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The surprising San Francisco Giants

I spent a couple of days with the San Francisco Giants this week at Chicago's Wrigley Field, and came away with this story about their phenom catcher, Buster Posey, whom I found to be every bit as impressive a rookie, relative to his job description, as Stephen Strasburg was. In all honesty, I went into the assignment with a different focus for the Giants story, but switched directions after seeing Posey's amazing performance Tuesday night.

I also came away believing the Giants, if they can hold onto a playoff spot, are an intriguing team with a chance to pull off an upset in the NL bracket, primarily because of their starting pitching. Here are a few scattershot thoughts about the Giants:

*I hadn't spent a considerable amount of time around this team since the summer of 2007, when a certain surly left fielder was taking aim at the all-time home run record, and let's suffice it to say the clubhouse is very different now. It's a good, loose clubhouse -- perhaps best illustrated by Aubrey Huff's Rally Thong. It's a clubhouse full of colorful characters, from Huff to Jose Guillen to Barry Zito to Brian Wilson, and full of good stories. Between that, and the many fabulous restaurants in San Francisco, I wouldn't mind at all if the Giants made a deep run into the postseason.

*Right now, the Phillies would have to be the overwhelming pick to represent the NL in the World Series for the third straight year, mostly on the strength of their top three starting pitchers -- Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt. But the Giants' rotation is nearly as impressive, and it's the reason they might be a good sleeper pick (again, assuming they get in). Although the Giants might not have the luxury of lining up their postseason rotation the way they'd prefer, given the battle that awaits them over the season's final 10 days, if they had the choice I believe they would start Matt Cain in Game 1 and Tim Lincecum in Game 2. Either would be capable of stealing a game from their Phillies counterparts.

Beyond that, rookie lefty Madison Bumgarner is probably most deserving of the Game 3 start, but the Giants have some difficult choices to make, with Zito and Jonathan Sanchez also staking claims. They will only need four starters in the postseason, so someone will have to go to the bullpen -- and based on their current forms, it would probably be Zito. Also, keep in mind the Phillies, as the NL's top regular-season team, get to pick which Division Series format they wants, and would likely pick the one with the extra off day between Games 1 and 2, allowing them to use only three starting pitchers (on full rest) in the first round. But if the Giants are their opponents, such a format would benefit them, as well.

*The Giants' offense is going through a very strange feast-or-famine phase, for which I don't have a good explanation -- and neither do the Giants. Here are their run totals for the last 12 games: 1, 0, 6, 0, 2, 10, 0, 1, 9, 1, 0, 13. Even more strange: The 6-, 10-, 9- and 13-run outputs all came in the final game of a series.

"It's weird," Guillen told me. "We either don't score, or we score 10. If we understood why, we'd always score 10."

*In regards to the timing of Posey's promotion to the big leagues (May 29): It is wrong to speculate that the Giants were trying to prevent him from reaching "Super Two" status at the end of 2012 (a strategy the Washington Nationals, to cite one well-known example, used with Strasburg). Posey had roughly a month's worth of service time entering this season, thanks to a September call-up at the end of 2009, so they would have needed to have kept him in the minors until around July 1 in order to delay his arbitration eligibility.

*Posey's impact on the Giants is so huge, if I were voting for NL MVP this year, I would give him some bottom-of-the-ballot consideration. (As you may know, MVP voters must list their top 10 picks.) As I point out in the story, the Giants are now 46-30 since he took over as catcher on July 1.

*Huff has played in 1,470 regular season games, which means he trails only Texas's Michael Young and St. Louis's Randy Winn among active players who have appeared in the most games without a playoff appearance. But neither Young nor Winn has suffered quite as acutely as Huff. He was the losingest player of the 2000s, which he spent primarily with the Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles, appearing in 776 losses. (Winn was second, at 771.)

When I asked Huff if he has allowed himself to imagine that moment when the Giants clinch a playoff berth he said, "Oh, God, absolutely. How could you not? All that hard work, the mental grind, the misery, finally paying off? There's still a long way to go here, and there could still be a bad ending, but hopefully this is the year for me."

*Finally, while in Chicago I got the chance to check in with Giants infielder Manny Burriss, who, in April 2008, because the first product of a D.C. public high school to make the big leagues in 38 years. Burriss, now 25, got called back up to the majors this month, completing a brutal two-year odyssey that saw his career temporarily stalled by a twice-broken foot.

Burriss first broke the foot in June 2009, when he was playing for Class AAA Fresno. The same night it happened, he was told he would have been called up to the majors next day. Instead, he wore a walking boot for eight weeks and didn't full heal until the following spring. Then, in the first game of spring training this March, Burriss hit a ball in the gap and was thinking "triple" when he re-fractured the same bone between first and second bases. This time, though, doctors transplanted some bone marrow from his hip to the foot to speed the healing, and he only needed two weeks in a cast. He was back on the field by the end of May.

"It's hard not to think about all that lost time," Burriss said. "But there was nothing I could do about it. If there was some problem with my work ethic, it would almost be easier to take, because that's something I can do something about. But this experience kind of gives me some perspective. I feel like, thank God I'm back and really ready to play."

By Dave Sheinin  | September 24, 2010; 10:37 AM ET
 
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Comments

Dave - It's kind of strange, but when you looked at the Giants offense, did you feel that you were looking at the Nationals? It is weird how close the teams are on so many hitting stats. Taken from Fangraphs today:

SF / WSH
BB% 8.0 / 8.0.
K% 20.2 / 22.1.
BA .258 /.255
OBP .322 / .321
SLG .406 / .398
wOBA .318 / .317

Other than K%, where they are 10 teams apart, they are invariably within 3 places of each other in all MLB sorts, with BB%, BA, and wOBA all placing them next to each other.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | September 24, 2010 11:17 AM | Report abuse

There's just not really any way I can see anyone but the Phillies winning the NL this season. Combine those top three starting pitchers, plus all that postseason experience, plus a potent lineup, and I say they make another trip to the World Series. Still think the Yankees will win it all though, alas.

Posted by: agl132 | September 24, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

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