The 2011 San Francisco Giants season was a disappointment; there's no two ways about it.
Of course, there's also no embarrassment in acknowledging that fact.
The Gents returned basically the same team that won the 2010 World Series, so expectations were sky high. Not only was the superlative pitching staff intact, but Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Jonathan Sanchez, Brian Wilson and friends would also now be boasting a new weapon: that oh-so-revered intangible, postseason experience.
The same went for the offensive leaders, 2010 National League Rookie of the Year Buster Posey, awkward spark plug Freddy Sanchez and the country-crooning Aubrey Huff.
The popular sentiment among the faithful was that the 2011 version would be good enough for at least a wild-card berth if not another NL West pennant. The logic being that a rebound campaign from a svelter Pablo Sandoval combined with the aforementioned assets could absorb the probable regressions from Huff, Andres Torres and Cody Ross.
To a degree—whichever one comes right before you take possible injuries into account—the logic was sound.
Alas, baseball fans know what happened next, so I don't have to tell you. Instead, I'll show you with a pictorial trip down short-term memory lane.
Yep, that about sums up the Giants' biggest offseason acquisition, shortstop Miguel Tejada. The other move of note in an exceptionally quiet winter was the re-signing of fan-favorite-but-over-the-hill Pat Burrell.
And you're telling me this team didn't win the 2011 World Series?
In fairness to Giant general manager Brian Sabean and the rest of the front office, the rookies Brandon—first baseman/outfielder Belt (pictured) and shortstop Crawford—weren't expected to struggle as badly as they did. Both made their professional debuts before the end of May and made significant contributions by the end of the year, but the going was not smooth.
And then there were the injuries.
Brian Wilson was the first of several key players to hit the Orange and Black disabled list with a strained oblique in spring training. Thankfully, the colorful closer wouldn't miss much time in April, making his debut on the sixth of the month. Alas, the ninja aficionado wasn't so lucky when the injury bugaboo bit him again at the end of the season.
Back to the early season—the fiery competitor got torched in his first couple outings, then settled down into his usual, dominant end-game self.
Of all the injuries that the organization suffered, none was more serious than the one endured by a fan.
In a tragedy that is still ongoing, a San Francisco loyalist from Santa Cruz named Bryan Stow was cowardly and mercilessly beaten by a couple parking-lot gangsters outside Dodger Stadium following the opener on March 31. Apparently, his support of the NorCal club, which included going so far as to (gasp) wear a Giants jersey in Chavez Ravine, couldn't go unpunished.
Stow is still making slow-but-apparently-consistent progress in his recovery from the trauma to his head while two suspects are in custody.
The club stumbled out of the gates, treading water around .500 until mid-May. One possible culprit for the sluggish start could be the myriad of distractions that surrounded the defending champ...such as the necessary and appropriate celebration of the previous year's achievement.
I say the ring ceremony and everything else was well worth the cost.
After all, we know what truly derailed the SF freight train, but we'll get to that (in late May).
The Giants did manage to win the ball game that immediately followed the presentation of their 2010 World Series rings on a game-winning single by Tejada of all people.
And notice that catcher in the lower left-corner?
Yep, el hombre would be Yadier Molina of the 2011 World Series champions St. Louis Cardinals.
Was it mere coincidence the team that watched the defending champs get their bling went on to get jewelry of their own? You tell me.
Not only did the city get to celebrate its first Fall Classic victory since the Giant franchise moved west, but we also got to applaud our very own 2010 Rookie of the Year, as Buster Posey received his individual hardware the day after getting his championship ring.
His season started so well...
One of the biggest heroes from the 2010 playoff run, Cody Ross made his 2010 debut April 20 after starting the year on the shelf thanks to a strained calf. The enthusiasm over his return would be short-lived, as Ross limped to a .240/.325/.405 slash line.
In an omen of things to come, the Atlanta Braves came to AT&T Park in late April and swept the home team in a deflating three-game series. The Bravos beat ace Tim Lincecum, young phenom Madison Bumgarner and the rusty Wilson to get a meager measure of redemption for the Giant boot they caught in the 2010 National League Division Series.
Granted, the better measure would've been holding that 8.5-game lead in the Wild Card race Atlanta enjoyed on Sept. 1 and making the playoffs.
But I digress.
Don't get me wrong—it wasn't all gray skies in the Bay Area this year.
Arguably the best story of the 2011 MLB season began on April 28, when career-journeyman Ryan Vogelsong made his first start for the Giants. The right-hander would get the win against his former team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, while striking out eight, thus beginning a string of brilliance that would propel him to his first All-Star Game and make him the talk of the Show.
Unfortunately, the '11 gloom and doom whomped the rays of sunshine in a contest that wasn't close. Yet another bit of bad news arrived on April 30 when it was announced that the slimmer, trimmer and rejuvenated Pablo Sandoval had broken the hermate bone in his right hand.
The injury would sideline the Kung Fu Panda until mid-June.
You can say many negative things about the '11 San Francisco Giants, but you must acknowledge they were every bit as resilient as the '10 version. The team posted 36 come-from-behind victories, a whopping 19 Ws when tied or trailing after eight innings and led both leagues in ninth inning victories (that last one is per Wikipedia, so cross your fingers there, SF fans).
Nothing symbolizes this never-say-die reality than the back-to-back walk-off wins the Gents authored on May 6 and 7 versus the Colorado Rockies.
San Francisco had righted the ship by the time the May days were dwindling, using winning streaks of five and six games to climb to the top of the NL West. The five-gamer culminated in an extra-inning, walk-off win over the cross-bay rival Oakland Athletics.
This next one's gonna hurt...
The Florida Marlins and Scott Cousins came to town after the sweep of Oakland, and the regular season officially started unraveling on May 25th. We don't need to go into (too many of) the gory details—Cousins, Posey and a play at the plate.
Well, almost enough.
Look at that picture and say it with me: That play was totally legal and totally dirty.
You can see in living color that (A) Buster left the back of the plate open and (B) Cousins is launching himself across Posey's body, at the latter's right shoulder and the first-base dugout. That's a move designed to score by destroying the catcher, not simply knocking the ball loose.
The loss of their all-world catcher was a kick straight to the goodies to be sure, but the Giants managed to regain their footing after wobbling a bit. The squad actually cruised through the months of June and July, heading to the All-Star break a season-high 12 games over .500.
Yet the die was cast for the second half swoon when Freddy Sanchez followed Posey to the season-long disabled list on June 10 with a dislocated shoulder.
Freddy's was yet another bat the Gents couldn't afford to lose.
In one of the final feel-good moments of 2011, San Francisco watched in approval as los Gigantes sent a total of five representatives to the Midsummer Classic, with Sandoval joining pitchers Matt Cain, Lincecum, Vogelsong and Wilson in Phoenix as an injury replacement.
Pablo roped a double and got a ribbie, while Wilson got credit for saving the NL's win.
Bruce Bochy's team reached its high water mark with a 4-1 defeat of the Philadelphia Phillies in Philly on July 28. By taking two of three from the eventual NL East champions, San Francisco moved to a season-high 17 games over .500, good for a four-game lead in the division.
But all was not right.
The M*A*S*H unit was getting full, and it was becoming clear that neither Aubrey Huff nor Andres Torres, both of whom played pivotal roles en route to securing the Commissioner's Trophy, was going to emerge from his deep funk.
As the campaign started to slide away from SF, the brass began pulling strings to get the fellas back in the good graces of the baseball gods. They recalled Belt, signed Bill Hall, traded for Jeff Keppinger and traded for Orlando Cabrera.
The real Hail Mary, however, was the move that brought Carlos Beltran to the Bay Area from the New York Mets before the July 31 trade deadline.
Beltran had some nice moments in Orange and Black, but it wasn't enough to push the club over the top. Not only did Carlos take a while to get acclimated, but he also became a casualty in SF's PG-version of the Bataan Death March, hitting the DL with a bum wrist/hand.
When you consider the price of acquisition was top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler (who is only 21) and the Scott Boras client has already ditched the Giants for the St. Louis Cardinals, the move looks like it has catastrophic potential.
The powers-that-be tried one final, desperate ploy to light a fire in the clubhouse by designating veterans Tejada and Aaron Rowand for assignment. Jettisoning Rowand sent the loudest message since the franchise ate millions of dollars still remaining on his bloated contract, but the meaning was clear—failure would not be tolerated.
Despite the thrashing about and roster shakeup, San Francisco continued to slump, which, combined with a relentless surge by the Arizona Diamondbacks, caused them to slip from contention. Even as the season dimmed, however, the club basked in a few bright spots.
Rookie southpaw Eric Surkamp put together a strong stretch and inserted himself into the discussion concerning the 2012 rotation, while fellow newbie Brett Pill launched a big fly for his first career hit.
It's all downhill from here, folks.
As much as I hate to do it, credit must be given to the Los Angeles Dodgers' Cy Young Winner, Clayton Kershaw. The filthy 23-year-old lefty faced SF six times, beat them five times, took a no-decision in the other start and stoned Lincecum four times in head-to-head meetings.
In 42 innings between the heated rivals, Kershaw posted a 1.07 ERA, a 0.88 WHIP and a .191/.230/.217 opposing slash line with 49 strikeouts against eight walks.
That's got to get him a picture.
Alas, the end officially came in the penultimate series of the year, on the road in Arizona, and it was ugly. The Diamondbacks put a nail in the coffin with a 3-1 victory in the series opener that gave the Snakes the division title and simultaneously eliminated the Giants in the west.
A 15-2 shellacking in Game 2 drove said nail home and pulled the curtain on the defending world champs.
Despite the thud with which the 2011 season closed, there are plenty of reasons for optimism in 2012. Not the least of which is the more disciplined Sandoval—at the plate and at the buffet. He mashed his way to a .315/.357/.552 slash line, inspiring hope that his 2010 was the aberration rather than his 2009.
Additionally, Sabean added a modest offensive upgrade on November 7 when he pulled the trigger on a trade for Kansas City Royals outfielder Melky Cabrera. The 27-year-old with gap power and above-average speed came at the expensive of Jonathan Sanchez, but Dirty Dirty simply had been too maddeningly inconsistent during his six years with the organization.
It was time for both parties to move on.
What's more, Sabes managed to turn Torres and right-handed reliever Ramon Ramirez into outfielder Angel Pagan and a player to be named later. Pagan is certainly not a likely candidate to play the role of savior, but effective right-handed relievers aren't the rarest of gems, and I think we can agree Andres wasn't snapping back to '10 form so that's a neat steal of a talented player in my mind.
Besides, as long as these two studs are throwing for the Giants with Bumgarner elbowing his way into the circle of trust and that stout bullpen cleaning up the back end of games, San Francisco's got a shot.
So, to paraphrase Cubbie fans the world over, there's always this year.