Giants' core four relievers eye their third Series title
Affeldt, Casilla, Lopez and Romo once again lead the way for San Francisco's bullpen
SAN FRANCISCO -- The quartet of Giants relievers who were a part of the team's World Series championships in 2010 and '12 and are again playing a pivotal role this October doesn't have a nickname yet, but they wouldn't mind that changing.
"If anybody has any suggestions, we're more than willing to listen to it," Javier Lopez joked Saturday afternoon, workout day at AT&T Park. The 2014 Fall Classic opens in Kansas City on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. PT on FOX (first pitch at 5:07 PT).
They don't have one, but they've certainly earned one.
The Giants have experienced plenty of roster turnover since their title in 2010; only nine players have been a part of all three World Series trips. The Giants' bullpen is the strongest link between the three teams, as it accounts for four of those spots, thanks to Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla, Lopez and Sergio Romo.
It's hard to put a finger on what's made the Giants so good in October, as was the case in 2010 and again in '12. Perhaps the quartet of Affeldt, Casilla, Lopez and Romo, which may at times be overlooked, is among the reasons San Francisco is four wins away from a third title in five years.
Affeldt, Casilla, Lopez and Romo are also the four relievers most responsible for the Giants amassing the Majors' third-best ERA during the season at 3.01 and for the club's 1.78 postseason ERA. The quartet has combined to throw 19 2/3 innings this postseason, and the walk-off solo homer Romo surrendered to Kolten Wong in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series is its lone blemish in the earned-run department.
In 20 2/3 postseason innings with the Giants in his career, Affeldt has a 0.87 ERA. Casilla? A 0.98 ERA in 18 1/3 innings. Lopez? A 0.84 ERA in 10 2/3 innings. Romo's quite good 2.37 ERA seems pedestrian by comparison.
What makes this quartet, which has combined for one career All-Star Game appearance, so effective come October?
"There's going to be a little anxiety in the situations that we pitch in, but I feel like, with Jeremy, Romo and Casilla, there's no sense of panic at any time with those guys," Lopez said. "This isn't a regular-season game anymore, but you try to treat it that way, the best you can.
"I think that's why we've been so successful in those spots. We just kind of have the ability to slow the game down, and that's something that's really important at any time, but in particular the postseason."
Added Affeldt: "Experience is a big deal. We don't live in the past, but we rely on the past to get us through situations that we know we can pull through."
How they do so is quite the contrast to how the Royals' bullpen goes about its business. While the Royals bullpen relies on hard-throwers to overpower batters, the Giants' core four relievers are much more finesse-oriented, and they pitch to contact.
Tasty ingredients are nothing if not for a talented chef to whip them into a gourmet meal, though. Just ask the Cardinals and Nationals.
Mike Matheny left Randy Choate in Game 4 of the NLCS after failing to retire the first two batters he faced, and the Cardinals lost the game one batter later. Matheny removed Adam Wainwright with a 3-2 lead after seven dominant innings in Game 5 of the NLCS to bring in Pat Neshek. A Michael Morse home run tied the game three pitches later.
In Game 2 of the NL Division Series, first-year manager Matt Williams took out Jordan Zimmermann after 8 2/3-shutout innings in favor of closer Drew Storen. The Giants promptly tied the game and went on to defeat the Nationals.
Casilla believes manager Bruce Bochy is what separates the Giants' bullpen, especially come October.
"Bochy knows how to use the bullpen," Casilla said. "He is the key, because we know what to do, but he has to know who to use."
It's no coincidence Bochy is four wins away from becoming the 10th manager in Major League history with three World Series titles. The first nine are all in the Hall of Fame, by the way. Between inserting timely pinch-hitters and correctly deciphering between which reliever to use when -- including between lefties Affeldt and Lopez -- Bochy's managerial superiority has again been on display this month.
"In the  Philly series, bringing me in in the third inning [NLCS Game 6] and having confidence in me after I sat for quite a while, he still put me in that situation," Affeldt said. "The way he mix and matches to make things work. … In 2012, we had a different closer than we did in 2010. And he [Romo] wasn't closing the whole year, but Bochy made that move."
Affeldt was in amazement of Bochy's expertise of each of his 25 players' skill sets in 2010 and '12; now he just continues to be impressed by it.
"Bochy, if I put myself in Bochy's shoes -- definitely not his hat, but his shoes -- he sees these four guys have been with him in 2010, 2012 and 2014; I'm going to rely on their experience to help me," Affeldt said.
"He's relying on us four to help out when needed. We believe in ourselves because we've done it before and know we can do it again."