The 2010 Giants Will Win It All. Or Not
(originally written 10/4/10)
I recently was directed to an article that “outlined” the reasons why the Giants will win the World Series in 2010. As a fellow writer, I haven’t been more disappointed in a sports piece in a very long time. The reasons were obvious and banal. Worse yet, they were superficial, clichéd and unoriginal. I expected so much better from this particular website.
You know how at the local barbershop there’s that one guy in his early 50’s who KNOWS who’ll win every Super Bowl? “The Saints gon’ win. They got Brees, they got Bush, they got Colston, etc.” Well, that proves zilch. How did having Brees, Bush and Colston make them favorites? If it were that easy to determine a title winner, just by the sexy names, why do they even play the games? (Don’t answer that; we already know.) If big names spelled titles, the Yankees would have run the last decade! (shudder…) I need more than that. I CRAVE more, and I think you do, too.
This column will examine why the Giants WILL win it all, and why they WON’T. Which translates to: how they can best help themselves reach the mountaintop, as well as the obstacles they present themselves in getting there.
Postseason baseball is pure luck and timing, when all is said and done. There’s no other explanation for the 2008 Cubs, 1995 Indians, 2001 Mariners, 2003 Giants, or 1990 A’s coming up short. No one knows for sure what will happen. Freak injuries, a little too much partying, poor umpiring—it’s all completely unpredictable, but it’s all completely unavoidable. All the Giants—or any team—can do is put themselves in a position to beat two teams out of the Reds, Braves and Phillies so that they have a shot at the Rays, Yankees, Twins or Rangers in late October.
And I’ll tell you how they can.
WHY THEY’LL HOLD UP THE TROPHY: Freddy Sanchez continues to use right field. From the time he arrived last summer on through most of this year, Sanchez really didn’t drive the ball to right consistently. He rolled over on a lot of outside breaking balls. He’s battled knee and now shoulder injuries almost from the time he arrived, and they couldn’t have helped with his preparation. In recent weeks, Freddy has been fingered as the team’s hottest hitter—even hotter than Buster Posey—and it couldn’t have come at a better time. He’s using the whole field, even with power (of which he has a limited supply.) A hot Sanchez, with Andres Torres in front of him and Aubrey Huff behind him, means 1-2 extra runs a game. That ain’t a little, friends.
WHY THEY’LL HOLD THEMSELVES CRYING: Pablo Sandoval can’t go without home cooking. Maybe it’s the hitting background all those black panda masks offer, but Pablo was a dreadful road hitter in 2010. It’s not going to get any easier in the playoffs. Time for the Giants to recreate Panda’s home in every hotel they happen to stay in from this point forward. Extreme Makeover should be able to help.
WHY THEY’LL GRAB BRASS RINGS: Burrell, Uribe, Renteria and Rowand LEAD. And I’m not talking about during the Waltz. These four men have what we Giants fans all crave—World Series rings (’08 Phillies, ’05 White Sox, ’97 Marlins, ’05 White Sox; Renteria also played for the ’04 Cardinals that lost the Series). Many times you read about a player bringing “championship experience” to a club. In some ways that’s meaningless—this year’s Nationals’ roster featured Pudge Rodriguez, Adam Kennedy, Livan Hernandez, Willie Harris and Jason Marquis, who between them have eight World Series appearances and five championship rings. Yeah…that REALLY helped the Nats. Without them, Washington probably would have finished in SUPER last place, rather than last place.
Ring or not, no one will listen to anything anybody has to say unless that person is respected. That comes with hustle, professionalism, toughness, confidence, and standing up for your teammates. BURR (an acronym for the aforementioned Giants quartet) is all those things and MORE. If they have wisdom to impart about being prepared for and getting through a tough playoff series—and they do—you better believe their teammates will listen. Closely. They will tell the likes of Torres, Sandoval, Posey, even Huff who’s been around forever but mostly for losing teams, how important it is to focus—always knowing what base to throw to and who’s on it, always backing each other up, always knowing how many outs there are. And they will do it themselves—count on it. They will not let their teammates dwell on a bad AB or error—there’s no time for it in a five/seven-game series. They will not allow the Giants to be pushed around or intimidated.
Not to mention the off-field stuff—helping teammates get tickets for their families/friends, handling the excessive media coverage, getting proper rest to handle the increased travel—things that average fans never take into consideration but can be distracting without a little veteran guidance.
None of those factors guarantees even one victory. But it guarantees the Giants won’t beat themselves mentally, which no fan could, would or should accept.
WHY THEY’LL BLAME ONION RINGS (for weeping): Any injury to Torres worse than a shaving cut. There are three fast players on the Giants’ roster. One is Eugenio Velez, who made his share of baserunning blunders and mental mistakes even before that foul ball clanged off his dome. In the season finale, rather than taking secondary leads off 2B, Velez was retreating, too afraid to err in a crucial spot. Another is Darren Ford, he of September 1st game-winning run vs. Rockies fame. He’s so green, however, if he played for the A’s he wouldn’t need a uniform. Plus, Ford’s got no chance of winning a postseason roster spot.
That leaves Torres, the longtime minor leaguer who left Aaron Rowand crying, “He turk my jerrrb!” (#South Park) He lead the team in steals by far and is the one Giant regular guaranteed to score from first on an extra-base hit. You saw what happened to the offense when Torres’ appendix surgery sidelined him—without his penchant for big hits off tough relievers, San Fran could not mount a consistent attack. Scoring 0, 1 and 10 runs in consecutive games might allow you to eke out a division title; it won’t get the Giants much further. A healthy Torres gives them their very best offense. We should have insisted the doctors replace ALL his organs and give him dual precautionary Tommy John surgery while they were yanking out his appendix…just in case.
WHY THEY’LL WIN: Jonathan Sanchez gets a lead. With one memorable exception in which he was yanked before even completing five against Cincinnati, Sanchie is particularly effective when the Giants strike first. The same could be said of all their starters but Sanchez is the Giants’ pitcher who rattles the easiest. Anything the team can do to relax him can only better their chances of winning his starts. (The headliner of this point would have been Barry Zito, but after his showings against the Rox and Padres, I doubt he’ll see the mound in the playoffs unless injuries warrant it.)
WHY THEY’LL LOSE: Brian Wilson is overextended. #38’s workload, which has never been particularly light, intensified as the Giants’ surged back into contention in July/August, and he still responded with a league-high 48 saves—also tied for the club record (with Rod Beck.) I noted in one of my very first articles this season how crucial it was for the Giants’ relievers to hold down those games that didn’t present a save op for Wilson; there were too many occasions in 2009 that Wilson had to warm up and/or enter a game in which the Giants entered the 9th up by four or more.
Those occurrences decreased in 2010. (I’ll have to research the exact number). Not only that, but in the few save situations in which Wilson could not go, the likes of Guillermo Mota and Ramon Ramirez slammed the door in impressive fashion (Mota’s save vs. Florida and win vs. the Dodgers especially stood out.) Save for a streak of five straight appearances down the stretch, Bochy never had to over-exert his closer, and the result was an All-Star and possibly Rolaids Relief Award-caliber performance by Wilson.
I was never too concerned with the Giants handling the Padres over the weekend, even after two straight losses to open the series. That team sunk and swam on its’ invincible bullpen trio, with Bud Black using Heath Bell and Luke Gregerson for five straight games leading to #162. So even if the Pads managed to grab a lead, odds weren’t too great for their worn-out ‘pen to preserve it. Tight, low-scoring games will likely dominate San Francisco’s postseason, and Bochy will have to resist the urge to burn Wilson (and the others, for that matter) at every opportunity like Black did. How about Cain and Lincecum tossing shutouts and rendering this point moot?
WHY THEY’LL BREAK THE 56-YEAR DROUGHT: Cody Ross gets regular run. Ross is best known for his days as a Marlin, where he established himself as a bona fide major league regular and gobbled up as many AB’s as he could. When Florida deemed him expendable, the Giants signed him in spite of the fact they had no regular spot for him to play. His sporadic playing time led to sporadic production—when he got in consecutive games, he came through on several occasions on both sides of the ball. When he didn’t, he didn’t.
Pat Burrell and Torres will not sit, obviously, and Jose Guillen’s overall body of work and slightly superior talent will buy him plenty of time. Ross has not played any other positions in the bigs. He is not going to get four AB’s a game unless there is a matchup that Bochy can’t ignore. The Giants do need Ross, who is athletic, fast, and capable of working pitchers. Plus, he doesn’t seem shakable, in spite of never playing on a serious contender.
Bochy needs to keep him sharp for the times he does need him. Remember—Torres is coming off appendix surgery, and sure he’s hit a couple of bombs but overall he has not had to execute a punishing slide, dive, or wall crash. He rushed back to help the team, and for that trust me we’re all grateful, but there’s no guarantee he’ll hold up. If I’m Bruce Bochy, any game the Giants lead by five or more after six innings, either Torres or Burrell go to the bench for Ross, who should also be first man off the bench to pinch-hit. The more AB’s he gets, the better he’ll be, moreso than any other of the San Francisco reserves. And a good Cody Ross is a very dangerous player.
WHY THEY’LL GO THREE-AND-OUT: AT&T’s right field. I can’t shake the memory of Ross’ painful misplay that cost the Giants a win against the Rockies on August 30. Deep down, I don’t trust anybody out there besides Nate Schierholtz, who’s never called another park home as a major leaguer. Guillen has been okay, especially on bad wheels, and overall Ross has handled himself. Neither of them are bad defenders—in fact, they’re both above average with very good arms—but the RF at AT&T has humbled many talented outfielders in the past; Brad Hawpe, who played there as much as any visitor during six years as a Rockie, comes to mind.
Obviously, Schierholtz will not be starting any games in right during the playoffs under ideal circumstances, so it’s up to Guillen and Ross to hold it down. If I’m Bochy, I’m insisting on an hour each going after every kind of fly ball imaginable before each game. The Giants’ postseason run could come down to a play made in Triples Alley, or off the bricks, or over the visiting bullpen mound. I’d be DAMNED if we lost a game due to lack of preparation.
(On that note, doesn’t it feel like a galaxy ago that John Bowker won the starting RF job for 2010? In fact, we kicked off the year with Mark DeRosa, Rowand and Bowker as our starting outfield. My, a lot has changed…)
WHY THEY’LL COME OUT ON TOP: Posey’s right paw. You’ve heard the phrase “shorten games”, attributed to a particularly tough bullpen duo or trio who shuts down the opposition for the final two or three innings—in effect turning a nine-inning game into a six or seven-inning game for said opposition.
When you have a catcher who can erase basestealers as Posey does, it shortens innings. A pitcher’s best friend is the double play grounder, right? He gets two outs for the price of one. A catcher erasing a basestealer is an out for free. Giants starters don’t give up a lot of hits as it is, but thanks to Posey, a growing number of those hits are just as good as flyouts.
WHY THEY’LL GIVE IN AND FLOP: Bochy gets conservative. The 2010 G-Men have turned shooting oneself in the foot into an art form with their mind-blowing double play grounders. If only we could attribute that stat to bullet-wounded feet—at least we’d know how to address it. You can’t ask your 3-7 hitters to bunt; that crew has a better shot of completing a triple-axle. There are only two other ways to stop grounding into double plays: stop getting men on first base, or execute hit-and-runs in practically every situation in which a double play possibility is high.
Or, they could just continue to hit two or three homers a game—that will be two or three fewer singles and consequently, fewer double play chances!
WHY THEY’LL BE MEETING OBAMA: No dead spots. As I addressed in a past article, all the clamoring for the Giants to nab a “big bat” for the stretch drive was 100% unnecessary, especially after Burrell was added and Torres given the keys to CF. Nobody in their starting lineup, except Posey or less likely Sandoval one day, is going to go to Cooperstown. That said the Giants have quality major-league hitters one-thru-eight who are all more than capable at their positions. There are no washed-up prospects, no converted catchers in the outfield, no 40-year-olds just hanging on for paychecks, nobody who’d be considered in the lower half of players at his position in the N.L.
By comparison, Atlanta is down half its starting infield, replaced by…Brooks Conrad? Omar Infante’s 2010 All-Star selection may be the most unjust one in history. Nate McLouth is below .200 and no longer plays every day. Chipper Jones, at this stage of his career, sadly is helping the team more by being injured than playing. Brian McCann is Atlanta’s version of Sandoval; a great young talent having a down year. Heyward, to paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, is no Buster Posey. Getting this collection into the postseason may be the venerable Bobby Cox’ best work yet.
WHY THEY’LL BE VISITING MAMA: Juan Uribe just misses one. Juan has had a very productive year, don’t get me wrong. But he’s gotten under, swung late, or turned too quickly on far more “hangers” than he did in his superb 2009 season. Baseball is a game of inches and an inch here or there is all that prevented a 35-homer+ 2010 from UUU-ribe, who remains one of Sabean’s shrewdest acquisitions. He is a crucial part of that offense—moreso than anybody ever expected him to be. When pitchers make mistakes—as a host of MLB teams did by passing up on him after the 2008 season—he has to punish them. I’ll give Uribe this: he’s developed more discipline as 2010 has gone on.
WHY THEY’LL BE CHAMPS: August 25, 2010. Even though San Fran ultimately lost arguably the most thrilling Giants game since the J.T. Snow/Armando Benitez playoff game in 2000, the infamous nine-run comeback vs. Cincinnati galvanized, maybe even changed this club. Admit it: like me, whenever you saw the Giants fall behind by four or more runs, you flipped on Dancing With The Stars or Hell’s Kitchen or, if it was a matinee, Jerry Springer…until that wonderful Wednesday afternoon.
San Francisco sent a message to themselves, the rest of MLB, and most importantly their at-times tepid fan base that day: don’t ever activate cruise control against them again! Not that they aim to fall behind by nine runs anymore, but the team and crowd enjoyed returning from the brink of certain defeat and would LOVE to do it again. Sure, Cincy ultimately recorded the W, but in postgame interviews Bochy, Huff and Zito stressed the positive effects of such a comeback (one so great, we sort of forget what LED to the huge deficit in the first place, don’t we?)
A four-run deficit no longer means certain death, although I guarantee if the Reds and Giants both advance out of the NLDS and meet in the NLCS, Dusty Baker manages huge leads very differently.
WHY THEY’LL BE CHUMPS: This team, without warning, can go Shawon Dunston in a SNAP. Dunston, the ex-Giant and Cub shortstop for eons, had a tendency to go months without an error and then make three in one game. The usually-reliable Giants defense—not as crisp as in years past but very capable—can get sloppy. Typically it snowballs—a bobble, then a juggle, then a passed ball or two, then an airmailed/bounced throw, and in almost every 2010 instance, the opposition capitalized. In 2010 San Francisco allowed 37 unearned runs, a low total reflective of their great pitching more than any defensive prowess.
Individually, most Giants are at least adequate overall defenders. It seems that, like hitting, sloppy glovework can be contagious on this team. That will sink anybody in the playoffs; just ask the 2006 Tigers. Tighten it up, G-Men! Maybe wrap Dunston (now a team coach) up in plastic; Dunstonitis could be contagious…
So, will they win? I don’t know. No one does. I won’t be surprised either way. Want predictions? Past Atlanta in three, past Cincinnati in six or Phillies in seven. Then we’ll talk World Series. GO GIANTS!!!