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Crawford shines at short in second half of season

From the start of Spring Training through some rough patches in the first half to the Giants clinching a second National League West title in the last three years, Brandon Crawford was there, right in the middle of it all at shortstop.

The team showed its trust and confidence in him throughout his first full season in the Majors, and manager Bruce Bochy believes that confidence in Crawford has been amply rewarded.

"He's played as well, I think, as any shortstop in the league -- that's how good he's been," Bochy said.

At 25, Crawford has not only shown the Giants he can hold down the infield's key defensive position for a championship club, but he can stand out while doing it.

In the second half of the season, Crawford went on a run of 28 games without an error and put himself into the NL Gold Glove Award conversation. As the regular season plays out, he measures up well with the competition statistically while playing a key role for a division-winning team.

Crawford picked up offensively in the second half as well, further solidifying his standing as the team's shortstop as the season went along. But like any good defensive player, he's keeping his feet moving as he heads toward his first postseason experience.

"I try not to get too comfortable. I always want to keep working," said Crawford, a homegrown Bay Area native and Giants draftee. "But I'm more confident, I guess, in my abilities, and I know now that they have confidence in me to keep me out there all year."

Especially in the field, Crawford gave them every reason to do it.

Defensively, Crawford's second half was simply beyond compare. He had just three errors in a span of 74 games before a two-error game Sept. 26, and as the season closes, he ranks highly among NL shortstops in metrics such as Ultimate Zone Rating (7.9, third) and Range Factor (4.82/nine innings, first).

Crawford's 18 errors, tied for second most in the NL behind the Cubs' Starlin Castro's 26, sticks him with a .970 fielding percentage. But Giants players and fans can recite any number of plays Crawford made that saved the day but don't necessarily show up in the stats.

Along the way, five second basemen have been on the other side of the bag for the Giants. Much like he did in Spring Training, when he played alongside several second basemen as Freddy Sanchez unsuccessfully attempted to return to health, Crawford worked seamlessly with each. Veteran Ryan Theriot was at second on Opening Day and held down the position for much of the first half, but Marco Scutaro has been the man there since being acquired from the Rockies on July 27.

"Every guy that I've worked with for the most part has been a veteran guy, and almost all of them have played shortstop, also," said Crawford, who made his debut in May 2011 and played 66 games last season, including 53 starts at short. "They've all been easy to work with, and they're all pretty similar to work with."

Perhaps it's no coincidence that Crawford really started shining with the glovework once Scutaro was made his everyday keystone partner, becoming a catalyst for the club down the stretch.

"Marco's a professional, all the way around," Crawford said. "He's worked with a lot of guys, so he knows what to expect, and I know what to expect out of him."

Scutaro, who has 683 Major League appearances at short, has been impressed with how Crawford handles himself in the field.

"This kid, defensively, is unbelievable. He's amazing. He's up there," Scutaro said. "I love watching him playing short. Great hands, very steady, and his arm is unbelievable, too."

Scutaro says communication between the two middle infielders has been key to their success, and he sees Crawford as having what it takes to be an elite shortstop.

"Consistency is the hardest part, just day in and day out staying focused on each pitch, and he's done a great job of that," Scutaro said.

Crawford, a left-handed hitter who has made 122 starts at shortstop -- with Joaquin Arias making 34 as a right-handed-hitting alternative -- struggled to find that consistency early in the season. He committed 12 of his errors by the All-Star break and struggled at the plate at times, especially with runners in scoring position.

But along with shoring up his defense, Crawford has been hitting better particularly in September and into October, with his .292 average and .356 on-base percentage representing monthly bests for the season. His 26 doubles are fourth on the team, and are the most by a Giants shortstop since Omar Vizquel had 28 in 2005.

In short, Crawford has taken the confidence instilled in him and run with it.

"He's really grown as a player and you could see his confidence growing as the year went on, and he's handled a lot of things thrown at him, especially early in the season," Bochy said. "This game's not easy, and when things aren't going well, he's got that mental toughness you like from a player."

San Francisco Giants, Brandon Crawford