This is not the team the Giants expected to make the September charge to take the 2012 National League West title. Not even close.
But it is a team succeeding in strange and unconventional ways to the extent they are now third in National League wins with 76 (behind Cincinnati with 82 and Washington with 81), and fourth overall in baseball (tied with the New York Yankees).
To understand the Giants and where they've come since being swept in their season-opening three game series with the Arizona Diamondbacks in April, you have to start with a series of lists.
A List of Lists Describing the Opposite of Success
First, there's the "Critical Player Injuries" list and it consists of one very important name: third baseman Pablo Sandoval (two stints on the DL and 53 games missed). The run-challenged Giants could not afford to lose Sandoval's bat for even a week; they lost it for eight weeks.
Then there's the "Out for the Season" list featuring closer Brian Wilson (pitched 2 innings, Tommy John surgery in April); starting second baseman Freddy Sanchez (no innings played, open a medical dictionary to any page); and minor league starter Eric Surkamp (would likely have been the first pitcher called up from the minors).
There are also a couple of special lists.
"Best Hitter in the History of Baseball to be Suspended in Mid-Season for Testing Positive" is a one man list consisting of Melky Cabrera, who took his .346 BA, 84 runs scored, and .906 OPS poured gasoline over them and set them on fire. Cabrera joined long reliever Guillermo Mota who was serving his own 100 game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance.
Another one-person list is the "Only Pitcher in the History of Baseball to Win 2 Consecutive Cy Young Awards Then Tank this Much" list. After winning the Cy Young in 2008 and 2009, Tim Lincecum has gone 37-38 with a 3.65 ERA. This season Lincecum is 8-14 with a 1.462 WHIP.
One final list.
Of 30 MLB teams, the San Francisco Giant hitters rank last in home runs with a mere 81 four-baggers. They have hit a microscopic 20 home runs at AT&T Park so far this season. In 2011 Giants hitters pounded out 42 homers at AT&T, and whacked a whopping 74 in 2010.
All of that should have added up to a frustrating season rife with lost opportunities, embarrassing turns of events, and a group of under-performing highly paid players. But things have not added up that way at all.
Here's How Things Have Added Up
Manager Bruce Bochy has expertly redesigned and retooled this team along the way, adjusting his batting line-up and bullpen to deal with an ongoing series of unfortunate events. And while it takes the players to perform and put up numbers, Bochy has managed the hell out of this team to get them them to the point of having more wins than only three other teams in all of baseball.
NL Manager of the Year? Forget about Dusty Baker of the Reds or Davey Johnson of the Washington Nationals. Bochy has done more with less that any manager in the game this season.
Maybe they don't hit home runs, but this team is a doubles and triples hitting machine. The Giants are 8th in the National League with 239 doubles and 2nd in the Majors with 45 triples. They are third in the National League with 1,233 hits (Colorado has 1,244 and St. Louis has 1,288).
San Francisco is tied for 3rd in NL on base percentage with .324, and 5th in NL stolen bases with 97. And Giant hitters rank second to last in the National League in strikeouts with 921 (the Phillies have 896).
Making it happen at the plate, behind the plate and in the clubhouse is the leader of this team, Buster Posey (85 RBI, .405 OBP, .935 OPS). No other player in the National League has been more valuable to his team in 2012 than Posey.
Despite Lincecum's struggles this season the Giant's pitching staff is tied for 1st in the NL with 12 shutouts, is 7th in the Majors with a 3.69 team ERA, and is 4th in the National League with a 1.26 WHIP. Number five starter Barry Zito has 10 victories.
The San Francisco bullpen is 1st in the Majors with 47 saves, tied with Atlanta for the second lowest number of blown saves (12), and is 6th in the Majors with a .245 opponents batting average.
Bruce Bochy faced a series of challenges almost from the start of the season-- where to find an effective lead-off hitter, an offense-contributing second baseman, a right fielder who could produce runs, a left fielder who could replace Melky Cabrera, and a solid #2 guy in the line-up.
The central non-performing starter here is Gregor Blanco (.236 BA, .667 OPS) who began the season on the bench. In early May 2012 Blanco took over in right field from the struggling Nate Schierholtz and was moved into the lead-off spot in the order to replace the struggling Angel Pagan (.250).
After starting off hot and showing excellent speed on the bases, Blanco's OBP tailed off and Bochy experimented with Marco Scutaro and several other players at lead-off. On August 3rd Bochy put a rejuvenated Pagan (.288 AVG, .340 OBP) back into the lead-off spot in the batting order and the Giants have gone 21-9 since.
The trade with Colorado to get Marco Scutaro brought a live bat to the #2 spot in the line-up and solved the second base issue. The trade for Hunter Pence has been a slow starter but Pence is quickly finding his hitting legs again and has made several spectacular plays in right field.
The recent pick-up of 11 year veteran Xavier Nady has brought run production back to the left field spot and injected some desperately needed power into the back end of the order. With first baseman Brandon Belt getting better by the week, Bochy must feel he has all the pieces in place to take the National League West title for the second time in three years.
And what about Melky Cabrera?
San Francisco Giants players rebooted their team chemistry and have gone 13-5 since Cabrera left the team. After Melky turned sour, the cream is once again rising to the top.