Comparisons between the San Francisco Giants 2010 World Championship team and the 2012 team about to take on the Reds in the NLDS are unavoidable. But they're also instructive.
Two years ago San Francisco squeaked through the back door to take the National League Western Division title on the last day of the season. Yes, just like the Oakland A's did earlier this week. That Giants team was all about pitching and a never ending battle to scrape together just enough runs to create wins.
In 2012 not only is hitting and run scoring on the table for San Francisco, those will need to be the Giants' #1 weapons if they are going to pull off a Division Series win against a terrifically strong Cincinnati Reds team.
Because, all of a sudden, the Giants no longer have the best starting pitching or the best bullpen in the National League.
Led by NL batting champion (and deserving NL MVP) Buster Posey, this is the season Giant hitters discovered it's possible to plate more than three or four runs in a game, averaging 4.43 runs per game. The Milwaukee Brewers ended up leading all NL teams with 776 RS and 4.79 per game.
Here's the breakdown between the 2010 and 2012 Giants, with the 2012 Reds thrown in just because (NL rank in parentheses):
|W/L||Runs scored||Team ERA/WHIP||Bullpen ERA/WHIP||Extra base hits|
|2010 Giants||92-70||697 (9th)||3.36 (1st) 1.27 (3rd)||2.99 (2nd) 1.31 (2nd)||476 (8th)|
|2012 Giants||94-68||718 (6th)||3.68 (5th) 1.27 (7th)||3.56 (8th) 1.34 (10th)||447 (9th)|
|2012 Reds||97-65||669 (9th)||3.34 (3rd) 1.23 (2nd)||2.65 (1st) 1.22 (2nd)||498 (5th)|
Oddly, the 2010 Giants hit almost the same number of doubles (284 to 287) as the 2012 team and a lot more home runs (162 to 103). But the 2012 Giants hit nearly twice as many triples (57 to 30) leading all MLB teams in that category. The 2012 Yankees only had 13 triples, Boston had 16.
For the first time since the Barry Bonds/Jeff Kent era (1997-2002) Giant hitters are driving the team in partnership with the starting pitching. The big drop-off from 2010 is San Francisco's bullpen which has been rearranged and reinvented several times this season to compensate for the loss of closer Brian Wilson.
The two 800 pound gorillas sitting in the room throughout the Giants-Red NLDS will be the effects created by their respective ballparks. AT&T in San Francisco is one of the top pitching ballyards in the game and Giant starters have become expert at using its vast dimensions to their advantage by pitching to contact and putting balls in play. Otherwise known as long fly outs.
At Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park baseballs sail over the fence or ricochet off the walls like popcorn in a popper. Opened in 2003, three years after AT&T Park, it is one of the top hitters' parks in the Majors and a beautiful venue. In 2004, then-Cincy left fielder Adam Dunn hit a 535 foot home run off the Dodgers' Jose Lima that landed in the Ohio River.
The questions here are: 1) will Giant hitters be able to take advantage of the GABP's comfy confines; and, 2) can Reds' pitchers adjust to AT&T Park's forgiving depths?
You would think those types of adjustments would be easy to make but it turns out they're not easy at all. The Reds played a total of four games at AT&T Park in 2012, while the Giants played three games at Cincinnati. Between both teams' hitters and pitchers, I think the overall advantage here goes to Giant hitters who really don't have to adjust their "style' for the GABP. Warning track fly balls at AT&T will leave the yard in Cincy, and that's OK.
Reds' hitters on the other hand could get frustrated very quickly at AT&T Park as solidly whacked baseballs are harmlessly picked off in front of the warning track.
The pitching match-ups will also play big. Cincinnati's staff have adjusted well to their little ball yard, so AT&T shouldn't bother them too much. But Giant pitchers had better quickly make some serious adjustments in Ohio or they will pay a very big price.
The regular season series between the two teams went to Cincy 4-3. The Reds won 2 of 3 at home and then split a 4 game set in San Francisco. In those games Cincinnati beat Matt Cain twice and Barry Zito once. The Giants beat Reds ace Johnny Cueto and tagged a loss on set-up man Sean Marshall.
In 2010 the San Francisco Giants cut a swath through the post season with dominant starting and bullpen pitching. The big surprise this year will be just how dangerous and dominant a new generation of Giant hitters can be.