How Did the Giants Make It to the World Series Yet Again?

San Francisco will be playing in its third Fall Classic in five years.

The San Francisco Giants have done it again.

This incredible five-year run of theirs just keeps motoring on. After finishing second in the NL West this season, 6 games behind the L.A. Dodgers in the division with an 88-74 record, the boys from San Fran eked their way to a 5-game NLCS win over the St. Louis Cardinals in a series that was much closer than the game differential would indicate.

In the five-game series, the Giants outscored the Cardinals 24-16. But Game 1 was a taut 6-4 affair. Games 2 and 3 were both decided by one run. And while Game 4 was a 3-0 shutout, Game 5 was tied 3-3 heading into the ninth inning, until left fielder Travis Ishikawa did a really good baseball thing.

So now the Giants will face the Kansas City Royals in the World Series, which according to Elias Sports Bureau will be just the third time a Fall Classic will feature two teams that failed to win 90 games in the regular season and the first time it's happened after a full 162-game season. The only other times two teams in the under-90 club met in the World Series were in 1918, when the Red Sox (75-51) played the Cubs (84-45) at the end of a season that ended early due to World War I, and in 1981, when the Dodgers (63-47) played the Yankees (59-48) after a strike-shortened season.

And according to Elias, when you combine the regular season records of the Giants and Royals (89-73), it is the second lowest (.546) of any World Series match-up in baseball history. Only the 1973 battle between the Oakland A's (94-68) and New York Mets (82-79) was worse.

So how did the Giants do it? How did they knock off the heavily favored Washington Nationals in the NLDS and then take care of a St. Louis team that was every bit their equal in the NLCS?

One word.


Impressive Rotation

In 10 playoff games this year, the Giants' staff has posted a 2.18 ERA. They pitched 99 innings and gave up 24 runs with 26 walks and 81 strikeouts and held their opponents to a .192 batting average, best of all the teams in the playoffs.

The starters were outstanding, going 3-1 with a 2.40 ERA and holding opponents to a .207 batting average.

Madison Bumgarner431.25195281.42
Tim Hudson213.25140143.29
Jake Peavy29.226651.86
Ryan Vogelsong28.259455.19

Madison Bumgarner emerged as the star of the postseason, posting a 1.42 ERA and a 2-1 record. In 31.2 innings he has given up 19 hits, 6 earned runs, 5 walks and 28 strikeouts. His WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) of 0.76.

Tim Hudson, who will be pitching in his first World Series ever, has a 3.29 ERA in 13.2 innings this October. Jake Peavy has a 1.86 ERA in his 2 starts this postseason. Ryan Vogelsong is the only Giants starter who has struggled a bit, entering the World Series with a 5.19 ERA in 2 starts.

Better Bullpen Than Kansas City

Despite everything you've heard about the Royals' bullpen (all of it deserved), San Francisco's bullpen has actually been even better in October.

San Francisco Giants1.7835.11130.164
Kansas City Royals1.8035.01336.179

The Giants' bullpen has a better ERA, in an extra one-third of an inning pitched, has given up fewer walks and has a better batting average against. The only area where K.C.'s bullpen has the advantage is in strikeouts, and it's close there, too.

Led by Yusmeiro Petit, Sergio Romo, Jeremy Affeldt, and closer Santiago Casilla, all 4 pitchers have combined to give up 1 earned run in 26.2 innings in the playoffs, with 21 strikeouts and 9 walks.

Grind-It-Out Offense

Last night in Game 5, the Giants scored all their runs on homers by Joe Panik, Mike Morse, and of course, Ishikawa's walk-off blast. But those 3 home runs pushed their postseason total to 5, meaning they went into Game 5 having hit 2 dingers in 9 postseason games. Their offense has had to be, well, creative in how they generated runs.

Even after winning the NLCS, the Giants' offense still managed just a .244 batting average and a .638 OPS, worse than the Royals, Cardinals, Orioles, Dodgers, and Tigers. They scored the eventual series-clinching run against the Washington Nationals on a wild pitch. In the NLCS, they scored on a walk, twice on wild pitches (one from second base), twice on errors, four times on groundouts, and three times via the sacrifice fly.

Death by a thousand cuts.

So far in the playoffs, in 203 at bats with no one on base, they've hit .232 with a .588 OPS and 15 walks. With runners on base, their batting average improved only slightly, up to .259 and their OPS was slightly better, up to .699. Still, they're not totals that show a team that is raking the ball with men on base. However, in 158 at bats with runners on base (by far the most of at bats of any playoff team), they walked 21 times. That's six more walks in 45 fewer at bats than with the bases empty.

When the Giants get guys on, they put together quality at bats and generally put the ball in play, forcing the other team to react.

If they struggle to get ducks on the pond, though, the offense might sputter at times, and the pitching staff continuing its collective success will be even more critical.

I still don't believe San Francisco has the best team in the National League, and they probably haven't had the best team in any of their three World Series appearances. But manager Bruce Bochy, who has all but sealed his Hall of Fame induction with this latest trip to the Fall Classic, has once again pushed all the right buttons and gotten his team one step away from their third world championship in five years.

Only the other team of destiny, the Kansas City Royals, stand in their way.