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FRANCISCO -- Matt Cain spared nothing in describing the Giants' division-winning performance. "Every bit of this season was amazing," he said.
This came from a man who pitched the only perfect game in franchise history in June. But Cain was right. Numerous teammates joined him in sustaining the Giants' excellence this year.
Maybe they made headlines, like Buster Posey. Maybe they provided reinforcement, like Marco Scutaro or Hunter Pence. Maybe they didn't even play, like manager Bruce Bochy. But together, they brought San Francisco its eighth National League West title since divisional play began in 1969. Together, they erased a sizable early-season deficit in the standings (7 1/2 games behind Los Angeles on May 27) and weathered crisis (left fielder Melky Cabrera's 50-game suspension for testing positive for testosterone on Aug. 15).
The Giants earned the chance to win their second World Series in three years. Here are 10 reasons for their success.
Resilience defined these Giants, who weren't rattled by anything. The bullpen performed admirably despite the loss of closer Brian Wilson to elbow surgery. Third baseman Pablo Sandoval's two stints on the disabled list gave others, like Joaquin Arias, a chance to shine. The biggest setback of all, Cabrera's suspension, only emboldened the Giants more. Surely, it was believed, losing a .346 hitter who happened to be the Most Valuable Player in this year's All-Star Game would derail the club. But from the day after Cabrera's departure to the night San Francisco clinched the division title, the Giants posted a 25-9 record.
Posey In place
Nobody knew exactly how Posey would perform a year after he sustained multiple injuries to his left leg in a home-plate collision. The 2010 NL Rookie of the Year Award quickly affirmed that he remained among the league's elite by making the All-Star team -- then by hitting more proficiently after the All-Star break. Posey's ability to play first base has allowed him to enjoy intermittent breaks from catching while keeping his bat in the lineup. Posey won the Willie Mac Award, emblematic of being the club's most inspirational performer. Since players do most of the voting for the award, this showed what Posey's teammates think of him.
Mark of El Marco
No Scutaro, no division title. That's all there is to it. The Giants figured they were getting a handy, proven performer when they obtained the infielder from Colorado on July 27; they didn't know they were acquiring a savior. In 53 games with San Francisco, Scutaro has batted .361 with 78 hits and 38 RBIs, both team highs in that span. "He's patiently aggressive," said Posey, describing Scutaro's hitting style. The 11-year veteran has been a positive influence not just on the field, but also in the clubhouse, where his quiet yet assertive demeanor commands respect.
The Giants thrived on pressure. They're currently 29-19 in one-run games, 15-12 in two-run decisions and 8-5 in extra innings. They've also come from behind to win 33 times and are 18-12 in games decided in the last at-bat. The ability of multiple relievers to function in late-inning situations enabled the Giants to survive Wilson's absence. Bochy didn't hesitate to give save opportunities to Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez, Jeremy Affeldt and Clay Hensley.
First baseman Brandon Belt and shortstop Brandon Crawford officially weren't rookies, but they might as well have been, given their relative lack of Major League experience. They, along with backup catcher Hector Sanchez (a legitimate rookie), provided the Giants with plenty of energy and increasing efficiency as they improved throughout the season. Belt has hit .325 since July 27, Crawford has established himself as a Gold Glove candidate while displaying pop at the plate and Sanchez's all-around proficiency has given Bochy the freedom to rest Posey or install him at first base in 26 games.
The Giants underwent a complete turnover from last season to this one in the outfield, where Gregor Blanco, Angel Pagan and Pence made outstanding plays look routine. Cabrera also helped in this regard before his suspension. Remember, Cain's perfect game against Houston wouldn't have happened without Blanco's fabulous seventh-inning catch on Jordan Schafer. Offensively, the Giants have more than doubled their total of triples to lead the Major Leagues in that category, and they've topped 100 stolen bases for the first time since 2008.
This doesn't get mentioned as often as it should: The Giants are fortunate to have starting pitchers who don't miss their turns. Ryan Vogelsong skipped an early-season assignment with a sore back; otherwise, the starters have maintained 100 percent attendance, so to speak. By contrast, consider the Dodgers, who have confronted life without Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley at various times. Imagine the fuss and heartache the Giants would endure if Cain and Madison Bumgarner were sidelined for any prolonged period.
Bochy's the boss
Bochy probably won't get much support in the NL Manager of the Year Award vote. That's mainly because by now, observers take his acumen for granted. Ballclubs usually take their cue from their manager, and Bochy's perpetual calm helped guide the Giants past the injuries to Wilson and Sandoval, Aubrey Huff's decline from everyday status, Tim Lincecum's first-half ineffectiveness and the Cabrera suspension. Moreover, Bochy always handles his bullpen expertly, which is one of the toughest challenges for any manager.
Crossing the plate
San Francisco is on pace to score 723 runs. That's not an overwhelming number, but it's considerably better than the 570 the Giants totaled last year. They have received contributions from every spot in the batting order, which is essential for them given the absence of a true power presence. The Giants' improved hitting includes an upgrade in situational hitting. Their improvement with runners in scoring position and their league-high sacrifice-fly total are examples of this. Another example is their ability to score on the road, where they average 5.20 runs per game (compared to 3.76 per game at home).
It begins at the top
Count on general manager Brian Sabean to act decisively when he determines that the team needs help in a particular area. This year, that meant trading for Scutaro and Pence to revive a flagging offense. Sabean also engineered offseason trades that paid off this season: Coaxing Pagan from the Mets and Cabrera from the Royals, though the latter move was ill-fated. Ownership deserves credit for being willing to add payroll.