Giants a superpower with second World Series title in three years
DETROIT -- The World Series wasn't a classic. It was over too quickly and lacked the back-and-forth scoring we typically associate with memorable series, especially when viewed against ho-hum League Championship Series. When Miguel Cabrera hit a wind-aided two-run homer in the third inning of Game 4, taking the Tigers from a 1-0 deficit to a 2-1 lead, it was the first lead change in the postseason in 75 innings covering nine games played over 12 days.
But what the Series lacked in drama it gave back in historical importance for the Giants franchise. Like the 2004 World Series, which wasn't very compelling but established the end of an 86-year wait for Boston, this one stands out for elevating San Francisco as a pre-eminent franchise in the modern era of new ballparks, revenue sharing and the expanded postseason, all of which have created a leveling of the playing field that make it more difficult for one franchise to bundle titles.
The Giants are the first National League franchise in the free agent era to win two titles in three years. They have the most energized ballpark atmosphere in baseball, the longest sellout streak this side of the one that is perpetuated in Boston, stability in the dugout and front office and a bona fide franchise player just reaching his prime in Buster Posey, who at age 25 already has two world titles, a batting title, a Rookie of the Year Award and, when this year's awards are announced, a Most Valuable Player Award.
The coronation of the Giants not just as world champions again but also as a premier modern baseball brand is the biggest takeaway from this World Series. Here's what else we learned from these four nights in October:
1. The Giants' run is sustainable
Too many breaks have to go a team's way to predict the Giants can make it three titles in four years, something unprecedented among National League franchises. Look at how San Francisco's run was paved this year: the Scott Rolen game-deciding error in NLDS Game 3, a game that would have sent the Giants home early; Brandon Phillips making the Reds' first out of that game at third base and Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker taking Aroldis Chapman out after 15 pitches for Jonathan Broxton; the Cardinals' Lance Lynn throwing a ball off second base in the NLCS; Hunter Pence effectively winning the NLCS clincher by hitting one pitch three times with a broken bat; Angel Pagan starting a World Series rally by hitting a grounder off third base; Tigers coach Gene Lamont sending Prince Fielder to make the first out of an inning at home; and on and on.
But you can be assured that these Giants are not some pop-up champion, like the 2005 White Sox or 2003 Marlins. They have a culture of pitching that may be matched only by the one in Tampa Bay -- the difference being that the Giants have been able to build enough offense around it to win championships. Nobody else develops pitchers and keeps them healthy like the Giants.
"We do have a way of identifying pitchers, recognizing certain arm actions and deliveries," GM Brian Sabean said, "and then you put them in good hands with [manager] Bruce Bochy and coaches like Mark Gardner and Dave Righetti."
Over the past three years, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner, all first-round picks, never have been on the disabled list while making 280 starts and compiling a 116-96 record, including 60-47 at home, while adding a combined postseason record of 12-6 with a 2.67 ERA. The careers of Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito have been re-energized.
All five starters will be back next year and Lincecum is the only one the Giants don't control through at least 2014. Bochy is so good at running a bullpen that guys like Jeremy Affeldt, Sergio Romo and Javier Lopez don't seem subject to the usual injuries and off-year syndromes common to relievers the more they are used.
The landscape of the NL West will change significantly this winter when the Dodgers nail down the biggest regional sports television deal in all of baseball. They will spend their way into contention with, according to some baseball people, more money to throw around than the Yankees. Changes to the draft and international free agent signing rules and the industry trend of locking up young players (next up: Posey) make buying elite talent more difficult, but the Dodgers will become the Yankees of the West Coast -- a team that has the kind of money to eat mistakes and not be set back by them.
Still, the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies, all of whom have had windows in this era of expanded playoffs, have spent their way into bad spots while it is the Giants who are ascendant. It may be a long time before we see another run like this again: facing elimination in the NLCS, they ran off seven straight wins in which they allowed a total of seven runs. But the heart of that run is why the Giants have a good chance to defend their title: pitching.
2. The Tigers are not a very deep baseball team
Detroit manager Jim Leyland did the best he could with this bunch, but the Tigers don't have enough depth in their lineup, versatility on offense or reliable arms in their bullpen. They looked particularly weak when Prince Fielder became a non-factor. Fielder went 1-for-14 in the World Series, and though he did hit a few balls hard that were outs, he never did figure out how the Giants were pitching him. Fielder saw only 42 pitches in 15 plate appearances, or 2.8 pitches per plate appearance. He is a career .183 postseason hitter in 104 at-bats.
The Detroit lineup really never was the run-scoring machine that was expected when the team signed Fielder to pair with Miguel Cabrera. Quintin Berry was nobody's idea of a good number two hitter in the World Series. And the back end of the lineup was just too easy for San Francisco pitchers to get through. The six through nine spots in the Detroit lineup went 6-for-57 in the series (.105).
Give credit, too, to Brian Johnson and Pat Burrell, the advance scouts for San Francisco who broke down the Tigers and presented a winning game plan on how to pitch to their lineup.
Also, the demise of relievers Joaquin Benoit, 35, and Jose Valverde, 34, who became non-factors through the playoffs, is typical for mid-30s relief pitchers who have accumulated years of use. It was no surprise the Tigers lost the World Series with lefthander Phil Coke unable to get out righthanded hitters Ryan Theriot and Marco Scutaro. Coke is not a platoon-neutral late inning reliever.
3. Too much rest in baseball is a real factor
The 1988 Athletics, 2006 Tigers, 2007 Rockies and 2012 Tigers are the four teams that swept the LCS and wound up playing a team that needed all seven LCS games to get into the World Series. The four teams that sat around and waited are now 0-4 in the World Series -- including 2-16 in World Series games.
This confirmed why you cannot change the wild card to a best-of-three series. First-place teams would be punished for winning their division by being forced to wait five days to play again.
I was very surprised to see how many people picked Detroit to win the World Series. The Tigers were overwhelming favorites. But the idea that they would simply continue to roll with their starting pitchers getting 7, 11, 12 and 9 days of rest and their hitters staying sharp with intrasquad games was far-fetched. The rest factor was just one more reason why I liked the Giants, a team I picked to win it all before the postseason began because of their pitching and timely hitting. In fact, in a rare sort of sweep myself, I went 7-for-7, picking all Division Series, LCS and World Series correctly.
4. Either the regular season or the postseason is too long
Owners and players have expanded the postseason four times in 43 years (1969, 1985, 1995 and 2012) but done nothing about the counterbalance of shortening the regular season. The individual owners don't want to give up home dates. The longer postseason keeps pushing the playoffs deeper into the year (where it suffers from football season and the possibilities of bad weather) and may be creating a fatigue factor with viewers.
The one-game wild card was a terrific addition. It was exciting and viewership was strong. But MLB asked people to watch 37 postseason games in a 24-day span. The World Series is losing some of its big event feel because the runup to it is so long that it may seem like just another playoff round. One MLB source called the erosion of World Series viewers this year "a wake-up call" that came about not because of one quick-fix issue but many issues that need to be studied. One idea that should be on the table (assuming owners still won't touch the regular season) is shortening the LCS to a best-of-five series, the format that was used from 1969-1984. It would allow the World Series to stand alone as a best-of-seven series and inject more urgency in a long month of playoff games.
5. Bruce Bochy no longer is underrated
I said before the World Series that Bochy and Leyland effectively were playing for a place in the Hall of Fame, and Bochy won. He may not be in just yet, but he's only 57 and could wind up with more than 2,000 wins to go along with at least three pennants and two world championships. He is one of 14 managers with 1,400 wins and two World Series titles; all are in the Hall or going to be in with the exception of Ralph Houk. Bochy (1,454-1,444, .510, two titles) and Houk (1,619-1,531, .514, two titles) are statistically similar, but Bochy still has years to manage and the cache of having won his titles through three rounds of playoffs. He took out the two winningest active managers this year, Leyland and Dusty Baker.
"He's as good as there is at running a bullpen," Sabean said.
Said team president Larry Baer, "He's had the steadiest hand you could possibly have. The guy should finally get his proper recognition."