Five Cuts: Dynasty? No, but the Giants are built to keep contending
The Giants' world championship is the payoff for a smart emphasis on developing young pitching and the people on the ground (instructors, scouts, trainers, etc.) who made it work. And pitching coach Dave Righetti gave credit, too, to owner Bill Neukom for instilling a new accountability in the system since he took over two years ago. "The development changes done over the last few years have been huge," Righetti said. "Bill Neukom took over and put everybody on watch."
A rotation with four starters no older than 27, a franchise player behind the plate at 23 and a boost in revenues from a championship season leave the Giants with a sustainable model. The pitchers all remain under their control for at least the next two years, and pitching in the NL West, with its large ballparks, particularly rewards such an investment.
"Last year was significant," Sabean said, "because we won 88 games with no offense. It was pitching and defense. I saw it. Everything we do here is based on the pitching. It's a 'pretty simple, stupid' philosophy."
What the Giants have are the pieces to stretch to two or three more years a window of at least five years or so in which they should win between 88 and 95 games. What they don't have are the pieces to assure themselves of getting back to the World Series -- but that's only because no one does.
Something big happened in baseball while we all fixated on the enormity of the Yankees' financial resources. The intellectual and talent gaps in the game narrowed. The flow of information and the qualifications of front office executives improved so much that organizations now are more alike than different. Twenty years ago you had the equivalent of Ivy League institutions competing against community colleges. Now the manpower and brainpower is more evenly spread throughout the 30 organizations.
"There's so much turnover now on rosters," Sabean added. "That's one reason why you see different teams in the World Series."
And when the talent gap is narrowed, getting through three rounds of the postseason becomes harrowingly difficult every year, with results sometimes decided by the whims of fortune.
Over the last six years, 11 out of a maximum 12 organizations have filled the World Series slots. One year's Astros are the next year's Tigers are the next year's Rockies and so on. Remember the 2005 White Sox? People raved about them as they do now the 2010 Giants. A great rotation dominated opponents as the White Sox tore through the postseason on a record 11-1 run. Three of their four postseason starters were between 25 and 30 (Jon Garland, Mark Buehrle and Freddy Garcia) and the fourth was 33 (Jose Contreras). What have they won since? Nothing.
Indeed, it's a common story: a middle market team rides a perfect storm to the World Series, engenders talk about how long such a window can lost -- even ridiculous references to "dynasty" -- and then they disappear. It's not so much that they get so much worse; it's that the edge on so many other teams is so thin.
Philadelphia is the anomaly, having made the World Series in 2009 after winning it in 2008. To the right are the other eight franchises who made the World Series in the previous five years and how they've fared in playoff series ever since they got in:
The Giants do have the base of pitching to get back to the World Series, so their chances cannot be dismissed. Of course, now they will have to fight the aftereffects of pushing their young starters longer and harder than ever before.
"I know in spring training the first time somebody gets hit I'll hear about it," Righetti said. "We're working on that now. [Madison] Bumgarner's stuff got better. [Matt] Cain maintained his stuff the whole year. I worry about the thinner guys, [Jonathan] Sanchez and Timmy [Lincecum]."
But, hey, that's something to worry about for another day. For today the Giants should be applauded for cracking the mysterious code of pitching better than anybody in baseball right now, and they are positioned to be one of the teams to beat again next year, especially if they can get into the postseason, where having a big-time fourth starter gave them a huge advantage over the competition, as the Yankees of the late 1990s enjoyed. So let's turn over the final word as to what's ahead for the Giants to Brian Wilson, the bearded closer whose next goal is to become a clue in the Sunday
"I like our chances," Wilson said. "I know we were picked for fourth place this year. We've got to at least be moved up to third -- you would think."
Here's an interesting twist on that game-breaking, Series-clinching home run by Edgar Renteria: Texas pitcher Cliff Lee and catcher Bengie Molina were not on the same page. Lee wanted to attack Renteria. Molina assumed they were pitching around him. It was the pitch that ended the World Series.
Renteria came to bat after Pat Burrell struck out, leaving runners at second and third with two outs. Renteria was one of the hotter hitters in the Giants lineup, especially against left-handed pitching. On deck was Aaron Rowand, who had been used seldom in the series.
Lee was beginning to crack just a hair from his near flawless form. A single by Juan Uribe earlier in that inning, Molina said, was a mistake -- an 0-2 pitch Lee wanted to elevate but left over the plate. So Molina made what seemed to be the smart plan:
"I'm trying to pitch around Renteria," Molina said. "And we're going to go after Rowand. He hasn't been playing."
So Molina shelved the fastball. He called for a cutter, which missed, and then a changeup, which also missed. Now the count was 2-and-0 and the need for a pitch-around was even more imperative. Lee could not give a hittable pitch in a hitter's count with first base open and Rowand on deck. Molina called for a cutter.
"Away," Molina said, when asked where he wanted it. "More out of the zone than in the zone."
But Lee had a completely different mindset. Lee never wavered from his default mode of attacking hitters. He said he had no intention of pitching around Renteria.
"I was trying to throw a strike with the first and second pitch," Lee said. "I don't want to walk anyone."
It's a mentality that makes Lee so great. Strike-throwing is in his pitching DNA. The passive posture of pitching around a hitter does not appeal to him, even in a situation where the vibe of the game was that the first run would win the game.
Lee threw a cutter, but poorly. It drifted over the middle of the plate. Renteria hammered it.
"He put a good swing on it," Lee said. "You've got to give him credit."
The pitch has to be considered a mistake pitch. And the way Lincecum was throwing, Lee had no room for such a mistake, not with two runners on.
Someone then asked Molina, "Well, if you wanted to pitch around Renteria, why not just put him on [intentionally]?"
Molina gave no audible reply; he simply gave a knowing grin at the idea.
In nine seasons, Lee has thrown a total of just 12 intentional walks -- just two this year.
Lee might not know it, but he influenced the game Lincecum threw Monday night. Lincecum pitched like a man who was late for his own wedding, barely leaving the area around the rubber and taking almost no time between pitches, most of which pounded the strike zone. (He threw 30 balls to 29 batters).
"I wanted to get the ball and go quickly, quick-pitching some guys," he said. "I saw the way Cliff Lee did it to Tampa Bay and the way it worked for him. I was trying to keep a good pace."
Said Rangers GM John Daniels, "Lincecum's changeup was great. That's one of the better pitches we've seen. He was tremendous. It made me appreciate that we got four runs off him the first time. We like to think we have a great hitting lineup and he went through it pretty easily."
For the first time in his life, Lincecum had struggled for an extended period in August. The Giants pushed him to recommit himself to his fitness. Said Lincecum, "They say good things come from going through adversity and tough times, and I have to agree with that. I was kind of lost there emotionally and physically. It turned my season around."
Lincecum went 9-2 after Sept. 1, including four wins in the postseason in which he beat Derek Lowe, Roy Halladay and Lee twice. And talk about being strong to the finish. Lincecum tied a record for most strikeouts in a World Series-clinching win. With 10 punchouts he joined the company of Bob Gibson (1967), Sandy Koufax (1965), Hal Newhouser (1945) and Orval Overall (1908).
At age 26, and only 170 pounds, Lincecum already has a widely decorated career: two Cy Youngs, three strikeout titles, three All-Star appearances, including one start, and now the clinching win of the first San Francisco world championship. Not bad for the kid groomed by his father to maximize his tiny frame with a unique, spring-loaded delivery.
"My dad's probably got a tear in his eye right now, laying on his bed," Lincecum said. "All the people who said I couldn't do this and we couldn't do that, we shut them up."
And now the world, especially in Texas, waits to see how much money the Yankees will throw at Lee. After the baseball calendar was modified to accelerate offseason business, the Yankees -- and anybody else brave enough to bid with them -- can throw money at Lee as soon as this Sunday. There is no shot, of course, that Texas can make use of an exclusive signing window until then.
"I've never been a free agent and I'm going to take advantage of it," Lee said.
The pitcher said several times that he loves his teammates and considers the Rangers the type of winning organization that he seeks. But the man who has bounced around among four teams in the past 16 months seemed to play it straight down the middle when it came to his future in Texas.
"I have to play things out and see how it goes," Lee said. "I would love to be a part of it [in Texas], but there's a lot of variables. I have to do what's best for my family and be part of a winning team."
Good call by Jeff Francouer. He said after seeing the Giants beat his Mets three out of four after the All-Star break while yielding just eight runs, "That team has got a shot to be in the World Series." The Giants were in third place at the time, 4½ games out. ...That Josh Hamilton storybook run, the one in which he had tears in his eyes upon the last out of the ALCS, hit a hard ending. Hamilton was a non-factor in the Series, with two hits in 20 at-bats. Said Hamilton, "I felt pretty good up there. It wasn't like I was lost. It happens. I hate for it to happen in the World Series, but it did." ... That was a great bunt by Aubrey Huff to advance two runners in the seventh, especially for a guy with 6,112 career plate appearances and zero sacrifice hits. "I got the sign and was going to do whatever I could to get it down," Huff said. ... Speaking of sac bunts, what was Texas manager Ron Washington thinking when he got the leadoff man on in a 0-0 game in the sixth? It was the optimum time for a bunt: with Elvis Andrus, one of his fastest runners, putting the ball on the ground and Juan Uribe and Huff as the corner infielders. And the way Lincecum was throwing -- he already had 13 swings and misses, many of them funky -- it was the no-brainer play. Instead, Washington started the runner, Mitch Moreland, on the first pitch to Andrus for a hit-and-run. Andrus lined out to center field. Just put the ball on the ground and let Michael Young and Hamilton take a crack at driving the runner in. You knew the first run was huge, especially in this game. The Rangers lost a 2-0 lead with Lee on the mound way back in the third inning of Game 1 -- and nobody ever overcame a lead the rest of the Series.