Please excuse the lateness of this post. I’ve been distracted by some devastation.
The San Francisco Giants wrapped up their second World Series title in three years on Sunday night with an extra-inning, 4-3 win over the Detroit Tigers giving Major League Baseball an unlikely victor following an unpredictable postseason. Baseball is a funny game where major contributions can come from the unlikeliest of sources and the Giants took every one of those to their advantage. How unpredictable was it? Consider this:
The Giants won six elimination games. Down 2-0 to the Cincinnati Reds in the NLDS and forced to play the remainder of their games on the road at Great American Ballpark, the Giants stormed back against a Reds rotation in flux following an injury to Johnny Cueto. Then, down 3-1 against the St. Louis Cardinals (a team with a similar “Never Say Die” attitude) they outscored the defending champs 20-1 in the final three games to win the pennant.
Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong Dominate
An intelligent mind wrote about Barry Zito in this column, which you should definitely check out, but the bottom line is this: In his final two postseason starts (and yes, ignoring his abysmal first start against Cincinnati) he won both games, threw 13 innings, gave up 12 hits, one earned run, walked one and struck out nine. Vogelsong, on the other hand, started four games in the postseason totaling 24 2/3 innings, gave up 16 hits, three earned runs, 10 walks, 21 strikeouts, had a 1.09 ERA and won three of his starts. He got the job done. Not bad for a guy who until last year was splitting his time between the minor leagues and Japan. Any team who has a chance to put these numbers, plus those of Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner on the mound, will always have the edge over the opposition.
Lincecum the Relief Ace
Baseball fans did not have the fortune of watching the Tim Lincecum we have come to know and love pitch the way we were accustomed this past season. Due to his struggles in the regular season, manager Bruce Bochy relegated him to bullpen duty (all though he did get one start in the NLCS). Pitching out of the stretch in the postseason, “The Freak” went 1-1 in six appearances. Similar to how I analyzed Zito, when you take out his poor start in the NLCS and only look at his relief numbers, Lincecum pitched 13 innings allowing only one run, three hits and one walk with 17 strikeouts, 0.69 ERA and 0.308 WHIP. Bochy had a quick plug on his starters this World Series as he did not want to allow the Tigers’ offense a chance to heat up. Knowing that he had a two-time Cy Young Award winner with postseason success, the ability to strike out the side, excite the crowd and ride their momentum to call on made going to his bullpen an easier move to make and gave him an advantage no other manager could match.
The Deep Ball
This season the Giants ranked last in total team home runs with 103. It is not a surprising stat considering the size of their ballpark and lack of power in the lineup but it is when you consider that they were a championship contender. My only assumption is that they were saving their round-trippers for when they needed them the most. In Game 4 of the NLDS, Angel Pagan and Gregor Blanco hit home runs in the first and second innings to set the tone in an 8-3 win over the Reds. In Game 5, Buster Posey’s grand slam in the fifth provided most of the offense the team would need in a 6-4 series clinching win. In Game 2 of the NLCS, Pagan hit another leadoff homer to give the Giants a lead over Chris Carpenter, one of the best postseason pitchers over the last decade. Of course, who could forget Pablo Sandoval’s three-home-run outburst off of Justin Verlander in Game 1 of the World Series (again, you should really check out this article). His offensive explosion put the Tigers in a hole they couldn’t escape and was the reason behind his World Series MVP honor. Finally, in Game 4 Posey launched another big home run, this time a two-run shot off of Max Scherzer in the sixth inning to give the Giants a 3-2 lead. They may not be a power hitting team, but they knew when to strike when it mattered the most.
And there you have it. The Giants may not have been a popular choice when postseason play began but they executed when it mattered the most. Did they win in familiar ways? Sure, with dominant pitching and timely hitting. Was it a little unconventional? Sure, when you consider their sources. But hey, that’s baseball, isn’t it?