Top Six Storylines that Led the San Francisco Giants to their NL West Title
San Francisco Giants' Top Six Storylines Leading to their NL West Title
The San Francisco Giants broke all odds on Friday night, surging past their division rival Los Angeles Dodgers in the second half of the season to clinch the NL West title ahead of schedule. But it was no ordinary feat. In fact, it took a slew of contributions from unlikely sources. This year for Giants fans, should be forever known as the year of the comeback.
The Giants have proven their worth, against all odds, in the 2012 season. Together, they erased a 7.5 game deficit to the Dodgers, weathered a Melky Cabrera-less second half, endured a historical 10-man trade that left their west coast rivals with some top notch talent and regrouped from a slew of injuries (most notably, Pablo Sandoval’s broken hand and Brian Wilson’s season-ending Tommy John surgery). Together, they took the pieces of that disappointing 2011 season, and built a stable, unwavering World Series-caliber team.
So what were the top six headlines?
The Giants started the season with too many uncertainties for them to be considered a playoff-caliber team, let alone a team who could reasonably fight for the World Series title. Buster Posey was coming off of a tragic season-ending surgery, Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum signed lengthy and expensive offseason contracts that left them forever trapped under a microscope and the Giants welcomed a few new faces to the team (namely, Cabrera and Angel Pagan). Some of these headlines made it on the list, others did not. Let’s take a look at what story lines propelled the Giants to regular season glory.
Buster Posey's MVP season
The Giants’ fallen angel came in the form of a 25-year-old catcher from Leesburg, Georgia named Buster Posey. Since his season-ending surgery he suffered on an on-field collision at the plate during the first half of the 2011 campaign, Posey has rebounded beyond all odds. He leads the team in most, if not all, important offensive categories, including home runs (23), RBIs (98), on-base percentage (.405), slugging percentage (.541), OPS (.946) and WAR (6.3). As a result of his exceptional season, the Giants slugger remains the frontrunner for the NL MVP and batting title.
Posey has almost single-handedly carried the team to its second NL division crown in the last three years. All without the efforts of their former leading man Cabrera (due to his mid-season 50-game suspension for testing positive for testosterone). Since the All-Star break, Posey has surged back onto the national scene and into the NL MVP hunt with a stellar .389/.464/.650 slash line. His numbers alone cloud the disgraced image of All-Star MVP Cabrera in a Giants uniform.
Not only is he the biggest contributing factor for the whole season, he reflects a player of great admiration, sportsmanship and resiliency. During the Giants game against the San Diego Padres at AT&T Park on Friday, Posey was honored with the Willie Mac award, a distinction that goes to the most inspirational player on the team. Posey’s unfathomable comeback from a season-ending ankle surgery to an MVP-caliber season has been the biggest, if not best, story line of the Giants season.
Matt Cain’s NL Cy Young-Caliber Season
Matt Cain has been the steady hand of the Giants pitching staff. His perfect game on July 14 not only separates him from mere mortals, but from great pitchers to Hall-of-Famers. His career-low 2.86 ERA, an outstanding strikeout rate (22.3 percent) and a strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.78) all are in the top five of NL pitchers. In turn, his resume of pitching accomplishments pit him in the NL Cy Young race, trailing New York Mets’ knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.
The Giants were brilliant to lock the 27-year-old right-hander up for the long-term. He has the kind of arm, straight-forward mechanics and work-horse mentality that can last him a decade in the league. The Giants will likely keep him in line as the No. 1 starter heading into their upcoming NL division series.
Marco Scutaro's Mid-Season Acquisition
It’s official. The Giants won the trade deadline lottery.
After acquiring second baseman Marco Scutaro from the Colorado Rockies on July 28, Scutaro has tallied one of the biggest first-half to second-half swings in major league history. Don’t believe me? In his brief stint with the Rockies, the 36-year-old right-hander recorded a pedestrian .273/.324/.361 slash line on a team battered with injuries. Since his acquisition to San Francisco, Scutaro has exploded offensively, notching a 361/.385/.458 line at the second base position, incapsulating all that was Cody Ross during his amazing 2010 campaign with the Giants.
Since Scutaro landed with San Francisco, the Giants have gone an astounding 33-17. During that span, he has recorded a team-best 78 hits and 47 runs. If Scutaro was on the front-nine of his career, he’d hit free agency with a massive asking price. Fortunately for San Francisco fans, Scutaro will happily re-sign with the Giants, according to team sources. His reasons? Jut look at Scutaro’s last few employers: the Rockies, Toronto Blue Jays and Oakland Athletics. He’s had one playoff appearance in the last six years (Oakland; 2007).
Angel Pagan’s Resurgence
Pagan has been the Giants leading man in the lineup, literally. The 31-year-old leadoff hitter has had an exceptional year at the plate after coming over from the Mets in the offseason. Since then, he has tallied a team-best in runs and has recorded a franchise best 15 triples this season. Even more, the Puerto-Rican born Pagan has enjoyed a healthy .293/.342/.448 slash line with a second-best 58 extra base hits and a 4.1 WAR for the Giants.
Pagan’s recent surge has just about covered the loss of Cabrera. Since the All-Star break, he has notched one of the best second-halves of any center-fielder in the majors, recording a .306/.356/.502 line, which includes a ridiculous .342/.415/.588 month of August.
While Pagan has contributed more than enough at the plate, his intangibles give the Giants the best chance to win. His speed on the base path (28 stolen bases) and his range in the outfield make him one of the better outfielders in the game. Opponents cringe when he’s on the base path and recoil in disgust when he makes a leaping grab at the wall. If he plays as well in the postseason than he has in the regular season, the Giants will have a steady diet of RBI chances.
Madison Bumgarner Turning into an Ace
With Lincecum falling by the wayside, the Giants needed a new slinger to help the Giants buoy their pitching staff. Insert: Madison Bumgarner.
The 23-year-old left-hander has been the Giants saving grace and second ace behind the more celebrated Cain. As such, Bumgarner has not only quietly become one of the best pitchers on the Giants roster, but the entire league. Currently, he sits with a slew of career bests, including 16 wins (4th in NL), 204.1 innings pitched (6th), 187 strikeouts (8th), 1.11 WHIP (5th) and two complete games (4th).
At home, he’s almost un-hittable. The southern-born side arm slinger has tallied a deadly 2.38 ERA with a 1.02 WHIP in 106 innings. Expect Bumganer to retain his No. 3 starting role in the Giants’ postseason rotation behind Cain and Lincecum.
Brandon Crawford’s Exceptional Defensive Second-Half
While this may be a somewhat unexpected story line, Brandon Crawford has quietly become one of the best shortstops in the league. At least, according to manager Bruce Bochy.
“I don’t know who is playing better defensively,” Bochy said. “I don’t.”
Crawford is now one of the leading candidates for a Gold Glove award at one of the hardest defensive positions. While starting slow and collecting an ugly 12 errors in the first 60 games, Crawford has firmed up his efforts at shortstop with as little as three errors in the last 67 games. He currently sits at third in the NL among shortstops with a .974 fielding percentage. He leads former Gold Glove winners Troy Tulowitzki (2010 and 2011 Gold Glove winner), who is reeling from an injury-plagued season and Jimmy Rollins (2007-09), who has tailed off in the latter years of his career.
It especially doesn’t hurt Crawford’s case for a Gold Glove honor after batting .307 in the last 36 games. While batting averages don’t usually contribute to the honor, it does at some capacity. As a result, Bochy has insisted that Crawford’s recent success will end the platoon of shortstops (of Joaquin Arias and Ryan Theriot) during the postseason if his recent offensive surge continues through the rest of the season.