San Francisco Giants: 5 Most Valuable Players Who Led Team to NL West Crown
For the second time in three years the San Francisco Giants are champions of the National League West.
In a word, this year's team was resilient.
They lost starting second baseman Freddy Sanchez and closer Brian Wilson for the entire season. Pablo Sandoval spent two stints on the disabled list with a broken hamate bone and a strained hamstring. Tim Lincecum, the presumed ace of the staff, was horrendous for most of the first half.
Then, in August, after everything else the team had been through, MVP candidate Melky Cabrera was suspended for the remainder of the season for PED use.
All seemed lost, yet it was just the beginning. The Giants have gone 25-9 without Cabrera, including a 5-1 run against the Los Angeles Dodgers—even as the Dodgers added nearly $300 million in payroll by acquiring Hanley Ramirez, Joe Blanton, Shane Victorino, Brandon League, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and injured Carl Crawford.
Alas, buying seemingly half the league wasn't enough for the Dodgers to overcome the Giants. Not with MVP front-runner Buster Posey in the middle of the lineup.
The Giants have Posey, and their enemies do not.
Last season, when Scott Cousins annihilated Posey in a vicious collision at home plate, the season, and Posey's career, hung in the balance with the 24-year old catcher clawing at the dirt in pain. The Giants somehow righted the ship to stay competitive through the end of July, but not even the addition of Carlos Beltran was enough to overcome the loss of Posey over the long haul.
Posey returned from his catastrophic injury this season to carry the Giants back to the postseason, just as he did in 2010. However, he wasn't alone.
Posey is the heart and soul of the Giants franchise. He leads the team in home runs, RBI, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS and WAR. He's not only the Giants' best player, he's also the best player in the National League.
In the two seasons the Giants have had Posey, they've won the NL West both times. Had he avoided injury last season, we'd be talking about a three-peat for the Giants as division champions right now.
Posey has carried the Giants in the second half to help alleviate the loss of Cabrera. He's hit a Bonds-like .389/.464/.650 since the All-Star break. Quite simply, he's put the team on his back down the stretch, and carried them back to the postseason.
Beyond the offense, the pitch calling, the pitch framing and throwing out runners, the team also now clearly reflects the business-like demeanor of their mature young catcher.
Posey is only 25 years old, and he doesn't come across as outspoken. However, his teammates know that he's the best player on the team, and his serious, hard-working mentality appears to be infectious.
There's still some of the fun-loving vibe from 2010 with Aubrey Huff, Pablo Sandoval, Ryan Theriot and others, but there's also more of a stoic resiliency to this squad, and that comes from Posey.
Matt Cain's perfect game was the first sign that something special might be happening this season. The All-Star game starter signed a long-term contract extension this spring to remain with the Giants for the next half decade, and he's followed that up with the best season of his career.
He currently has a career-low 2.86 ERA, a career-low walk rate (5.9 percent), a career-best strikeout rate (22.3 percent) and a career-best 3.78 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
He's the ace of the staff and the likely Game 1 starter in the upcoming National League Division Series.
Madison Bumgarner has already thrown eight shutout innings in the World Series and pitched a division-clinching game by the age of 23, an age where most of his peers are just entering the minor leagues.
His overall numbers are almost dead even with Cain's. Bumgarner has a slightly higher ERA than Cain at 3.26, but he has the better strikeout (22.4 percent), walk (5.7 percent) and ground ball rates (48 percent).
Bumgarner has struggled with his mechanics down the stretch, but he stepped up on Saturday night with 5.2 strong innings to lift the Giants to the NL West crown. In order to get back to the promised land, the Giants will need a repeat of his outstanding postseason performance from two years ago.
Pagan's speed has added a new dimension to the Giants offense this season. He's legged out a San Francisco franchise record 15 triples this season to go with 28 stolen bases.
Pagan is hitting .293/.342/.448 with 58 extra base hits, which is second on the team to Posey, who has 59. He's also tied for second on the Giants with 4.5 WAR.
Pagan has had an outstanding season, but he's been at his best when the Giants needed it the most. He's hit .306/.356/.502 since the All-Star break, including a ridiculous .342/.415/.588 August that more than made up for the loss of Cabrera.
Well, Marco Scutaro has been pretty awesome since the Giants acquired him from Colorado before the trading deadline. Scutaro has hit .361/.385/.458 in 53 games with the Giants.
Melky Cabrera seems to have worn out his welcome with most Giants fans, but his .346/.390/.516 batting line was a big reason the team was tied for first place when he was suspended. His batting average may not exist in the record books, but his value to the Giants this season remains on the books.
However, Romo gets the final spot because he has been the key to the Wilson-less bullpen. Initially, Giants bullpen maestro Bruce Bochy kept Romo in the eighth inning role and went with Santiago Casilla as closer. However, when Casilla faltered, Bochy turned to a closer-by-committee, with Romo often closing out games.
Romo continues to put up video game numbers with his Frisbee slider. In 51.2 innings this year, he's struck out nearly 30 percent of the hitters he's faced while walking only five percent en route to a 1.89 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 12 saves and 23 holds.
The 2012 Giants have been carried the whole way offensively by Posey and Pagan, with major contributions from Cabrera, Scutaro, Sandoval (.289/.342/.460), Brandon Belt (.271/.359/.422), Gregor Blanco (2.4 WAR), the shortstop tandem of Brandon Crawford and Joaquin Arias, and to some extent, midseason acquisition Hunter Pence (.288/.338/.591 with runners in scoring position for SF).
On the pitching side of things, Cain, Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong (team-leading 21 quality starts), Barry Zito (13-8, 4.18 ERA) and Lincecum (3.06 ERA after the All-Star break) have made all but one start this season, a huge key to the Giants' consistency.
Bochy has mixed and matched in the bullpen with key contributors including Romo, Casilla (2.82 ERA), Jeremy Affeldt (2.83), Javier Lopez (2.55), midseason acquisition Jose Mijares (3.14) and Geroge Kontos (2.75).
There are still three more celebrations to go in order to match the magic 2010 season. However, for the rest of the regular season, the Giants can focus on being the champions of the NL West again, and that is all that matters for now.