The San Francisco Giants pitching rotation may be the best in baseball. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, Madison Bumgarner and Barry Zito make up the Giants’ starting five, and this cadre of aces boasts several accolades, including three Cy Young awards, one no-hitter and unrivaled dominance in the postseason that won San Francisco its first world championship.
But the relievers in the San Francisco bullpen are a vital and undervalued bunch. Someone has to pitch the last third of the game when the starters tire or pitch counts limit their time on the mound. Someone has to bail out the starting gems on their rare off days. And someone has to close out the game and clinch the victory.
San Francisco’s relievers are especially adept at providing this crucial yet often unheralded support system for the starters.
Jeremy Affeldt had a mediocre 2010, but in 2009 he won the This Year in Baseball Setup Man of the Year Award with a 1.73 ERA.
Despite his struggles last season, he came through in the clutch for the Giants in the postseason. He appeared in five games, most notably relieving Jonathan Sanchez in Game 6 against the Phillies with two men on in the third inning. He proceeded to pitch two innings without allowing a baserunner.
If he can return to his 2009 form, he will be invaluable for the Giants this year.
At first glance, the most notable aspect of Sergio Romo is his beard. He may rival the better-known Brian Wilson for the most interesting facial hair, but he is no slouch on the mound. He pitched in 68 games last season, the second most on the Giants, while throwing 62 innings and tallying a 5.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio, the sixth-best among National League relievers.
Javier Lopez was invaluable during the Giants’ postseason run. He appeared in nine games and allowed only one run in 5.2 innings (1.59 ERA) and held the opposition to a .059 batting average. He was twice called upon in the division series against Atlanta to face Jason Heyward and struck him out both times.
The late summer acquisition (he was traded in exchange for Joe Martinez and John Bowker) earned his first career playoff win in Game 6 of the NLCS against the Phillies.
Left-handed hitters hit only .162 against Lopez, the lowest among National League left-handers (minimum 85 at-bats).
Ramon Ramirez is coming off an impressive season in which he became one of San Francisco’s top setup men in the latter half of the season. From August 1st on, he gave up just two earned runs in 27 innings for a 0.67 ERA, which was the second best in the National League. He paired with Lopez as the the other half of the late-season addition that helped propel the Giants through the postseason.
Dan Runzler had an impressive campaign in his first complete season in the majors last season. He spent almost 50 games on the DL, but he was nearly unhittable at home, holding the opposition to a .183 average in 18 games at AT&T Park. He finished the postseason with a 3-0 record.
Last, but certainly not least, Brian Wilson. Like most closers, he has a little bit of crazy in him, but sometimes his quirkiness can overshadow his talent.
He was one of the top closers in 2010, and he finished the season with career highs in saves (48), games (70), innings pitched (74.2) and strikeouts (93). He was named to the All-Star team for his efforts, and he went 1-0 in the postseason with a 0.00 ERA and six saves in 10 games.
Although sometimes he had a tendency to make ninth innings a little more exciting than they needed to be, it was Wilson who threw the last pitch of the 2010 baseball season and earned the Giants the World Series title.