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The S.F. Giants in the 2014 MLB Playoffs

I find it so hard to believe that I am living in one of the Golden Ages of Giants baseball. Two World Series Championships in three years, and now, the opportunity for a third World Series Championship. What is it about the even years in the second decade of the 2000’s? I think of all the years of my youth into my teens, my twenties, my thirties, and now, mid-way through my forties, and they’ve won in the playoffs. Growing up, the Giants never made the playoffs. Then, it was the Will Clark era which melded into the Bonds era…and figuring out how would the Giants lose in the playoffs.

What has made the difference in the Giants’ correct run in the playoffs? It isn’t just the players, which the Giants do have some good ones— good starting pitchers, good relievers, good infielders, good outfielders, and an excellent catcher, Buster Posey. However, the one major difference is the manager, Bruce Bochy. These days, major league baseball is about successful match-ups, making sure that your hitters match up better against their pitchers, and that your pitchers match up better against their hitters. This is where the wins lie in your regular season along with postseason success, and this is what Bruce Bochy understands. The other important issue that Bochy understands is how this is different in both the regular season and in the postseason.

Bruce Bochy also certainly knows how to out-manage the other managers not just during the regular season, but during the postseason. He is sharp. Aside from getting scouting reports and statistics about the other teams, the most important thing is that Bruce Bochy knows his own team. He knows the capabilities of his own players, their strengths and their weaknesses. Bochy also sees special skills in his own players, and they genuinely want to play for him, and play hard for him. As a manager, you are dealing with twenty-five different players with different languages, cultures, personalities, and skills. You are assisted by your capable coaches. I heard some time back that playing baseball (probably all professional sports) that it is a matter of getting all the players to pull on the same rope at the same time. It is also all about winning, too. The players understand this, and aside from getting a big contract (financial security for life), it is about being recognized as part of a championship team. If you are not a great player or a good player, the next biggest goal is to play on a championship team—to get a championship ring. They are rare, and special and not every player gets them.

Bochy understands that managing in the postseason is about winning every game. There are only a limited number of games, and it is important to win each game. It takes fourteen games to win the World Series, and it is important to win each game, and not wait for the next one. This is what a lot of other managers don’t get; at one point, Washington Nationals manager (and former Giants player) Matt Williams said in defense of a managerial move/error “This is how we did it during the season, and this is how I did it now.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t work this way in the postseason, and that it part of why the Nationals are now watching the World Series on television instead of playing in it.

The Giants were the other wildcard team with the same record as the Pittsburgh Pirates. Madison Bumgarner pitched a complete game shut-out supported by a Brandon Crawford homerun to eliminate the Pirates.  The next series, the NLDS was against the Washington Nationals, a team that might be considered more talented than the Giants. The Giants were able to use their tried and true method of great pitching, and clutch hitting along with Nationals’ defensive mistakes to beat the Nationals in four games.

While the Giants beating the Nationals, the St Louis Cardinals were defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers.  One of the highlights was an 18-inning win highlighted by six shutout innings by Yusemeiro Petit and a top of the 18th inning home run by Brandon Belt. Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kershaw melted down in the playoffs, not once but twice. And to answer the question, “No, I didn’t want to see the Giants play the Dodgers in the NLCS.” Too much could go wrong, and I liked the match-up better for the Giants against the Cardinals.

So, the Giants would play the Cardinals in the NLCS. As the Giants went through the playoffs in every round, all the ‘baseball’ experts were saying that they were going to lose. It didn’t happen…same as in 2010 and same as in 2012. The Giants beat the Cardinals, 4-1, with one game ending in the 10th inning on a throwing error by the Cards pitcher. The NLCS ended in one climactic at-bat in the bottom of the ninth inning by one of the most unlikely players, Travis Ishikawa. He  played on the 2010 Giants World Series team, was released by the Pittsburgh Pirates in May 2014, spent a few months in the minors with the Fresno Grizzlies, and got called up to play for the Giants. Ishikawa was also playing left field for the Giants, a position that he hadn’t played before at any professional level, another inspirational Bochy move. Ishikawa had what can only be described as a ‘Bobby Thomson’ moment—hitting a homerun in the bottom of the ninth inning to win the pennant. It was spectacular and special!

And it led the Giants to where they are now, playing the Kansas City Royals in the World Series. I expect this match up to be far more close than their previous two World Series matchups—the Rangers in 2010 and the Tigers in 2012. For one thing, the Giants are no longer being underestimated; other teams know that the Giants are good, and that they are a dangerous team. The Royals don’t have the pitching of the Giants, but they do have clutch hitters, excellent team speed, and solid defense. These are two closely matched teams, and you can bet that it will come down to the bitter end. Yes, I am still (always) rooting for the Giants, and I’m optimistic. I would love to see another World Series parade in San Francisco, and for now, we just have to wait and see.

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