No magic needed: Resourceful, persistent Giants succeed by plan
SAN FRANCISCO — This column is coming to you live from the Voodoo Lounge at AT&T Park, at the corner of Smoke and Mirrors in the city by the bay.
I mean, that’s what we’re talking about, right? A mystery train rolling through the fog, taking the Giants on one big serendipitous ride through the NLCS?
The Giants are good (not great), resourceful (occasionally lucky) and persistent (in a nipping dog sort of way).
There actually is something of a method to their madness, though as bench coach Ron Wotus said Wednesday night, it isn’t exactly planned.
The theme of the Giants’ World Series title run in 2010 was “torture,” for the club rarely won easily. Third-base coach Tim Flannery refers to the ’14 edition as the “Nitty Gritty Dirt Band,” given its propensity to scratch and claw and not look particularly good in the process.
The Giants are well aware that they have not hit a home run in 202 at-bats, that they have produced 12 of their last 22 runs without a hit, and that they benefited in Game 4 from two botched plays by the Cardinals’ Matt Adams at first base.
On the other hand, it’s not as if the Giants have been innocent bystanders while taking a three-games-to-one lead over the Cardinals, including their 6-4 victory on Wednesday night.
Their winning rally in the 10th inning of Game 3 started when Brandon Crawford drew a walk off Randy Choate. Their three-run sixth in Game 4 began when pinch-hitter Juan Perez drew a walk off Marco Gonzales.
Some bizarre things admittedly happened after those plays – Choate’s walk-off throwing error, Adams’ poor throws and questionable decision-making. But don’t forget, Gregor Blanco got a big bunt down in the Game 3 rally, and pinch-hitter Matt Duffy did the same in Game 4. Perez then pressured Adams by getting a terrific jump breaking for home on contact, and Crawford alertly scored when Adams threw to second rather than at least look him back to third.
Bunting, baserunning, putting the ball in play — it all adds up, particularly when seven doubles have been the extent of the Giants’ extra-base power in the first four games.
Which is not to say the Giants are a flawless wonder. A throwing error by left-hander Madison Bumgarner cost them Game 3 of the Division Series against the Nationals. Perez couldn’t get a bunt down in Game 3 of the NLCS before delivering a pivotal single that led to the winning run.
Still, the Giants have a .338 on-base percentage in this series. Their hitters have nearly as many walks (16) as strikeouts (20) and their pitchers have issued only nine walks in 36 innings.
Ah yes, the pitching.
The rotation after Bumgarner is rather modest, though righty Tim Hudson was impressive in Game 3. The bullpen, on the other hand, is a monster. Not a Royals, you’re-done-after-six-innings type of monster. But a suffocating group nonetheless.
Giants relievers have combined for 9 2/3 scoreless innings the past two games, including six in Game 4, three by postseason wonder Yusmeiro Petit. The Cardinals led 4-3 when Petit replaced Ryan Vogelsong in the fourth. Petit struck out the side, and the game was never the same.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy used five relievers to get through the final three innings. Jeremy Affeldt recorded his 17th straight postseason appearance without allowing a run, Santiago Casilla his 16th straight, Javier Lopez his 15th straight. Impressive, huh?
More like typical, at least in even years.
The Giants are winning without Matt Cain, who is injured, and Tim Lincecum, who is their last option in their bullpen. They’re getting contributions from bit players such as Duffy, Perez and Andrew Susac. And they’re proving, yet again, that their front office is shrewder than many think.
Is any team better at snagging players on minor-league contracts and turning them into useful contributors? Relievers Casilla, Petit and Jean Machi all joined the Giants on minor-league deals, as did center fielder Blanco. Vogelsong and left fielder Travis Ishikawa rejoined the club the same way.
The Giants’ success with such players is a tribute to their pro scouting staff, the honesty of their front office when discussing playing time with agents and the work of manager Bochy and his staff in making newcomers feel comfortable.
It’s a Giants thing, just as scoring without hits is a Giants thing, just as winning World Series in even years is a Giants thing. Bochy and Co. aren’t at that point, of course. But they’ve got Bumgarner, the hottest pitcher in the postseason, starting Game 5 on Thursday.
See you at the Voodoo Lounge, on the corner of Smoke and Mirrors. Just be warned: What’s really happening there isn’t magic.