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GM praises youth for helping Giants make playoffs

Rookies Panik, Susac, Duffy key in overcoming injuries

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants had no business reaching the postseason. Not with center fielder and leadoff hitter Angel Pagan missing almost half the season for a second straight year. Not with right-hander Matt Cain, a pillar of the starting rotation, posting a 2-7 record before undergoing season-ending elbow surgery in early August. And not with manager Bruce Bochy scrambling to fill the infield's right side, with first baseman Brandon Belt going on the disabled list three times and second baseman Marco Scutaro unavailable almost all season with back problems.

But the Giants indeed qualified for Wednesday's Wild Card Game at either Pittsburgh or St. Louis, helped by the rookie reinforcements they received from the Minor Leagues. Joe Panik arrived in late June and stabilized second base, Andrew Susac provided necessary depth at catcher after concussion symptoms shelved backup Hector Sanchez, Matt Duffy contributed as a pinch-hitter and right-hander Hunter Strickland, he of the 100 mph fastball, proved immediately that he could handle pressurized innings.

The youngsters were among the key factors in the Giants' success that general manager Brian Sabean cited in a succinct overview of the ballclub, San Francisco's seventh postseason qualifier in his 18-year tenure.

"They more than held their own," Sabean said Saturday. "That's something none of us expected. ... You just don't see guys jump into the fire like that with that little Minor League experience. It's pretty amazing to think they can perform on this stage and contribute."

Panik has been especially impressive. Entering Sunday's regular-season finale, his .303 batting average in 72 games exceeded his .296 career average in the Minors.

"He has a calmness about him," Sabean said. "He's almost like a veteran at a young age."

Another essential addition to the roster, veteran right-hander Jake Peavy, arrived in a deal preceding the Trade Deadline, the likes of which Sabean has engineered several times to strengthen contending clubs at midseason. Filling the void left by Cain, Peavy went 6-1 with a 1.35 ERA in his last nine starts.

"He allowed us not to skip a beat," Sabean said. "Now that we've seen what Peavy's been able to do, it's been a real shot in the arm because we wouldn't be in this position without him."

The leading constants for the Giants were catcher Buster Posey, who duplicated his 2012 National League Most Valuable Player production during a late-season surge; right fielder Hunter Pence, who again played every game while ranking among the league leaders in multiple offensive categories; and left-hander Madison Bumgarner, who made his second All-Star team and won the Willie Mac Award as the team's most inspirational player while finishing 18-10.

"You need your core guys to be a mainstay," Sabean said, adding that Posey and Pence provided "the glue" while Pagan, Belt and first baseman-left fielder Michael Morse were sidelined -- sometimes simultaneously.

Sabean expressed pride in the Giants' ability to reach the postseason, especially with parity reigning in baseball.

"This is a tough league to negotiate," he said. "Even teams with losing records much like San Diego have good pitching staffs or good starters that you have to navigate. I think our league especially is pitching-centric. It was a series-to-series, week-to-week proposition. Some weeks we did better than most, some weeks we [didn't] because it's tough to win games now in the National League."

Chris Haft is a reporter for Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, and follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat.
Read More: San Francisco Giants, Madison Bumgarner, Andrew Susac, Jake Peavy, Buster Posey, Hunter Strickland, Hunter Pence, Matt Duffy, Joe Panik