From a competitive standpoint, 2011 was a missed opportunity, a bridge between the San Francisco Giants first World Series title in 2010 to their eventual second in 2012.
Bruce Bochy’s squad finished the year with a modest 86-76 record, ending the season four games back in the Wild Card and eight games back in their division. The San Francisco Giants fate that season was foreshadowed in May when Buster Posey’s home-plate collision with Scott Cousins, which resulted in a fractured fibula and torn ligaments in his ankle which required season-ending surgery.
Despite a shorthanded squad proving unable to defend their World Series title, 2011 was not a waste by any definition as that season laid the foundation for San Francisco’s next two championships. That season allowed pieces of San Francisco’s core to mature at the big league level, a base which still keeps the Giants in the running for another championship to this day.
For Madison Bumgarner, one of the first pieces of San Francisco’s homegrown core to reach the majors, 2011 was his first full season not only at the big league level but in Bochy’s starting rotation. The previous season, the San Francisco Giants promoted Bumgarner after Todd Wellemeyer fell victim to injury and the 20-year-old rookie far exceeded expectations, posting a 3.00 ERA over 111 innings in 18 regular season starts which helped propel the Giants into October baseball. Bumgarner provided the baseball world with a taste of what was to come, pitching eight shutout innings against the Texas Rangers in Game 4 of the World Series to become the youngest starter in World Series history to pitch more than six or more scoreless innings.
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Entering the season still not yet old enough to legally consume alcohol, Bumgarner supplemented an already impressive resume for his age. In his first full season, the tall and towering lefty established himself as a premier starting pitcher, finishing the season with a 3.21 ERA and 191 strikeouts in 204.2 innings. Furthermore, Bumgarner allowed fewer home runs per nine innings while striking out more per nine innings. Bumgarner placed 11th in the Cy Young voting, tied with an equally impressive Ryan Vogelsong, but behind teammates Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, who finished 6th and 8th, respectively.
Bumgarner wasn’t the only San Francisco farmhands to don the orange and black that season. Accompanying him was Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford, the future proprietors of first base and shortstop. Both Brandons could have made the Opening Day roster out of spring training, but Crawford suffered a broken finger during the team’s final week in Scottsdale, leaving Belt as the sole rookie on the roster.
During San Francisco’s first series of the season against the rival Los Angeles Dodgers, Belt started in a major league game for the first time, recorded his first hit against Clayton Kershaw on March 31st and belted his first career home run on April 1st. Inconsistency and injuries plagued Belt’s rookie campaign and over the course of the season and San Francisco would recall Belt from the minors four times in total. Despite setbacks, Belt showed promise, finishing the season with a .225/.306/.412 slash line, nine home runs, and a new nickname, “The Baby Giraffe.”
Crawford did not make his major league debut until May 27th, but the shortstop made up for lost time in grand style, launching a grand slam for his first hit in the third at-bat of his career. The Pleasanton-native joined Bobby Bonds and Brian Dallimore as the only Giants to hit a grand slam for their first career hit. Crawford played more games than Belt despite not making the Opening Day roster, but he struggled to adjust to major-league pitching as well, finishing the season with a slash line of .204/.288/.296 and an abysmal OPS+ of 67.
Belt and Crawford may have struggled in their rookie seasons, but 2011 was a stepping stone for their development. The following year, the pair would play 140+ games apiece and help the Giants capture their second championship in three seasons. Both significantly improved their batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage, and continued to refine their game, earning an All-Star appearance apiece in the process.
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The San Francisco Giants’ growth as a team was not only on the field but in the draft as well. In the 2011 MLB draft, San Francisco notably selected Joe Panik and Derek Law, and both are considerable parts of San Francisco’s core. Panik earned a trip to the Midsummer Classic the same season as his middle-infield partner in Crawford, and Law is a member of San Francisco’s reconstructed bullpen.
Suffice to say, despite the “loss” that 2011 seemed to be on paper, in reality it helped build the foundation and set in place the current cornerstones of the “dynasty” of success the Giants have had.
From all of us at Around the Foghorn, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holidays!