The Giants (and I) ended the 2013 season in fine fashion and high spirits, and I don’t think either of us wants to wait too long for 2014.
In the case of the Giants, according to Mercury News beat writer Alex Pavlovic, “they went 20-14 after August 24 and finished with wins in 10 of the final 15 games.”
In my case, I attended three games in the last week of the season. In my first, the Giants lost to the Dodgers, but they kept it close, they won the next two, and we were treated to the spectacle of Brian Wilson‘s ignominious return to San Francisco. I had the extra pleasure of attending with my friend Joe Konte, who is not only the man who has organized my season ticket group since Pac Bell Park opened in 2000, but is now also the author of the fabulous new book on the Giants and Dodgers and their long enmity for one another, “The Rivalry Heard Round the World.”
With Rivalry Day approaching – wait, didn’t you know that Oct. 3 was Giants-Dodgers Rivalry Day? On this date in 1951, Bobby Thomson hit his famed home run; in 1962, the Giants again won the capper of a three-game playoff against the Dodgers, this time when Stan Williams walked Jim Davenport with the bases loaded; and in 1993, the Dodgers beat the Giants on the last day of the season in what we know as the Salomon Torres game, and the Giants lost the division championship to the Braves. And on Oct. 3, 2013 – as in, tomorrow – Joe Konte will appear at Books Inc. in San Francisco’s Marina neighborhood to regale the crowd with even more tales of the rivalry. (It will help put the latest sordid episode into context as well.) I saw Joe’s event at Book Passage in Corte Madera, and he was a wonderful storyteller. (Buy his book!)
My next two games were Friday, Sept. 27, and Sunday, Sept. 29. The Giants beat the Padres in both. Friday night, Hunter Pence won the Willie Mac Award as the team’s most inspirational player. Last season’s winner, Ryan Vogelsong, turned in a strong effort. I hope he makes it back next year.
Then, after the Giants rewarded Pence with a big contract – yay! – he showed what he’s capable of, turning in his first walk-off hit as a Giant as the team came from behind to beat the Padres on Fan Appreciation Day on Sunday. It was a glorious afternoon at the ballpark, highlighted by two moving displays: An ovation for Giants fan Bryan Stow, who came out to the ballpark, and an overdue ovation for Barry Zito, who shared his love of the fans. Three years ago, such mutual affection seemed impossible; fans chafed at Zito’s poor performance under his massive contract. But Zito proved himself a class act, first accepting a sideline role in the 2010 playoffs, and then rebounding with a strong 2012 season and some series-saving performances in the postseason. Redemption is sweet, and Zito, with all his struggles, seemed less like a glamorous millionaire athlete and more like one of us as he doffed his cap and touched his heart.
I can’t say enough about how optimistic I am for 2014. I love a pitching staff anchored by Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. (Do I have to say it? Bring back Tim Lincecum!) I love that Buster Posey is locked up for years – he is our Derek Jeter. I love that Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford emerged as bona fide big leaguers, and will continue to improve. I love that Pablo Sandoval showed, if only briefly, that he can lose weight and regain his stroke. I love that Sergio Romo can go a whole season as a closer. (Do I have to say it? Bring back Javier Lopez!) I love little things – the return of Angel Pagan, the emergence of Yusmeiro Petit (the next Vogelsong), the clutch hitting of Hector Sanchez, the willingness to spend big on Pence and possibly other free agents. And I love that the Giants never quit, and managed to escape the cellar and finish in third place, after all their struggles. Thank you, Bruce Bochy!
The Giants’ failure to defend their World Series championship probably means the end of the line for my incredible run as the author of Giants Past and Present. I still have some of the 2012 World Championship editions to sell (email me for a signed copy!), but there won’t be a fourth edition.
I have, however, put the finishing touches on a new Giants’ book, the Giants Experience, which will be out in the spring. It will be a big, beautiful coffee table book that will sell for $35. I’ll set up a new Web site for that! (You can get a sense of what it will be like by checking out Tyler Kepner‘s Phillies Experience.)
Thanks to the Giants, who in yet another season of Torture have reminded us how sweet those world championships really were, and to all of you, for reading and supporting me on this wonderful ride.
Once again, the Giants are roaring into October, and the diehards are ready for another magical run. I sure am. But I can’t help but note that things feel different this time.
For one thing: Where is the Torture?
And for another: What happened to our lovable band of castoffs and misfits?
The Giants of 2010 knew how to break a curse. They took all the Torture of the past half-century-plus in San Francisco — all the second place finishes of the 1960s, McCovey’s line drive, Jose Oquendo, Candy Maldonado, Dusty Baker and Russ Ortiz — and they owned it. When Duane Kuiper coined his slogan in May of that season, “Giants Baseball: It’s Torture!,” he gave the team a rallying cry that told the world, we don’t care how many times we bring it to the brink, we can win.
No one personified Torture more than Brian Wilson. He became the face of the franchise, muscle-bound, and weird beyond words, stalking to the mound, throwing heat – and giving up the walks that would bring opponents tantalizingly close, only to slam the door on such Torture. And it all flowed from Wilson: His pal, Pat Burrell, donning the leather straps as the Machine; Burrell’s pal, Aubrey Huff, donning the satin thong that assured the postseason; and the rest of the castoffs, midseason acquisitions like Javier Lopez, Ramon Ramirez, and Cody Ross, who was claimed off waivers and went on to author some improbably insane postseason heroics.
The Giants kept their team remarkably intact in 2011, and it got them nowhere. But they did learn something important that season: the importance of Buster. When Posey went down in May, the Giants were essentially done.
I’ve often felt that Posey could be the Giants’ Derek Jeter. Like Jeter, he provided the missing ingredient to bring his team a championship in his rookie year. He is calm, poised beyond his years, confident and capable. I don’t think anyone would argue with the Giants naming Buster their captain.
And that’s where the big difference between 2010 and 2012 comes in. Instead of Buster quietly fitting in among the Freak, the Beard and the rest of the castoffs, he is the undisputed leader of this year’s squad. The Giants have a much more understated, workmanlike approach, exemplified for me by three young, strong, silent Southerners – Posey, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. I think (warning: armchair psychoanalysis ahead) this may be why Tim Lincecum is struggling; the free-spirited, pot-smoking, long-haired Freak is no longer at home in his own clubhouse.
One of the interesting things about this switch in team personality hit me in August, when Carl Steward, a fine columnist for the Bay Area Newspaper Group (aka the San Jose Oakland Contra Costa Marin Mercury Times News Journal), took note of the Giants hitting a real low point in the season. They had been swept by the Dodgers at home. They looked like they couldn’t score runs. Steward wondered if Coors Field could prove a tonic (it did), and if Posey and Cain were too quiet to fire up the team the way Huff and Burrell did two years earlier. Steward wrote:
Good teams need strong, occasionally outspoken leaders. Leadership can’t always be by setting a good example aka Cain/Posey. Sometimes you have to get in players’ ears. Sometimes you need to throw a fit or berate one of us media types after a loss. Sometimes you have to remind teammates that it’s baseball and it’s supposed to be fun as you set off a cherry bomb in the middle of the clubhouse, or hide a four-day-old chicken neck in somebody’s locker.
It may be Cain’s team and Posey’s team, but they’re the strong, silent, stable types. The Giants need somebody right now to throw the cherry bomb. Make somebody laugh. Make somebody ticked off. Become the human defibrillator.
Not only did the Giants start hitting at Coors, but they got their cherry bomb two weeks later, when Melky Cabrera was suspended.
He was cast off. The Giants were misfits no more. And never mind Torture, they overtook the Dodgers and clinched the division with 10 games to spare.
I can’t wait to see what they do in October.
No one gets too excited when Brandon Crawford comes to bat. I can speak for all Giants fans and say we hold our collective breath and hope for the best for this kid. It would be so great if he could emerge as a big league hitter, but we fear he’s been thrown to the wolves too early and may not get there.
Yet I couldn’t help but notice that he has gone through some pretty impressive stretches this season. I’ve looked at the stats, and found this:
After dropping to a dismal .173 batting average on April 21 in New York – yes, well below his listed weight of 215 pounds – Crawford went on an impressive little run, hitting .259 in the next 17 games. Then Bruce Bochy boldly batted Brendan second in the order – where he’s likely to see better pitches – and he responded, hitting .300 over the next nine games, with an on-base percentage of .356, 7 RBI and 8 runs scored.
You can see and sort Crawford’s game-by-game stats at the table below. (I love Baseball Reference! The column headed BOP indicates batting order position; from May 17 to May 28, Crawford hit second in all but one game. If you click on those dates, you can get a table showing the stats from those games – my source of information.)
Boch said at the time he was experimenting, but that Crawford had been hitting well enough to merit a shot.
I would have thought Crawford had passed his audition, but then Ryan Theriot came off the disabled list, and as a proven major league hitter (in years prior to this one), Bochy handed him the 2-hole. I can’t criticize that move, especially since Crawford struck out 15 times in his 45 plate appearances batting second. (Bochy also gave him two more shots at the 2-hole and he went oh-for-7.) And Theriot has proven Bochy right so far, batting .321 with a .406 OBA and zero whiffs in 32 plate appearances.
It’s funny, because I had been wondering why Angel Pagan doesn’t bat second, and Henry Schulman today reports that Bochy has considered that idea. (Schulman mostly writes about Pablo Sandoval‘s weight, thank goodness – I had long thought of that as, if you’ll excuse me, the elephant in the room, and I’m glad to read that the Giants are addressing it.) Wouldn’t you love a lineup of Blanco-Pagan-Cabrera-Posey-Sandoval? I sure would.
Meanwhile, since Crawford returned to his usual spot in Siberia, I mean the 8-hole, with its diet of pitches outside the strike zone, he has resumed his old ways, going 2-for-13 in the past five games.
He may be a future number two hitter, but he’s not there yet – at least, not for a team, like the Giants, that has serious playoff plans.
Under the rules of baseball, the statisticians the winning pitcher to be the guy who is in the game when the winning run scored. I would like to suggest, in this era of SABRmetrics, when the win has already been devalued (see Hernandez, Felix), that the rule be changed.
The clearest example of why this should be is last night’s San Francisco Giants game. Madison Bumgarner pitched a beauty against a devastating Detroit Tigers lineup — 7.3 innings, 1 hit, 1 walk, 9 strikeouts, 1 earned run. But then in the eighth and ninth, Brian Wilson — and don’t get me wrong, for all the torture, I love the guy — gets two outs and surrenders 4 hits, 1 walk and 2 earned runs.
Wilson gets the win, and goes berserk on a Gatorade cooler. What’s wrong with this picture?
I would like to see baseball’s official scorers empowered to decide who is the winning pitcher based on merit. Lord knows Brian Wilson is not looking to pad his stats with wins thanks to all the Giants’ late inning rallies. When Bumgarner – and for that matter Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and the rest of the Giants’ aces – pitch deep into games, giving up next to nothing, they deserve a win, instead of the mediocre win-loss records that they carry around with them.
(Footnote: I actually had to edit Lincecum’s Wikipedia page to show his 18-5 record in his first Cy Young season of 2008.)
I had a great conversation with Damon Bruce last Friday on his show. We talked about Giants Past and Present. It was a great interview and a great treat for fathers day. Damon said, “It is a 1st class product all the way through – a well written, well crafted book.”
I want to see a rule change. And I’m not alone.
I want to see catchers protected from home plate collisions.
Buster Posey may be out for the year, just because baseball says it’s all right that Scott Cousins of the Florida Marlins came barreling down the third base line at top speed and, instead of sliding, dove at Posey like a linebacker in hopes of jarring the ball loose – a ball, it turns out, that Posey wasn’t even holding in the first place.
The Giants had told Posey not to block home plate. They told him no run, no single game, was worth the damage he could do to himself, to his career. He got it right last year in the NLCS – as important a game as he’d ever played in to that point, applying a sweep-tag on Carlos Ruiz to nail the runner yet stay out of harm’s way. Indeed, even in the Marlins game, Buster Ballgame was in front of home plate, toward the mound, taking the throw and then trying to turn into Cousins to apply the tag.
I don’t fault Cousins. He was within the rules, written or otherwise. But baseball has rules to prevent runners from creaming middle infielders in the same fashion. Hockey has rules to protect the goaltender. Football protects the quarterback. Major sports are getting more sensitive to injuries, especially concussions.
The Giants have already lost Mike Matheny to a similar play. Joe Mauer is continually banged up in Minnesota. The tools of ignorance are hardly protection for an athlete running right at you like a freight train.
Evan Brunell summarized the situation very well over at CBS Sports, noting that Posey’s agent and his manager have also called for a rules change:
Posey’s agent, Jeff Berry, said he was planning on calling Joe Torre, the new leader of on-field operations, in the hopes of changing the rules that allow runners to barrel into catchers.
“You leave players way too vulnerable,” Berry said. “I can tell you Major League Baseball is less than it was before [Posey's injury]. It’s stupid. I don’t know if this ends up leading to a rule change, but it should. The guy [at the plate] is too exposed.
“If you go helmet to helmet in the NFL, it’s a $100,000 fine, but in baseball, you have a situation in which runners are [slamming into] fielders. It’s brutal. It’s borderline shocking. It just stinks for baseball. I’m going to call Major League Baseball and put this on the radar. Because it’s just wrong.”
“It’s part of baseball. I understand that,” Bochy said in a news conference on Thursday according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “Guys run into catchers. Being a catcher, I’ve been in a few of them. You’re in harm’s way there. I do think we need to consider changing the rules a little bit because the catcher’s so vulnerable — and there are so many who’ve gotten hurt, and just a little bit. I mean, they’ve had their careers or shortened. And here’s a guy that’s very popular in baseball. Fans want to see him play. Now, he’s out for a while. I’d like to see maybe something considered here where we can protect these guys a little bit more. They just don’t have the protection to take a guy coming in full speed, with that kind of force.”
Bochy said he had previously spoken to Posey about not getting out in front and blocking the plate — and to an extent, Posey tried to honor that.
“He was not completely in front of the plate. He was in a position where he could make a tag without being hit, too,” Bochy said. “He just got himself in a tough position there because [the way] his leg was situated. He was down on one knee, and ideally, you’d like to have the foot pointed that way to protect you a little bit. But, again, you’re trying to handle a throw. You don’t have time to get set up perfectly. That’s what hurt him was his leg was tucked underneath him when he got hit.”
It should have been changed years ago, when Pete Rose wrecked Ray Fosse in the All-Star Game. But just because it’s late doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen. Let’s do it now. Call it the Buster Posey Rule. And protect the catcher!
Oh, and when Buster does come back? Put him at third base. First base. Anywhere but behind the plate!
Today’s guest post is from Bleacher Report Contributor Simon Cherin-Gordon, a Berkeley High Senior who has been helping me on projects large and small on this site and elsewhere for the past year.
After Bruce Bochy led the Giants on a second half surge that netted them an unexpected division title, many Giants’ fans were calling for Bochy to win the Manager of the Year award. While Bochy was deserving, so were others, including Padres’ skipper Bud Black, who won 90 games with a roster that most expected to struggle all year. The award went to him, and rightfully so.
Bochy, meanwhile, went on to win the World Series, strengthening his position as one of the game’s best.
However, it is only now, two months into the 2011 season, that we are seeing Bochy’s finest work. After an uneventful offseason, the Giants looked like they’d be caught in another fierce battle with better offensive teams out west, and would need heroic career years out of guys who already delivered their heroic career years in 2010. While Pat Burrell’s resurrection and Cody Ross’ hot streak could be attributed to Bochy, that may be giving him more credit than he deserves.
In fact, the 2010 Giants may have underperformed in multiple, albeit subtle, ways. The 2010 team was 6th in the NL in total bases, batting average, and home runs, yet finished only 9th in runs scored, indicating an inefficient offense. On the defensive side, they led the league in fielding percentage as well as ERA, a seemingly fool-proof formula for allowing the fewest runs. However, Bud Black’s Padres allowed less runs than the Giants in 2010. And even when taking the end result of runs allowed and runs scored for San Francisco, their 92-70 record was slightly worse than their Pythagorean projection (a simple Bill Jamesian stat that projects W-L record based on run differential), which had them at 94-68.
As anyone should have seen coming, the offense has taken a step back so far in 2011, and, to the surprise of many, the defense has gotten a whole lot worse. Mark DeRosa may eventually help some, and Aubrey Huff will likely pick his numbers up. Other than that, not many hitters are underperforming, and the lack of pop may be here to stay. The pitching staff is still excellent, but the defense has hurt them. Bochy doesn’t have the benefit of this being “the Giants’ year,” and needs to squeeze as much as he can out of this deep but flawed roster.
He’s done so miraculously, using his depth to its full capacity and, in doing so, covering up the flaws. His game management, use of certain players in certain roles, and steady presence has the Giants winning way more than they should be. Despite the league’s 3rd best ERA and 13th best defense, San Francisco is 3rd best in the league in runs allowed. And while the Pythagorean projection says the team should be 23-24, Bochy has them at 27-20, solely atop the NL West.
The toughest thing about managing the defending champs is the heightened desire around the league to defeat you, especially early in the season. Every other team out there circles the Giants on their calenders, and plays with an added intensity when they meet. Facing teams that are playing with an extra edge every single day can, and often does, prove to be too much for a defending champ. This leads to a scrambling manager, a belief in the players that they aren’t good as they were last year, and a downward spiral. Bochy and his 2011 club has been the antithesis of this. The Giants are playing more intensely than their opponents. Bochy has his player’s roles figured out and never panics when a decision backfires.
Although no team has won back-to-back World Series titles since 2000, no manager of a defending champ has done as good a job as Bruce Bochy in a long time. And regardless of what happens this October, a return to the playoffs for this team should net Bochy the Manager of the Year award in a landslide.
Read more of Simon Cherin-Gordon’s sportswriting here
The champs, continued
Here we are, a month into the season, and the question keeps coming up: How do we feel about the Giants? They are not exactly sweeping through the National League the way they swept through the playoffs last year. Should we worry?
No. And yes. The Giants are doing everything just the way we remember, if not better. Nothing came easy to them last year. Remember torture? This season opened with more of that Torture (with a capital T and that rhymes with G and that stands for Giants). Losses in L.A., blown saves against St. Louis, narrow, late inning victories (and losses) and then a sweep at home by the hated Braves brought all of those memories back.
Of course, we have many reasons to feel this year would be better. The great young pitchers have another year experience under their belt, and keep improving. The lineup, in flux all of last season, appears settled – Brian Sabean won’t have to scramble to add every warm bat he can find, as he did last year with Messrs. Burrell, Guillen and Ross. Ditto the bullpen. Buster Posey should also get better with experience, and if unloading Bengie Molina last year to make room for Posey was addition by subtraction, the Giants took the concept even farther this year, with Pablo Sandoval shedding what, 50 pounds, and going from a sure first-pitch double-play to one of the most feared hitters in the league. And Brandon Belt could be the next Posey.
Then again, we’re Giants fans. We have many reasons to feel this year will be worse, too. The pitchers never had to work as hard as they did last year – could they be burned out? Miguel Tejada looks to be a serious liability at shortstop. Injuries are rearing their ugly head, striking Brian Wilson, Barry Zito, Cody Ross, Andres Torres.
And yet, so far this year as last, the misfits keep fitting in. Down goes Torres, up comes Rowand. Wilson isn’t laid low for long. Ross’s absence makes room for Belt, and Mark DeRosa makes the most of his at-bats. Even Tejada surprises with some heroics reminiscent of his Oakland days.
It’s a long season. It’s a great ride. Go ahead, torture me. I know I can take it.
I have just attended two of the greatest, most torturous Giants games of my life. To see these amazing ceremonies beforehand, with the flag going up and the rings going out, and then to see the Giants battle and grind, and take it to the last at-bat, night after night, just reminds me of all the things I love about baseball.
It’s a team without superstars. A team that’s never out of it. Pick it up when one guy struggles.
And keep the drama high, the fans on the edge of their seat, and never do anything the easy way.
I hope to write something more reflective, but I just needed to get that thought out now. I don’t know if I can take 154 more games like that!
The second edition of Giants Past and Present will be released on Friday, April 22nd. The revised edition will feature a new cover, praises, and updated information. Among the updates will a revised World Series chapter, which can be read in it’s entirety here: Sample ChapterNext Page »