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San Francisco Giants: Ten key factors contributing to 2014 success

By Mark ONeill
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With the pace of the offseason being so frenetic-if not for the San Francisco Giants specifically, at least for the National League West-there has hardly been time for reflection on those things which are normally the salve for the open sore which is winter’s lack of baseball. The Giants are the current champions of MLB, after all, so what’s more worth discussing? 

In determining those factors most crucial in the Giants’ 2014 success on all levels, I have abstained from zeroing in on specific performances such as Madison Bumgarner’s epic statement in the World Series, preferring to examine accomplishments that had a broader sustained impact along the way, and therefore were instrumental in San Francisco being in the World Series in the first place as a number-ten seed.

I have also chosen to exclude the aforementioned MadBum, along with Buster Posey and Hunter Pence in this discussion, because it is a given that without the incessant contributions of this trio, we are not having this discussion in the first place.

The Three Amigos, without whom the Giants would be just another contender.

The list of their achievements would eventually end, but the ink in the printer would run out first.

In more or less chronological order, here are ten elements which had to go right for the Giants to have won the 2014 World Series:

* Quick start: Without this 43-21 beginning to the season, an indication of what the team could actually accomplish if it were at full strength over the course of 162 games, it is unclear whether there would have been enough internal belief to have accomplished what the Giants did. As it was, it still took three weeks or so after Brandon Belt went down, before the toll started to rise. Unfortunately, when it did, it capsized the ship for two months.

Aug 17, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants left fielder Michael Morse (38) reacts after scoring against the Philadelphia Phillies during the second inning at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Morse’s versatility: The Giants solved two problems simultaneously by shifting Morse to first base when Belt’s thumb had an unfortunate encounter with a pitched ball. Whether Morse’s porous defense in left field was replaced by the superior D of Gregor Blanco, Juan Perez, or Tyler Colvin, it was an upgrade, and with a more than competent Morse now ensconced at first base, matters were looking better. Though no one would confuse Morse with Belt as far as defensive ability, what Morse lacked in innate talent, he made up for in size, both that of his six-foot, five-inch frame and that of his heart.

*Brandon Crawford: Like most shortstops, Crawford does not necessarily get paid for his bat, he gets paid for his glove. Therefore, his 21 errors stand out. One assumes those errors stand out in BCraw’s mind also. He makes so many dazzling saves of balls destined for base-hits, it’s impossible to hold the errors against him. Why is he on this list? Because he does so many things unexpectedly well for a slot in the lineup not associated with offensive skills, not to mention that he functions much of the time from the number eight spot in the lineup.

Crawford had 69 RBIs, the same as the recently-departed Pablo Sandoval and also the same as Yasiel Puig. Crawford hit ten home runs; Pablo hit sixteen, as did Puig. Crawford hit ten triples, Puig nine and Sandoval three.  I focus on these three stats, admittedly cherry-picked, not because there are noteworthy differences or to dis on either Sandoval or Puig, but to showcase what an attribute Crawford is to his team. Ten triples indicates three things: speed, power and an ability to capitalize on a situation, and also forces an opponent to contend with a formidable weapon. The home run totals and the RBIs are huge factors in the Giants’ ability to hang in there in July and August. Crawford picked up more than just one share of the loss of both Belt and Pagan.

Instead of letting the high number of errors mar either his performance or his attitude, Crawford compensated by upping his offensive game. He hit into a total of only four double plays last season and he provided some back-end lineup strength that kept many a rally going. Without his steadying influence in the center of the diamond, the instability at both first and second might have taken a heavier toll than it did.

*Yusmeiro Petit’s season: Petit’s defined role would best be described as keeping the rotation functioning in as normal of a style as possible, in the event that a Matt Cain-like figure goes down. What Petit did in not only keeping the rotation afloat, was to inspire his teammates by establishing an MLB-best-46-consecutive-batters-retired streak, in helping the club contend with that hideous midseason, two-month-long spiral. The end result was that the Giants came out with enough emotional stamina remaining, to propel them to their third MLB title in five years.

Aug 16, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants infielder Joe Panik (12) dives into third base after hitting a triple against the Philadelphia Phillies in the eighth inning at AT&T Park. The Giants defeated the Phillies 6-5. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

*Joe Panik: After the realization that Marco Scutaro was not going to be able to resume his signature role at second base, the Giants plugged several candidates into the spot, including Brandon Hicks, Ehire Adrianza, and Dan Uggla before giving the Bay Area product a chance to show if he had what it took.

The opening defensive play of Panik’s career, featuring a glove-tossed ball to first base for an out, matched a similarly definitive play in Game Seven of the 2014 World Series, in which he delivered the start of a double-play to Crawford at second, via his glove.

The Giants pushed the right button in Joe Panik.

There simply was no other way to get it done and that compares favorably with Joe Panik. Back against the wall, Brian Sabean made the decision to bring him up, and Panik made Sabean look brilliant by getting the job done.

*Sergio Romo’s ego, or lack of same: When Romo experienced two consecutive blown saves at the hands of the Colorado Rockies at the start of the Giants’ team collapse, Bochy acted swiftly. First he declared the closer’s role would be performed by “committee,” and then he assigned it to Santiago Casilla, who had occupied that role originally in 2012, when Brian Wilson was sidelined at the very start of the season with Tommy John surgery.

Romo could have taken the demotion personally and sulked. Worse, he could have taken matters one step further, sniveling on the inside while putting up a false front, thereby injecting an air of dissension and distrust into the mix. Instead, Romo not only accepted the step down, he embraced his new set-up role whole-heartedly, allowing Bochy to continue to rely on his pen without reservation.

*Gregor Blanco: Known for his defense including the saving catch in Matt Cain’s perfect game on June 13th, 2012, Blanco not only delivered with his excellent glove all season, he came through more than sufficiently with his bat as well. His 51 runs scored were sixth on the team; he had 102 hits, with five homers, six triples, 18 doubles and 38 RBIs. Those numbers are not those of a conventional left-fielder, but in terms of a player who filled in at both left and in center, the latter the more vital role, they were splendid.

San Francisco Giants acquired RHP Jake Peavy from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for two of their top prospects. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

*Jake Peavy: Formerly a pain in the Giants’ neck as a member of the San Diego Padres, under manager Bruce Bochy, Peavy was acquired in a trade with the Boston Red Sox last July 26th. Despite having posted only one victory up until the time he joined San Francisco, Peavy contributed hugely (6-4, 2.17 ERA in twelve starts) to a late season surge that allowed the Giants to squeak into the playoffs. He allowed only three home runs in those twelve regular season starts for the Giants.

*Kids: Besides Joe Panik, several Giants rookies contributed significantly to the team’s success, among them Andrew Susac, Matt Duffy and Juan Perez, who debuted in 2013 but was still classified a rook last season. Most importantly, Susac was deemed worthy of spelling Buster Posey for some much-needed rest in September, so that Posey would be as fresh as possible for the playoffs. Perez was able to contribute to the gaping hole in left field, created when Morse went to first and Blanco to center.

*Never say die attitude: Just as in 2012 when the Giants overcame insurmountable odds against both Cincinnati and St Louis to win six consecutive elimination games, the Orange and Black overcame equally challenging odds by overcoming the absence of both Matt Cain and Angel Pagan, and an inconsistent rotation, except for MadBum, to persevere in 2014.

Knowing that they have done it before, inspired by both speeches (Hunter Pence) and play (Cody Ross, Pat Burrell, Tim Lincecum, Posey, Sandoval, Pence, et al,) and driven by a cohesive camaraderie, the Giants just keep getting it done with the tools they have.

This year it was just ten different parts of the machine.

And that’s today’s dose of salve for any soul tormented by the frozen tundra of the baseball diamond, waiting for the third week in February for the awakening of spring training.

Here, slather some of that salve my way down in the comments section, if you think I left something out, or if you could not understand something because I had my foot stuck too far into my mouth.

That happens a lot too-comes with the territory.

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