San Francisco Giants Surge: 10 Reasons No One Wants to Play Them in October
The San Francisco Giants did three significant things during their humongous four-game series against the San Diego Padres. Call it a pleasant coincidence that the team also won three of the weekend contests.
By taking three of four in Petco Park, the good guys exorcised some serious demons in a personal house of horrors. Since the start of the 2009 campaign, the Giants had only won three of the last 14 contests played in the Friars' home. You have to imagine the lads enjoyed doubling a two-year win total in four days.
More importantly, the trio of triumphs moved the Orange and Black into a virtual tie with the Fathers atop the National League West—one up in the win column, one back in the loss column, and only percentage points behind the technical front-runners.
Finally and most importantly, San Francisco showed that it was strapped in for the 2010 stretch and ready to make a hard charge at the playoffs. By pennant or by Wild Card, SF seems intent on reaching Major League Baseball's second season.
And that development has to disturb the other contenders from the Senior Circuit.
Though we're not yet sure who will be vying for the NL's ticket to the World Series, any team hoping to be one of those fortunate four can't be relishing the prospect of a date with the City's nine.
Here are the top 10 reasons nobody wants to see the San Francisco Giants in the postseason.
No. 10: Andres Torres' Appendectomy
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Andres Torres had an emergency appendectomy on Sunday morning and will be out for 10-14 days.
This news would've been greeted as catastrophic in the Bay Area about a week ago, but the Puerto Rican revelation has been in a quietly grotesque dive at the plate since the calendar hit September—4-for-39 with a double, a triple, no walks, 14 strikeouts, two runs scored, no runs batted in, no stolen bases, and an unsightly slash line of .103/.103/.179.
Not exactly the production you want from your leadoff hitter.
If it weren't for his Gold Glove-caliber defense in center field, which has been compensating for the average-at-best corner outfielders (Pat Burrell and Jose Guillen), the speedy switch-hitter probably would've already seen the pine for a game or two.
Well, now the 32-year-old will get an extended rest as he recovers from "minimally invasive" surgery to remove his appendix.
Who knows whether the abyss into which his bat had disappeared can be blamed on the developing illness, the grind of Torres' first 162-game season as a regular, or just the dreaded S-word?
The point is, if los Gigantes make the playoffs, Andres Torres should be fresh, healthy, and rounding into form. The competition can't be happy about that.
If it were a greater certainty that he'd find said form after the layoff, this would be higher on the list.
No. 9—Depth and X-Factors on Offense
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If you want to start a bitter argument amongst Giant fans, throw general manager Brain Sabean a rot-your-teeth-it's-so-sweet compliment about the job he's done and then hide behind something solid as the crowd devours each other.
The jury is firmly out on Sabes' entire, 14-year tenure with the franchise. But 2010 has been one of his bigger successes and a lot of his handiwork can be seen holding a bat in hand.
A once-anemic offense is now as ferocious as a decent batting order can be. Additionally, there are some nice pieces to bring off the bench for a spark or just a roll of the dice.
Mike Fontenot won't terrify opposing pitchers with his thump, but provides further infield flexibility and those irritatingly gritty at-bats that can loom large in the playoffs (think David Eckstein). Jose Guillen hasn't hit for much power since joining San Francisco, but the guy can rake and the oomph might suddenly materialize. Cody Ross hasn't hit for anything, but he could be dangerous if he stops pressing in the new uniform.
Edgar Renteria, no stranger to postseason glory, has been swinging a better stick lately.
And you know Juan Uribe would be itching to get that big at-bat.
San Francisco clearly can't go toe-to-toe with some of the more explosive lineups, but even guys like Travis Ishikawa, Nate Schierholtz, and Darren Ford have the tools to make key contributions.
No. 8—The Bridge to Brian Wilson
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It's tough to get much credit when you're a reliever who doesn't call the ninth inning your own. It's even tougher when you share the same division with the San Diego Padres' firemen—the best relief corps in baseball.
But San Francisco's bridge from an excellent starting rotation to a closer extraordinaire can hang right with the Friars' and anyone else's in the Show.
The unit has been pretty reliable all year, but the late-inning arms have taken it up a notch since reinforcements arrived. The 'pen is now bristling with weapons after standbys Sergio Romo, Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla, and Dan Runzler were bolstered by the midseason acquisitions of right-handers Chris Ray and Ramon Ramirez as well as southpaw Javier Lopez.
And the numbers reflect the depth of the arsenal.
In 19 September innings, The Unappreciated have surrendered a solitary run and 12 hits. There have also been four walks and Casilla hit some poor sap so that's 17 baserunners. Those numbers shake out to a 0.47 ERA and a 0.84 WHIP.
Add to that filth 15 strikeouts, the fact that the set-up men have yet to concede an extra base hit in the month (through 71 batters faced), they've posted an opponents' slash line of .182/.239/.182, and it's easy to see one reason why opposing hitters would be hoping to duck the Giants in the postseason.
No. 7—Pat Burrell
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Fans in Tampa Bay and/or Philadelphia might think this slide is a joke, but it's most definitely not.
"Pat the Bat" has been exceptional since coming home to the Bay Area. Once promoted from his minor-league refresher course in early June, Burrell has authored a slash line of .272/.378/.526 with 33 runs scored, 15 big flies, and 40 ribbies in only 274 plate appearances.
The Bellarmine Prep product also has valuable postseason experience, winning the 2008 World Series with the Phillies. Granted, his .218 career playoff batting average might not scare anyone, but his .338 on-base percentage and .455 slugging percentage show he doesn't wilt in the bright lights.
One of Pat's biggest assets is his ability to work deep into counts and give you a mulish at-bat even with two strikes already in the pitcher's favor.
Those attributes become all the more precious when the pressure gets ratcheted up a few atmospheres.
And what if the fog of home enhances Burrell's playoff performance like it has his 2010 season?
That's a nightmare that would keep many a postseaon-hopeful hurler up at night.
No. 6—Brian Wilson
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The closer was noticeably absent from the bullpen slide because Brian Wilson deserves one all to himself.
As good as the other hoses in the 'pen have been, none has been as exceptional as the flamboyant end-gamer. His overall numbers on the campaign are absurd—65.1 IP, 42 SV, 4 BS, 1.79 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 83 K, 24 BB, and an opponents' slash line of .227/.298/.304.
But, more than just the numbers, it's the sense of queasy calm Wilson has brought to the ninth inning. Yes, he always makes the final frame exciting; of all the tricks in his bag, he doesn't seem to possess the three-up-and-three-down card.
Nevertheless, you don't post a 91 percent save rate without inspiring a little confidence along the way. The bullpen's anchor has done just that by dialing up the control when necessary and the K when appropriate.
Nor is Wilson a one-inning wonder—he's handled numerous save opportunities requiring at least four outs with relative ease.
Ask observers of Mariano Rivera if that's a nice security blanket to have in the playoffs.
No. 5—Buster Posey
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It's tough to tell if that's the glare from the lights or his own future that Buster's trying to keep from blinding him. Actually, it's not tough at all—he'd be doing the Stevie Wonder if it were the latter.
Gerald Demp the Third has been so good that, if he hit the rookie wall that slows most mortals in their first professional year, he'd still have exceeded all expectations with several stratospheres to spare. There is simply no way to explain how monumentally important the new catcher has been—he's contributed with the bat, the glove, his legs, his arm, and his brain while handling one of the nastiest pitching staffs in baseball.
Not bad for a youngster whose learning disability was supposed to slow his mental progression at the game's highest level.
Harumph, so much for that.
Judging from the ease with which Buster has acclimated to Major League Baseball and a pennant chase despite the suffocating weight of being the reputed offensive savior, you can bet the rest of the NL's second-act antagonists will sacrifice many a fingernail to pitching sequences meant to slow Posey's meteoric rise.
If they succeed, they will be the first.
No. 4—Aubrey Huff and Freddy Sanchez
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Aubrey Huff has played in 1461 games over his 11-year career in the Show.
Freddy Sanchez has seen action in 831 contests during a nine-year major-league stay.
Combined, they have over 9,300 plate appearances and two decades in professional baseball. Yet the next time either athlete steps to the dish in the postseason will be the first time either athlete has done so. That's right, almost 10,000 regular seasons trips to the plate without a single, futile stab at baseball's brass ring.
This developing story hasn't been lost on the Giant faithful and it doesn't appear to have been lost on the two men involved.
Huff has been a man possessed all year and the smile on his face has only gotten wider the closer San Francisco gets to the second season. He's shaken himself from a mini-slump in the last week and helped lead the charge over the Padres by going 7-for-15 with five runs scored plus a bomb over the weekend.
Meanwhile, Sanchez was mired in the doldrums through July, but he used a piping-hot late August and equally warm early September to raise his batting average 31 points. He's even flashed a little pop in that span, launching three of his five round-trippers since August 23rd.
These two long-time pros have paid their dues for losing ball clubs and now they're getting their shots at the playoffs. Neither seems to be in the mood to waste the opportunity and that could mean trouble for the bad guys if the Giants survive the stretch run.
No. 3—The Baseball Gods' Recent Mercy
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In 2004, the baseball gods took pity on the city of Boston and relented their historic persecution of Beantown by gracing the Red Sox with their first World Series Championship since the infamous sale of Babe Ruth to the hated New York Yankees in 1919.
That broke a heart-rending drought of over 85 years between title-winning campaigns.
The very next year, the ghosts of the 1919 Chicago Black Sox were finally released from purgatory as the 2005 White Sox returned to the Promised Land without hit of scandal (forget the PEDs, these aren't the PEDs you're looking for). That ended a similarly agonizing wait for baseball's ultimate glory.
In 2008, the Philadelphia Phillies—one of the oldest franchises in the game, but with only one measly title to show for all that history—got it's second Commissioner's Trophy by defeating the Tampa Bay Rays.
What does all this have to do with the San Francisco Giants?
Well, since the Cleveland Indians aren't showing much sign of life these days and the Chicago Cubs have sold their once-lovable soul in an attempt to buy that elusive championship, the Gents are the only accursed organization on the brink of ecstasy.
In baseball, even the best team needs a generous dose of good luck and San Francisco's long overdue for the postseason variety.
No. 2—Any Green Hats?
It's possible this is just an excuse to use that video clip—c'mon, who doesn't love a good shot of Will Ferrell's can disappearing into the night?
Or backing into a car full of ladies?
Seriously though, given its mental nature, perhaps no other major sport is as susceptible to momentum come the postseason as Major League Baseball. In the NFL and NBA, the best teams will generally emerge from the scrum because the overtly physical elements of the game make rust slower to gather and, consequently, easier to shed.
In baseball, though, you take your foot off the pedal for a week or two?
Things could get very ugly and stay that way until you're scratching your head, staring at a cloud of dust galloping into October, and wondering how the hell it all went so wrong at the most critical time of the year.
It's not a perfect rule, but it's generally a better idea to enter the playoffs with a good head of steam rather than to try to build one in the heat of the divisional series.
That's good news for the Giants and bad news for any possible opponent because, should San Francisco elbow its way into the second season, the team will have had to play winning baseball down the stretch. That's the beauty and the burden of playing catch-up in September.
If it works, you might just ride the crest into the Fall Classic.
IF it works...
No. 1—Tim Lincecum and Friends
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OK, enough is enough.
You and everyone else knew what was coming because the 2010 San Francisco Giants have contended thus far based on the strength of their starting pitching. It's no surprise, then, that any playoff opponent would be most concerned with that same starting pitching.
After all, you don't worry about the bull's breath even though it's probably no picnic, you worry about those two freakin' horns driven by a half ton of good eating.
And on this Giant squad, the starting pitchers are the horns.
Particularly Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Jonathan Sanchez.
Even if Madison Bumgarner finally hits his inevitable (right?) innings limit and gets shifted to the bullpen, leaving Barry Zito as the fourth man in the rotation, the aforementioned triumvirate is still a formidable obstacle for even the stoutest of lumberjacks.
The southpaw is clearly the most volatile of the trio, but "Dirty Sanchez" is arguably the hardest to hit when he's in his good arm slot. Shoot, even when he's not, he can still be pretty damn effective as evidenced by his five-inning appearance in San Diego—he suffered a single hit and no earnies despite walking seven Padres.
"Cainer" might not be as untouchable as the other two, but he's been the most predictable of the bunch in '10 and can dial up the dirt like the other two merchants when he's feeling saucy. If you want proof, I offer his two shutouts (one against the NL Central-leading Cincinnati Reds at the bandbox they call home) and four other outings that went eight innings with no more than a single run against him.
Then there's "The Freak."
Any hope opposing hitters had that Lincecum's struggles would last until the end of the 162-game slate has dissipated with every pitch in the month of September. Timmy's now made three starts, he's got three wins, and he's twirled the following line (don't stare directly at the numbers)—21.2 IP, 17 H, 29:2 K:BB, a 2.08 ERA, and a 0.88 WHIP.
That's like Cliff Lee except a version who averages more than a whiff an inning.
The saying goes you've gotta score at least one run to win. As the Bay Area has seen, when this starting rotation is on, even lone runs are few and far between.
Which is why it's the No. 1 reason nobody will want to face the San Francisco Giants if they can crash the 2010 postseason party.