The San Francisco Giants are about to attempt something that has never before been done in the National League: win four titles in six years. Currently they are predicted to place seventeenth in a field of thirty, despite coming off of a World Championship season. Is it even possible to win a fourth? Anything’s possible with a unique set of individuals.
Is it likely? might be the better question and the haters will say no; they always do. What I might suggest is that we go about this mathematically, by creating a formula, a Formula for Success. A team going into a season with an agenda, one upon which everyone agrees, is a focused entity. There are vast unlimited elements which could be listed, but here are seven for starters:
First and foremost the Giants must play the style of ball for which the team was created: National League ball, which means that every player is trying to scratch out that extra ninety feet, in any way possible.
The Giants will not hit home runs at the same pace as last season, but they will score a comparable number of runs. In baseball, it’s product not process.
Players run the bases aggressively-even suicidally-if it’s the only way to make something happen.
There will be other teams besides the Los Angeles Dodgers with top-caliber staffs, which will require a different approach than that of last year’s long ball. It was easy and efficient, but not dependable. National League ball can be depended on to put runs on the board because it is in play every time the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand.
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
You only get one or two big flies in any given game, but when a team is following a NL ball, you see smart, heads-up ball every time a guy steps to the plate. He’s patient, works the count, gives any base runner some room to possibly pick up an extra ninety feet, and is ready to take the extra base if he puts a ball into play.
Advancing runners by hitting to the right side, bunting, and learning to contend with the defensive shifts now being employed are all examples of being able to stretch what a team already has into more. This strategy is the only way a club with limited home run power, is going to be able to consistently carve out runs.
Second, the Giants have to play the NL West as though each game were the last of the season, and the most important on the entire schedule, because each is. There can be no consideration for how a team fared last season, because every single day, individuals rise to the highest levels and win games for their teams. Just ask the St. Louis Cardinals how it felt to get beat by Travis Ishikawa? From the Giants’ perspective, it felt pretty good.
So the fact that the Arizona Diamondbacks placed last in the standings in 2014, does not make a shred of difference when Paul Goldschmidt steps to the plate, down one run, with the bases loaded. It all comes down to the battle between the pitcher and the batter, and the guys in the field. The Giants have to go after the teams they will face nineteen times over the course of a season, and figure out a way to school them.
Thirdly, the American League West is the division the Giants will play this season, an unfortunate state of affairs if ever there were one. This division features both the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and the Seattle Mariners, not to mention the Oakland A’s, the team which loves to torture the Giants. Every. Single. Season.
Feb 26, 2014; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; Oakland Athletics outfielder Josh Reddick (16) catches San Francisco Giants batter Michael Morse (not pictured ) at the fence stopping a potential home run in the fourth inning at Scottsdale Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports
Houston has been improving, and no one is willing to rule out the Texas Rangers for any given series, especially if the series is in Texas. Which it is. On the other hand, if the Giants have to play an AL team away for an entire series, it may as well be the weakest team in the division. The strongest team is scheduled to play at AT&T Park, and that is the Angels. Otherwise, it’s split city with the rest: three against Oakland at home and three there, in September, the third to the last series of the season.
I fervently hope that this is not a must-win series for the Giants.
Then the Giants play two each at home and away against the Mariners and Astros. Last season it was kill-or-be-killed against the Junior Circuit, as the Giants swept Cleveland and Minnesota, got swept by Kansas City, and managed only one win against both Oakland and Chicago. They took two out of three from the Detroit Tigers during their resurgence, to save a little face. Total record agains the AL in 2014? 10-10. The Orange and Black has got to fare better than .500 this season.
At the minimum, San Francisco has to take two of the three against the Angels at home, and two out of three from the Rangers on the road. They must split with Oakland, however way that goes, and they need to take three of four from the Astros. Settling for a split with Seattle is probably as good as it gets. That would make their record against the AL, 12-8, which is just about right.
Fourth, I’m not going to be insulting and assert that there will be no injuries, but I will say that there can’t be any biggies, which put players on the shelf for longer than fifteen days. The Giants have good depth but not for the extended periods of time the staff was forced to take extreme measures, last season.
All teams deal with muscle strains, back spasms, elbow tenderness, et al, but it’s how the backups respond that often determine a club’s success. That’s why Gregor Blanco, already pressed into service, is such a key component on the Giants. He-and now Justin Maxwell-has the responsibility of not letting the team miss a beat, when a starter goes down.
OK, the Giants will more than “miss a beat” with Hunter Pence’s injury, but to a player, I can guarantee that each is putting that much more effort into his play, so that Pence does not have to feel any worse than he already does. Do you realize how hard it is for Pence to sit?
Fifth, The team has to trust Bruce Bochy and Brian Sabean, as they have in the past. The two are wizards at figuring out which pieces of the puzzle are ready to fit into plans at exactly the right time. If Maxwell continues to swing the hot bat, do you think he is going to languish on the bench?
There is plenty of work to go around if egos are kept in check, and the Giants are the Pros from Dover when it comes to recognizing the value of sharing the workload. That makes a huge difference when it comes to spending so much time over the course of a six-month schedule-seven months for some.
Sixth, Giants management must continue to have confidence in the farm system, taking advantage of the up-and-coming stars, who have to make their major league debuts some time. I am particularly thinking of pitching here, as in Chris Heston, Steve Okert, and Ty Blach, but there are others and they all need to be ready to heed the call.
Giants brass needs to have the wherewithal to make the call.
Oct 26, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner (40) and catcher Buster Posey (28) celebrate after defeating the Kansas City Royals during game five of the 2014 World Series at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Finally, the Giants have to do what it takes to keep Buster Posey alive and kicking by the time October rolls around. It’s a dual-edged sword because you want him in there every day. However, if he’s in there every day, then it shows as it did last October, when Posey’s batting average was only a shell of what it might have been, had the journey been less arduous.
In 69 at-bats Posey recorded seventeen hits, none for extra bases. It goes without saying that Posey’s importance stems primarily from his knowledge behind the dish, not with the bat, but no extra base knocks? Brian Sabean bent over backwards this winter, asserting that Buster is the team’s catcher, and that he will not be moving to first base any time soon.
That being said, he needs to at least have a frequent-pass to first base, every five days when Tim Lincecum is on the mound. For Posey to continue to take the abuse of a full-time catcher, is to limit his effectiveness over the long haul. And make no mistake about it, this is the crew to go the distance with, proven winners who step it up when it counts, in the postseason.
Every champion has a winning formula. Sometimes it’s lights out pitching and offensive fireworks; other times it’s steady pitching with a stellar ‘pen and National League ball providing the runs.
The Giants are happy to take advantage of whatever weapons are available. They’ve proven that three times in five years. As long as they are writing history, why not four in six years?
That’s one step closer to a dynasty.