The San Francisco Giants weren’t supposed to be good. They might challenge for a wildcard spot but ultimately were years away from competing with the mighty Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Giants won a franchise-record 107 games, dethroned the Dodgers in the NL West, and had the best record in baseball. So how did a team that was apparently still rebuilding do all this?
The Man at the Top
Farhan Zaidi can be thanked for the quick reversal of the team’s fortunes. The Giants hired current President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi prior to the 2019 season. Zaidi quickly changed the culture of the club. Instead of resigning Giants World Series heroes of the past such as Madison Bumgarner, Zaidi chose newer, younger faces that fans quickly grew to love. In his three years with the club, he has brought in players such as Kevin Gausman, Jake McGee, LaMonte Wade Jr., Mike Yastrzemski, Donovan Solano, Darin Ruff, and Kris Bryant to name a few. These players, as well as many more, have become essential to this new look Giants team.
A Resurgence By Franchise Players
2021 saw Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, and Brandon Crawford have career years. Many experts believed the Giants stars of the past were on the decline, but this year showed that wasn’t the case. Posey hit the most home runs since 2015 despite playing significantly fewer games. Belt, the self-proclaimed captain of the team, hit the most home runs of his career while playing less than 100 games, and was the best hitter in baseball since August. Crawford had career highs in average, home runs, RBIs and runs and has a legitimate argument for NL MVP. Off the field, Posey, Belt and Crawford’s leadership and guidance to the rest of the team cannot be overlooked. While Belt will miss most of the postseason with a broken thumb, their postseason experience will pay dividends throughout October.
An Insane Amount of Depth
The Giants might not have a roster full of big-name players like the Dodgers, but they do have a team full of players that can play any position and grind out at-bats. Not one player on the Giants had over 30 home runs or 100 RBIs, but they still led the National League in home runs. Second-year manager Gabe Kapler’s ability to plug any player into any situation was a major reason behind the success of the team. Ten players had 10+ home runs and 18 had double-digit RBIs.
You don’t win 107 games without a little bit of luck and some late-inning magic. The Giants won 28 games this season after entering the 8th inning tied or behind. They hit 18 pinch-hit home runs — the most in the majors. Many of these comebacks were led by the best clutch hitter in baseball LaMonte Wade Jr. He was 13-23 (.565 avg.) with 12 RBIs in the 9th inning this season, earning him the nickname “Late Game LaMonte.”
The Best Bullpen in Baseball
It makes it easier to stage late-inning comebacks when you have the best bullpen in the sport. The Giants’ pen posted a 2.99 ERA — the lowest amongst all teams. The two-headed monster of Tyler Rogers and Jake McGee helped close out games all season. Young flamethrower Camilo Doval took over the closing role for McGee when he went down with an injury late in the season and helped close out three crucial wins down the stretch. The Giants’ bullpen has been their Achilles heel in years prior, but that was not the case this year. Kapler was able to effectively use all of his relievers as openers or late-inning guys. Dominic Leone, Jarlin Garcia and Zack Littell have filled the holes that used to keep Giants’ fans up at night.
And Let’s Not Forget Their Starting Rotation
Kevin Gausman and Logan Webb are two of the most underrated pitchers in baseball. Gausman looked like a legitimate Cy Young candidate through the All-Star Break posting a 1.73 ERA. Although he struggled down the stretch, Gausman showed why he is the ace of the staff. Webb was the second-best pitcher in baseball only to Max Scherzer during the second half of the season. He made 15 straight starts giving up three or less runs and hasn’t been tagged for a loss since May 5th. The one-two punch of Gausman and Webb is as good as any in baseball. The Giants’ success this postseason will hinge on their ability to pitch well.
To put things into perspective for how great this Giants team is, the Dodgers went 44-13 after acquiring Max Scherzer and Trea Turner, one of the best 57-game stretches in history, and only picked up two games on the Giants. The Giants won 107 games and clinched the division title on the last day of the season due to the greatness of their rivals in the south.
It’s only fitting that the Giants face off against the Dodgers in the NLDS. The two best teams in baseball face off with a lot more than bragging rights on the line. Friday marks the beginning of what Giants’ fans hope is another deep October run.