will get the ball for Game One and that alone gives the team a huge edge.
ENJOY! GO GIANTS!! WIN!!!