Culture club: Sum of Giants’ parts adds up to another winner
LOS ANGELES — "Underrated," one Giant veteran said of his team in the winning clubhouse, smirking.
"People don’t know," another Giant said in just above a whisper. "Two World Series, and they don’t know."
Actually, we do know. But we forget.
We obsess over the Dodgers’ payroll, their bat flips, their daily drama. And we overlook the Giants, who proved again Sunday that they currently are the better team.
They proved it with a wild, inspired 7-4 victory over the Dodgers in 10 innings in which they overcame left-hander Clayton Kershaw and then a two-run, game-tying homer by Hanley Ramirez with two outs in the ninth.
Earlier this season, free-agent addition Michael Morse told me that the Giants’ culture was special because the core players all had accomplished so much, and accomplished it together. Certainly, no other club has won two of the past four World Series. And really, no one should be surprised if the Giants make it three out of five.
There is something about this group, something that goes beyond their collective Wins Above Replacement, something that the Dodgers have yet to develop, even with their $235 million payroll and appearance in the National League Championship Series last season.
Both times the Giants won, they were greater than the sum of their individual parts, though their pitching was quite strong. This team, while more powerful offensively, already is displaying the same edge — the Diamondbacks, ahem, might call it grit. And Sunday was a quintessential Giants triumph, seemingly against all odds.
The day began with the Giants confirming that first baseman Brandon Belt would undergo surgery on his broken left thumb Tuesday and miss at least six weeks. Manager Bruce Bochy then posted a lineup that prompted third baseman Pablo Sandoval — batting cleanup despite a .173 average — to ask him, "How much did you drink last night?"
Bochy, trying to rest some of his regulars at the end of a 10-game road trip, joked that he was using a "bomb squad" against Kershaw. But, sure, a reasonable person could ask if the manager was indeed bombed.
Here were the five hitters behind Sandoval:
Brandon Hicks, 2B: .198.
Joaquin Arias, 1B: .173.
Juan Perez, LF: .059.
Ehire Adrianza: SS .194.
Tim Hudson, P: .125.
Hicks’ average was deceptive — he hit his seventh home run, a two-run shot off Kershaw on an 0-2 curveball that regained the lead for the Giants in the seventh and increased his OPS to .784. But Arias, Perez and Adrianza went a combined 0 for 9, reinforcing that the Giants might need bench help before long.
Not to worry, the biggest news was that Sandoval finally awakened, going 3 for 5 with two RBI, including a dribbler that slipped through a drawn-in infield to put the Giants ahead in the 10th.
So, whatever Bochy was drinking — and the manager just smiled when asked to identify his beverage of choice — maybe he should guzzle some more.
The truth is that Bochy is the best manager in the game, and general manager Brian Sabean’s front office does not get the credit it deserves. For years, the Giants were considered the antithesis of efficient, modern baseball thinking. Well, they’re now employing defensive shifts along with everyone else. And while they still occasionally throw out a head-scratching contract — two years, $35 million for Tim Lincecum? — they make nifty under-the-radar moves, too.
Hicks signed as a minor-league free agent last November. Center fielder Angel Pagan arrived from the Mets for outfielder Andres Torres and right-hander Ramon Ramirez in December 2011. And that bullpen … my goodness.
Teams such as the Mets, Phillies and Angels act as if putting together a bullpen is an impossible exercise, the baseball equivalent of finding a cure for the common cold. The Giants, on the other hand, annually produce a formidable corps, gathering relievers on the fringes and turning them into valued parts.
Their closer, Sergio Romo, is a former 28th-round pick. Lefty Javier Lopez came in a trade from the Pirates for right-hander Joe Martinez and first baseman-outfielder John Bowker. Four of the righties -— Santiago Casilla, Jean Machi, Juan Gutierrez and Yusmeiro Petit — originally signed as minor-league free agents.
OK, so Romo lacked bite on his slider Sunday and blew his first save in 13 opportunities. It happens. But how did the Giants respond to Ramirez’s stunning, line-drive rocket that electrified Dodger Stadium? By loading the bases with none out in the 10th against Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen and scoring three times.
Jansen has now allowed runs in three of his last four appearances against the Giants, and his teammates are equally flummoxed by their NL West rivals. The Dodgers are 3-7 against the Giants this season, and they’ve dropped eight of their last 10 to them at Dodger Stadium.
Sunday, though, was the topper.
Kershaw entered the game with a 1.38 ERA in 21 starts against the Giants, the lowest ERA all-time against San Francisco (minimum 75 innings). Yet, Hudson proved a worthy opponent, and the Giants played brilliant defense behind him, throwing out two runners at the plate.
Up the middle, the Giants boast above-average defenders in Buster Posey, Pagan and shortstop Brandon Crawford, and Hicks is proving surprisingly good at second. The Dodgers, meanwhile, lead the National League in errors, and advanced metrics portray Ramirez at short and Matt Kemp in center as liabilities.
So, yes, the difference in talent between these clubs might be less than most perceive. But one Giant after another talked Sunday about his team’s relentless spirit, the same type of spirit that the championship clubs exhibited in 2010 and ’12.
It was only one game. It’s only mid-May. The Rockies look formidable. The Dodgers actually have three more wins than they did after the same number of games last season, and their rotation finally is at full strength.
Still, which NL West team is most worthy of trust?
The Giants finished their trip 7-3 against three postseason qualifiers from 2013 — the Braves, Pirates and Dodgers. They’re now tied with the Brewers for the best record in the NL, and they’ve got a plan to replace Belt, using Morse mostly at first base.
Underappreciated? For sure.