SAN FRANCISCO – The conversation was about the San Francisco Giants, how they maybe aren't what people think they are, that is, a sledgehammer of starting pitching prettied up by a handful of swing-and-hope jamokes.
Now, the gentleman with whom I was chatting has affinity for hawk feathers and mysticism, expertly played six-string riffs and magical fungo bats. So, you know, there's all that.
Facts are, these Giants aren't the Giants that dangled giddily from cable cars two falls ago. They are most vulnerable in their starting rotation, and most capable in their batting order. While it's only been those two years, Buster Posey is the lone Giant who started the World Series clincher in Texas and will start again in Saturday's National League division series game against the Cincinnati Reds.
Their most reliable starting pitcher is Matt Cain, which hasn't changed. Their second-most reliable starter in recent weeks is Barry Zito, which is a slight upgrade from their championship season, when he couldn't be trusted with a roster spot.
Cain and Zito and pray for rain, yo!
Course, Zito might not get a start in the division series, because, well, it's a long story that involves a lot of walks in exchange for a lot of money. Madison Bumgarner gets the Game 2 start in San Francisco, and it gets fuzzy from there. Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong and Zito are options in Cincinnati, and if that sounds easy then you might not know Lincecum's ERA is more than 5, as is Vogelsong's since the start of August (and that's with three strong starts to end the regular season).
"Like anything," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said, "it's great you can draw on some experience from other years.
"They have a history of elevating their game and that's why we might not have as much concern as you might think."
Of Lincecum in particular, Bochy said, "Timmy, he's one of those guys who finds a way."
Back when we thought we knew the Giants, they dropped a 1.66 ERA on the division series, 3.06 ERA in the NLCS and 2.45 ERA in the World Series. That they batted .212, .239 and .249 in those series hardly mattered. They just kept winning. Torture, they called it, and with the happy grins of masochists.
The Giants generally win different than that today. Among the teams still playing, only the Washington Nationals scored more runs in the second half. Maybe, come the sandpapery parts of the postseason, they'll have to hit – rather than pitch – their way out of trouble. Either way works, depending on how much you get of the other.
So, this guy I was talking to said he was looking at the Giants' batting order the other day, the one Bochy writes so much of the time, that's shaken off the PED suspension of Melky Cabrera to become an offense that hits for average, that gets on base, that steals a base and often enough gets them in.
Typically, the first six go like this:
Angel Pagan, CF.
Marco Scutaro, 2B.
Pablo Sandoval, 3B.
Buster Posey, C.
Hunter Pence, RF.
Brandon Belt, 1B.
"It's feng shui," he said.
Feng shui. OK.
"A yin and yang thing," he said.
Not left-right-left-right, not a protection thing, but feng shui and yin-yang.
"Listen &hellip" he said, and here we go.
Pagan is a bit high strung. Very energetic. Very aggressive. They call him Crazy Horse.
Scutaro? Not so much. He's quiet, grounded, a thinking man's ballplayer.
Sandoval might see four pitches over four at-bats. Maybe six. If the pitcher threw a tantrum, he's likely to swing at it.
[Video: World Series prediction]
Posey is so calm and cool it's unnerving. Of qualified players in the National League, only A.J. Ellis saw more pitchers per plate appearance.
Hunter Pence. Ever seen his batting practice? The man looks like he's trying to fell an oak with a Slinky. Definitely on the shui side of feng.
Belt is a touch sleepier. Indeed, some Giants call him "Sparky," because, you know, he's really not.
And it works.
"Makes sense, right?" this gentleman said.
They don't hit home runs – Posey had 24, Sandoval had half that, and no other active player hit more than eight. But, somewhere in mid-summer, their on-base percentage rose, they hit with runners in scoring position, Posey became the best hitter in the league, and there were baserunners out there when he did.
"I never thought I'd bring it up again," Bochy said, "but when Melky, when that situation came up, we started playing better baseball."
Folks around the Giants praise Scutaro, the 36-year-old second baseman who arrived from Colorado at the trading deadline and for the next three months batted .362. Pence, who came from the Philadelphia Phillies, has a batting average that's not much to look at, but he's driven in 45 runs in 61 games. And Posey was so good he may be the league's MVP.
It's all of it, of course. All the statistics, all the at-bats taken like they count, and all the runs that come as a result, which is pretty new for the Giants.
So, they can pitch all they want. For what it's worth, a little positive qi can't hurt.
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