Slightly over one-third of the way through the season, the San Francisco Giants have racked up the best record in the majors at 42-21, playing at a .667 pace. These are twenty-six reasons which contribute to their present success. They do not guarantee continued success, but they sure help.
A: AT&T Park: This is a unique yard and the Giants are designed to complement it. Because so much of the team is home-grown, these players have been molded and shaped into the AT&T template, so that the emphasis is on pitching and defense.
B: Balance: The Giants have it. Their starting pitching staff is balanced with their bullpen; and their starting lineup is balanced with their bench. There are no significant weaknesses.
C: Chemistry: It’s a biggee. The Giants have it; other teams do not.
D: Defense: This is not about stats; it’s about examining the team, one individual at a time, and trying to find a player who can not make the exceptional play. This includes Michael Morse’s seamless transition from the outfield to first base; it also reflects the ongoing prowess of the left side of the infield. Pablo Sandoval has been outstanding, with his horizontal approach to defense, and Crawford is so good, he can completely botch the play, and still recover, as he did in Sunday’s game, and nail a fast runner at first.
E: Evolving: The Giants are continuously evolving and raising the bar, whether it is adapting to injuries by finding new roles for players, (Michael Morse) or having players accept a role that is different from the past (Gregor Blanco). Their bullpen is as strong as it has ever been, but Tim Lincecum remains a work in progress, as he continues to evolve from power pitcher to pure pitcher. The one element about Timmy that can never be ignored is that regardless of how he performs during the regular season, he is going to excel in the post-season. That is enough reason to be patient with Timmy.
F: Facial hair: Let’s face it. Facial hair, so forbidden in baseball when I was a kid, is now prevalent, and if you’re going to be successful, you better look the part. The Giants have that look.
Apr 3, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; San Francisco Giants first baseman Brandon Belt joined the beard brigade this season. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
G: Gamers: The Giants are gamers, who do not quit until the game is over. They have won five games in a row, all five come-from-behind victories. They have been at the top in three critical areas that measure clutch performances all year: two-out runs scored, two-out RBI’s, and two-out hits with runners in scoring position.
H: Home runs: The Giants have been at or near the top in homerun production all season. This is a weapon that they lacked in both of their recent world series runs.
I: Improving: The Giants are getting better; this is not the same as evolving. I simply mean that in the beginning of the season they struggled to get all components of the team on the same page. After the first twenty-one games (11-10), they were one game over .500; since then they have played at a 31-11 clip. That’s a .720 pace, considerably better than their overall .667 pace.
J: Joyride: These guys are having the time of their professional sports lives. There is a strong sense of unity and support; they have each others’ backs. In this climate, how likely is it that there would be a negative issue between two Giants players that would prove divisive? Can you envision Bruce Bochy engaged in a heated argument with one of his players, while being panned by a national television camera? No, I can’t either.
K: Killer instinct: It goes back to not only having the drive to succeed, but the tools to pull it off. The ability to get base hits with two outs is demoralizing. The ability to come from behind, especially in the late innings, is crushing to an opponent.
L: Luck: It’s not so much that they have had a lot of good luck; maybe it’s the lack of bad luck that stands out. I will quit while I’m ahead.
M: Machismo: The Giants seem like a lot of happy-go-lucky dudes, with their celebrations and their super-hero antics. But I think of Madison Bumgarner and the way he stands up to the injustices he perceives. The Yasiel Puig incident is the most recent, but there is a lengthy list. You have to watch out for the quiet ones. And remember, if you got one of ’em mad at you, you have a whole swarm of ’em. And they’re all mad at you.
For such a laid-back guy, Madison Bumgarner has quite the fiery temper.
N: Natural. The Giants are natural, as opposed to artificial. The Giants players all have roles. There are no artificial fits, unless it’s by design, such as the Michael Morse transition to first base. It promotes harmony to have players performing in the best of circumstances at their natural positions.
O: Organizational: San Francisco’s focus as an organization, is to promote players from within, rather than acquire them from free agency or trades. Of course, some of their core players are key acquisitions though those very vehicles. Nonetheless, four of their five starters, plus their closer, and four of their eight starting position players are home-grown. As I wrote about earlier this season, in “Store-Bought Doesn’t Cut it,” home-grown is always better.
P: Pack mentality: They look after one another. If you were watching in Sunday’s game, when Hunter Pence got nailed in the ribs by a Zack Wheeler fastball in the third inning, the whole Giants bench got real quiet. Pence did score as the Giants came from behind again to beat the mets, 6-4. You hurt one, you hurt them all. You get one mad at you, you got ’em all mad at you.
Q: Quest: Nine core players have played on both recent World Series teams, so they have been there. They missed out last year and they want to go back. It’s infectious.
R: Resilient: One goes down; anther takes his place. Brandon Belt was replaced by Morse, and Tyler Colvin was brought up. Santiago Casilla injures a hamstring and George Kontos steps in. They do what they have to in order to make it happen.
S: Solid: The Giants are solid; Bruce Bochy was asked during the post-game interview after Sunday’s game, if there were any thing he didn’t like about the way the Giants were playing, and all he could say was no.
T: Timing-San Francisco has timing, as I mentioned with two-out hits, and having success with runners in scoring position, but it’s also Bochy’s uncanny ability to insert bench players into vital roles, at precisely the right time. Juan Perez hit the winning home run in the second game of the Reds series; Gregor Blanco is batting .400 in his last 20 games (18-45) and had half of the Giants RBI’s in Sunday’s 6-4 win over the Mets. Joaquin Arias was the Man a week ago Sunday, when he was on base four times, with three RBI’s in the finale with the St. Louis Cardinals. And there is always Bochy’s unparalleled skill with his use of the bullpen, in which timing is the essence.
U: Usurpers: The Dodgers were supposed to be number one. Everyone said so. Now they’re not and it feels good. The Giants have attained a certain swagger, and it is reflected in the standings.
July 6, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig (66) walks back to the dugout after striking out against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: ©Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
V: Victorious: Success begets success. The more they win, the more confident they get, and the more they win.
W. Whole: The Giants are complete. Of course, no team is any more complete than the next injury, but that is a facet of baseball that is acknowledged, without being dwelt upon.
X. Xanthangum: Xanthangum is a gelling substance used in baking gluten-free goods; it keeps everything together. The Giants have it. Hey, “X” was a rough one.
Y. Yesterday: Yesterday represents last season which was a nightmare, but yesterday has left the building. The fans and the players remember it though, and it is motivation to not let it happen again. The Un-Repeat.
Z. Zeal: It’s what separates those who show up every day at the office, from those who rock the spot from the moment they get there until they leave at the end of the day. The boss lets everything slide, as long as the work gets done.
The season is slightly over one-third of the way over. As Willie McCovey was recently heard to say, “It’s still early,” but right now, I’d say the Giants are getting the job done.