Just when we thought every game of the playoffs was going to be a pitcher’s duel along came the San Francisco Giants wielding some lumber and beating the daylights out of the St. Louis Cardinals, 7-1, in the National League Championship Series Monday night. The Giants seemed to halfway snooze through much of the regular season, but then shifted from regular to premium gasoline down the stretch to romp away from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West Division just when the Dodgers had retooled to catch them.
Perhaps not enough attention was paid. The Washington Nationals were compiling the best record in baseball in the NL East. The Cincinnati Reds were running away from the competition in the NL Central. The Cardinals created suspense pulling together a 23-9 closing stretch to pick off the second wild-card spot in the playoffs. The Giants were like a wide receiver who beat his man into the end zone and is jumping up and down waving his arms trying to get the quarterback’s attention. Hey! Hey! Remember me?
We are noticing now. After their resurrection against the Reds, coming back from 0-2 on the road to sweep three straight and advance out of the Division Series, and now ripping the Cardinals’ pitching staff to knot this series at 1-1, the Giants are starting to resemble the 2010 group that won the World Series. And if Tim Lincecum is operating on all cylinders again after his bad regular season, look out.
Lincecum was one of the most refreshing additions to the majors a few years back and he owns two Cy Young awards emblematic of being the best pitcher in the National League twice in his short career. He didn’t win any awards this year, though, going 10-15 with a 5.18 earned run average, and he lost his premier status in the Giants’ rotation heading into the playoffs.
Now he has earned his status back with outstanding relief appearances. It will be ironic if in the worst year of his Major League career Lincecum becomes the difference maker to put the Giants over the top for their second World Series title in three years. Too soon to crow about that, of course, in this best-of-seven series, but it’s a possibility.
Hitting has been in very short supply in this post-season. The Yankees are still alive in the American League Championship Series, but manager Joe Girardi probably would set fire to any stat sheet put in front of him. The Reds harbored great expectations and got knocked out early because they didn’t hit enough. No one is going to confuse this Giants lineup with the good old days of Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda, but compared to the minor-league hitting infecting most other playoff teams, the Giants do look like giants in the batter’s box.
Catcher Buster Posey may become the National League Most Valuable player, but players with lesser name recognition have been making noise one way or another with key plays so far. Angel Pagan in center field, Hunter Pence and Gregor Blanco have contributed leadership or clutch hitting.
And then there is second baseman Marco Scutaro. It was obvious the Red Sox were too anxious to jettison him (after hitting .299), but less obvious that he would become such an important cog in the Giants’ offense this year after being acquired from the Colorado Rockies in time to play 61 games for Frisco. Overall, Scutaro batted .306 with 74 RBIs. But he batted .362 for the Giants with 44 RBIs in those limited number of games.
Even after being tackled by Matt Holliday on a double-play attempt Monday night, Scutaro stepped in to crack a hit that drove in three runs and helped nail down the game. Only then did he depart the premises for an X-ray and medical attention for his hip. Scutaro is bidding for folk hero status now, something he can solidify if he is healthy enough to continue playing.