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San Francisco Giants have method to madness in Brian Sabean

By Mark ONeill
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The San Francisco Giants did not produce the upscale remodel that fans may have sought during the off-season, but that is no reason to think that Brian Sabean needs a new interior decorator. In exchanging the thirty-two home runs that Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse put up, for the five round-trippers that Casey McGehee and Nori Aoki bring to the table, it may not seem readily apparent, but there is method to the GM’s madness.

At the press conference to introduce Nori Aoki to Giants fans, the noise of construction could be heard in the background, the sounds of the clubhouse being remodeled. The irony of both the Giants’ clubhouse and their roster being remodeled cannot be ignored, because from outward appearances, the finished roster presents quite a contrast to what was in place last season. It is unclear what direction the clubhouse is heading, but it probably is not contingent on the number of home runs hit by the Giants.

The strength of the Giants does not-and should not-rely on power because AT&T Park is not conducive to that approach. Triples Alley is known as the graveyard of many a well-intentioned 410-foot screamer, tracked down by Hunter Pence, or worse, an opponent.

Hitters who come to AT&T Park to hit home runs, wish they hadn’t.

Therefore, why pay the premium price for a commodity that makes only cameo appearances, when you can obtain a comparable product, for less money?

Comparable simply applies to runs being scored. No one cares whether the Giants’ five runs scored in any given contest, come via the big blast or by means of a succession of walks, sacrifice bunts, grounders to the right side, stolen bases and singles that are stretched into doubles. It’s all the same on the scoreboard.

From watching Casey McGehee on the Miami Marlins last season, it was apparent that his sojourn in Japan stood him in good stead. He was a force at third base and at the plate. He is a tough competitor and what he lacks in the power department, he makes up for in tenacity, a quality to be found in abundance on the Giants.

Apr 13, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Miami Marlins third baseman Casey McGehee (9) hits an RBI single during the first inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Well-known for a never-say-quit attitude, epitomized in the 2012 Playoffs when the Orange and Black surged back from elimination situations twice, purposefully going about the business of nailing down six consecutive pressure-packed wins, the Giants simply get the job done. That element is collectively embodied in the Southern contingent of the Giants, where the mentality is not can we win, but how are we going to go about it?

McGehee is not a Southerner, hailing instead from Soquel, here in NorCal. It’s no secret that California is a community-oriented venue, and the addition of McGehee may not make fans forget Pablo Sandoval, but it will weave into the fabric of the Giants’ quilt, a square which portrays a pattern of discipline, effort and teamwork, an admirable combination of qualities.

Nori Aoki wore the Giants out last August in Kansas City, getting on base and stealing bags, as Kansas City swept San Francisco in an ominous display of small ball that characterized the Royals all season. That style of play took KC all the way to the bottom of the ninth inning, in Game Seven of the 2014 World Series, before falling ninety feet short.

Now Aoki will play for the Giants, in either left field while platooning with Gregor Blanco, or center field giving Angel Pagan some rest, allowing Pagan a better shot at enduring the grind of a 162-game marathon.

He may even spell Hunter Pence in right field, because Bruce Bochy mentioned speaking to his right fielder about taking the occasional day off.

A strength this versatile player brings with him, is the ability to play heads-up ball, utilizing his speed to seize the extra base on a line-drive to the gap, or steal a bag outright, in a crucial situation. It’s a quality that the popular Morse did not possess, and it will help both defensively and on the base-paths.

Aoki speaks through an interpreter, and one thing he emphasized was that he chose San Francisco because he felt comfortable there. He likes that his family has the support of a large Japanese fan base in San Francisco, and again, there is that sense of community. He may speak through another person, but the humor and warmth that he displayed when he challenged Madison Bumgarner to a wrestling match, needed no translation. It was a matter of chemistry in action, a manager’s dream.

With Bruce Bochy already making it clear that he has spoken to Hunter Pence about taking off the occasional day, there will be additional opportunity to give the bench players more time on the field, and thus, more trips to the plate. This permits the team to flex its compatibility muscles, so that when the inevitable aches and pains arise, there is a replacement player available, who has already seen action at the position.

This allows the team to avoid the kind of stretch that saw them lose huge chunks of ground on other National League West teams last season. Momentum matters in MLB just as much as in any other sport. The ability to keep an even approach and avoid the pitfalls of a losing streak is key. Each series must be approached in minute detail, to avail Bochy of the best match-ups available on his multi-faceted squad.

Brandon Belt at Yankee Stadium 9/21/13. Photo by Denise walos

Leave the power to Buster Posey, Brandon Belt and Pence. With Andrew Susac backing up Posey to give him more rest, and shifting the Big Guy to first base, spelling Belt, the Giants will see increased production because the pressure will be off for Buster to do it all himself. Moderation is the key with a team approach, so that each player assumes a comparable amount of responsibility, and no one player has to do it by himself.

Another advantage is that when a team is driven by one dominant bat, such as was the case last season in Oakland with Yoenis Cespedes, when that player slumps or gets injured, the team takes too serious of a hit to recover.

A team that thrives on the home run hitter, dives when he goes down.

When the burden is evenly distributed and the team has prepared well for potential pitfalls, it can better survive the loss of key figures. One has only to look back at 2014 to see this evidenced.

The Giants’ propensity to score via small ball was never more on display than when Brandon Belt bunted for a base hit during Game Five of the 2014 World Series, after Hunter Pence had led off the second inning with a single. Belt had come to the plate, noted the shift was on, and placed a bunt to the left side to garner his first major league bunt single. It was something he had previously discussed with Bochy, but was done spontaneously in this particular instance.

Even if he was out at first, he would still have advanced the runner. With two on now and no one out, Travis Ishikawa hit a ball deep enough to center field that Pence was able to hustle over to third. Brandon Crawford followed with a ball to he right side that scored Pence, meaning that after the lead-off single, the Giants managed to score on a bunt, a fly ball out, and a ground ball out to the right side.

This was the first run scored in the contest and gave the Orange and Black an advantage it would not relinquish. This game produced no home runs for the third consecutive time in the World Series, the first such instance of this occurring since 1948. It is further indication that Brian Sabean recognizes there is more than one way to remodel a team.

Sleek with speed may not be better than all-power SUVs, but it is fully capable of doing the job, just as it has done three of the past five seasons. Call it chemistry, call it cohesive camaraderie, call it what you want, so long as you include the term champions.

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