So, I stayed mostly silent after the Giants finally dispatched the Braves in truly excruciating (and typical) fashion. I did this more or less to bask in the excitement. I knew I had at least a few days to let the anxiety subside – a short reprieve from the torture. It’s truly incredible to believe, but the Giants are in somewhat unchartered territory here.
Since the Giants moved west to San Francisco in 1958, they’ve only been this deep or deeper in the playoffs five (5) other times. They made it to the World Series in 1962 and lost in seven to the Yankees. They made it to the League Championship Series in 1971 and lost to Clemente’s Pirates – this is when the baseball passion that burns in my father was ignited and eventually passed to me. They made it to the NLCS in 1987 and lost in seven (7), this time to the Cardinals. In 1989, they returned to the NLCS and beat Maddux’s Cubs to advance to the Bay Bridge Series. Their World Series ring hopes crumbled along with the entire city amidst the unforgettable Loma Prieta earthquake. They returned to the NLCS in 2002 after winning the Wild Card and eliminating the Braves, and exacted their revenge on the Cardinals. But, once again, they would fail to finish (but succeed in tormenting their adoring fans) as they couldn’t hold on to a five run lead with eight outs to get in Game 6, eventually losing in seven to a young John Lackey.
What’s different about this team, however, is that their composition is decidedly different. When people typically think of the Giants, they think of sluggers and outstanding offensive players. People think of Mays, McCovey, Clark and Barry. This team doesn’t have a superstar everyday player. They thought they had one – and they may still – but he gained 30 pounds, lost his stroke, and found his way to the bench. Instead, their lineup is like a last minute Halloween costume – a pair of shorts from the Salvation Army, a construction vest, tool belt and hard hat from your dad, a fake mustache, and Caterpillar boots and voila, you’re The Village People construction worker! – It can turn out really great!
Their leadoff is a minor league journeyman turned igniter. He’s got incredible speed, amazing ability in the center of the outfield and can hurt you with the long ball. Their two hitter is a scrappy second baseman they nabbed from the Pirates for a once hot (not so much any longer) prospect. It’s far too often pointed out he won a batting title, which seems like ages ago, as his greatest asset now is his ability to pick it at second. Their three hitter is (literally) a Plan C that nobody wanted. He found out what it felt like to win, played admirably defensively in three places, strapped on a red thing and has been Huff Daddy ever since. Their cleanup? He’s just a twenty-three year old with less than a full season of experience, and catching (and leading) the most electric staff in baseball. Their five hitter was dumped midseason by an already eliminated AL team* and picked up for league minimum. Their six hitter is a power hitting everyday shortstop that was supposed to be a utility man. Their seven hitter is likely going to be a utility type that’ll play third. He was plucked from the Cubs visiting clubhouse when they were in town, and just to provide depth in the infield. And finally, their eight hitter is an outfielder who can play all three spots and was picked up off waivers in August simply because the Giants were trying to block the Padres, who needed a centerfielder at the time. Oh, he was also the NLDS Most Valuable Player, were the award actually given.
*What’s also interesting is that they – the Rays – desperately needed a quality right handed bat to face off against the likes of the incredible Lee and the quality C.J. Wilson. They never replaced Burrell, and it ultimately was perhaps their undoing. In their defense, Burrell hadn’t done anything in the full season of AB’s they threw at him as their DH. Only when he went west and into the NL again did he turn back into the player they thought they signed, the powerful, patient ex-Philly.
The Giants, this time, are instead a throwback to the 1960’s Dodgers ( as well as the 1970’s A’s and 1990’s Braves). They have an electric starting staff and a solid bullpen. The four of their five starters that will likely pitch in this series – Lincecum, Sanchez, Cain and Bumgarner – are all homegrown. Lincecum won the Golden Spikes award out of UW and was drafted 10th overall in 2006. He arrived shortly after and has two Cy Young awards and 907 strikeouts in just 811 innings. Sanchez was drafted in the 27th round of 2004. The Giants have been almost unreasonably patient with him, and his recent results are why. The Giants saw exactly what Kuiper said about him this morning , he’s a lefty with swing and miss stuff. They don’t grow on trees. Cain was drafted 25th overall in 2002 out of a high school in Tennessee. He’s as steady as they come, and never complains, not even when he has a career sub .500 record despite a mid-three ERA and a career WAR of nearly 20 (courtesy of fangraphs) at age 26. And the most recent addition, Madison Bumgarner, was drafted 10th overall in 2007 out of a high school in North Carolina. He just won the clincher for the Giants on the road, in his first ever playoff appearance, at age 21. He was the left handed version of Cain on draft day: a big kid, projectable, live fastball, ornery, but with better command. With these kinds of arms, the Giants have a bright future.
But the best news is this: the Giants are in. If the odds were even, and they’re not, they have a one in four shot at a parade down Market. Sure, the ESPN “experts,” all ten of them, picked the Phillies to win the series. But we don’t care because we’re in. And, they play the games for a reason.