The San Francisco Giants have proven themselves as World Series champions in two of the past three years. But they didn’t repeat after securing their 2010 crown.
Greedy fandom sentiments notwithstanding, can they do so following their win in the 2012 October Classic?
Yes, and here’s how.
4. No Wilson, No Problem
Most teams that lose their perennial 40-save closer (give or take a few) within the first week of the season tend to experience some difficulty closing out games.
And losing their established 20-plus-save man in late July due to ineffectiveness would usually exacerbate said problems, right?
Well, not the 2012 Giants.
The insanely eccentric, yet fundamental team leader Brian Wilson played in just two April games before undergoing Tommy John surgery. He recorded 163 saves between 2008-2011. Missing that reliable production in the backend of the bullpen should have been a huge issue.
It wasn’t at first because the hard-throwing Santiago Casilla stepped up and converted 20 saves out of his first 21 chances. Yet, he experienced a three-run meltdown against the Oakland A’s on June 24. Including that failed opportunity, he blew five saves in his next nine chances, not to mention surrendering seven earned runs during that span.
Even with yet another seemingly crushing setback, top set-up man Sergio Romo came to the rescue. He converted 14-of-15 saves with a 1.79 ERA and 63-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio during the regular season. He then struck out nine to just one walk in 10.2 postseason innings with four saves (zero blows saves) and a miniscule 0.84 ERA.
One of those saves secured Game 5 of the NLDS, with another closing out the World Series-clinching Game 4 against the Detroit Tigers.
Even if the Giants do re-sign Wilson following a successful rehab stint, they’ll be fully equipped when it matters most in 2013 without the bearded flame-thrower. Romo returns as closer, with effective set-up specialists Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez and Casilla coming back as well.
Affeldt was money with 16 holds and a 2.70 ERA in 63.1 regular season innings. His 10 strikeouts and 0.00 ERA in 10.3 playoff frames were even more testament to his shutdown prowess. San Francisco used Lopez far less frequently (36 innings), but he was just as reliable with 18 holds and seven saves before not allowing a run in October baseball as well.
And Casilla, despite his demotion, responded in crunch time with a postseason 1.29 ERA, 8-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, two holds and—last, but certainly not least—a win in Game 4 of the World Series.
So, if San Francisco can seal the deal in the seventh through ninth innings, can it score enough to get their in the first place?
3. MVP Posey, Rejuvenated Sandoval, Comfortable Pence And More
While not being the sole reason, Buster Posey’s absence in 2011 was a substantial reason why the Giants did not repeat that year, let alone make the playoffs. San Francisco could not overcome his vital role in leading the team, handling the pitching staff and providing the essential thump in the lineup.
Is it a coincidence, then, that the Giants did repeat when Posey returned in 2012? Considering he set career highs with 24 home runs and 103 RBI, ranked third in the National League in slugging percentage (.549), second in OPS (.957), first in batting average (.336) and won the NL MVP, well, we think not.
The sky’s the limit for a fully healthy Posey in 2013. Imagine what the man can accomplish when not having to deal with lingering pain from devastating bone and ligament damage.
The Giants have their No. 1 batter locked-and-loaded for a repeat campaign.
Furthermore, Pablo Sandoval will enter the batter’s box this season as one rejuvenated slugger.
The “Kung Fu Panda” went berserk in the playoffs last year. He jacked six homers, drove in 13 RBI and collected 24 hits—all for a .364 batting average. More importantly, he delivered the greatest collective performance of his career with a video game-like .500 average, .529 OBP, 1.125 SLG and 1.654 OPS in the World Series.
Sandoval followed up those monster numbers with a SportsCenter Top 10-worthy game-winning home run for his Venezuelan squad in Winter Ball, among other notable moments.
With his weight under control and hand injuries a thing of the past, Sandoval will keep riding his productive wave into 2013. He and Posey will once again combine for a formidable one-two punch in San Francisco’s lineup.
Additionally, Hunter Pence will find his slightly awkward, yet powerful hitting stroke from the get-go by avoiding the distractions of a midseason trade.
Pence signed his $13.8 million contract and can focus his efforts towards contributing as an all-around hitter for the Giants. He already proved his value as a regular-season run-producer (45 RBI in 59 games) and emotional leader in the playoffs.
Now as a locked-in Opening Day starter, he can revive his high-average form of old and solidify the lower half of the batting order.
Finally, like Pence, Marco Scutaro and Angel Pagan will reap the benefits of contract security.
Some might point to the dangers of complacency and fall-outs from career highs (.306 AVG, 74 RBI for Scutaro; 174 hits, 38 2B, 15 3B for Pagan). The same goes for potential drop offs the season after winning the World Series.
That also can be construed as an unnecessary pessimistic outlook.
With Pagan, Scutaro, Sandoval, Posey and Pence filling out No. 1 through No. 5 beginning on Day 1, the Giants will piggyback of their already-generated chemistry in 2012. That will also help young up-and-comers Brandon Belt, Hector Sanchez and Brandon Crawford realize their full potential.
The Giants have won with less potent lineups; they can certainly repeat with this contingent.
2. Lincecum of Old, Rotation of Always
Tim Lincecum was the worst starting pitcher statistically speaking for much of 2012.
He went 5-11 with an ERA that hovered around 6.00 for the first four months. Despite settling down somewhat in August and September, Lincecum’s 10-15 record, 5.18 ERA, 1.47 WHIP and 90 walks were all career-highs (and not the good kind). His 186 innings pitched and 190 strikeouts were also the fewest since his 2007 rookie year.
But throw those atrocious numbers out the window. See: postseason heroics and stark realizations.
The one affectionately known as “The Freak” was utterly freakish out of the bullpen during San Francisco’s playoff run. In 13.1 innings, Lincecum struck out 17, walked only two and allowed just a single run. He was the winning pitcher in Game 4 of the NLDS with 4.1 courageous innings and helped preserve World Series Game 3 with 2.1 shutout frames.
The fact that he produced all this as a reliever will only push him as a starter going forward. Lincecum is in the final season of a two-year deal that will pay him a whopping $22.25 million in 2013. That equates to frontline starter’s money, and certainly nothing a relief pitcher—no matter how good—would ever receive.
Lincecum realizes that this is the most pivotal season of his career, one where he will have to prove the most. Needing to showcase his viability as a starter of any kind—let alone No. 1—will provide ample motivation.
Last year’s regular season debacle was an aberration. Even if he doesn’t quite return to his Cy Young form of 2008-2009, he’ll be much closer to that than what materialized in 2012.
As for the rotation as a whole, well, Lincecum’s resurrection will take pressure of a unit that still ranked as one of the best even when compensating for their fallen hero. Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong and yes, even Barry Zito will all stand to benefit.
It’s fair to say that the Giants’ opposition in 2013 will not.
1. Bruce Bochy and a Thing Called Chemistry
We can’t determine precisely how good the Giants or their NL West counterparts will be next season.
San Diego will operate as an improved bunch, but the Padres are still a few seasons away.
The Arizona Diamondbacks will certainly be in contention with a well-rounded group under manager Kirk Gibson. Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill and Wade Miley heading the rotation, J.J. Putz anchoring the bullpen and Jason Kubel, Paul Goldschmidt and Aaron Hill powering the lineup make Arizona a true contender.
Offseason acquisitions of Martin Prado, Cody Ross and Brandon McCarthy will also help offset the loss of Justin Upton to the Atlanta Braves.
For the Los Angeles Dodgers, they’ll without question serve as the greatest threat to San Francisco.
When healthy, a batting order featuring Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, Andre Ethier and Hanley Ramirez is a veritable murderer’s row. Bringing in Mark McGwire as hitting coach will only elevate their production—we all saw what he accomplished with the St. Louis Cardinals in that role.
Having Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke as the top two in the rotation, and Ronald Belisario and strikeout-machine Kenley Jansen close things out further solidifies the Dodgers as a viable corps.
The Cardinals, Washington Nationals, Cincinnati Reds and Atlanta Braves, to name a few, will also be back as World Series hopefuls. The same applies to the Tigers, A’s, New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels, if not others, in the American League.
Yet, with all that said, the Giants are still the defending champs.
They return as the same winning, chemistry-fueled squad with a deep-rooted camaraderie that is unmatched in all of baseball. Bruce Bochy, the manager who works magic with bullpens, takes injuries in stride and extracts the best out of his players, is back at the helm as well.
The Giants are in as good of a position as any to play again in the Fall Classic—and they can surely repeat as holders of the World Series crown.
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