For the second time in the last three years, the San Francisco Giants are headed to the World Series. And for the second time in the last three years, the Black and Orange will emerge from the Fall Classic as champions.
Here are 10 reasons why:
Momentum is real: The G-Men are on a roll of historic proportions. They’ve won their previous two playoff series with their backs against the wall, battling back from nearly insurmountable series deficits and winning six elimination games against Cincinnati and St. Louis. No other team has beat those kind of odds since the 1985 Kansas City Royals, who were down 3-1 in both the ALCS and World Series before fighting their way to victory.
Chemistry is real: Not since the 1979 “We Are Family” Pittsburgh Pirates have I seen a team that genuinely loves playing and being around each other as much as these guys. Not even the 2010 Giants. As corny as Hunter Pence’s pre-playoff game motivational speeches may be, his “play for each other” mantra has resonated and helped elevate the team’s play to a higher level.
There’s no place like home: The Giants have some of the most passionate and dedicated fans in baseball. The noise level at the NLCS games against the Cardinals was at times deafening. Then there are the quirks of AT&T; Park — the tricky right field and the cavernous gap in “Triples Alley.” Features like these confound visiting players on a regular bases. Plus, there’s the issue of travel, or lack thereof in the case of the Giants. They won Game 7 of the NLCS at home just two days ago and do not have to fly cross-country thanks to the National League winning the All-Star game — on the strength of Giants’ bats.
Bochy Ball: Davey Johnson of the Washington Nationals just won the NL Manager of the Year Award. And he deserves that honor, but one can easily argue that so does Giants skipper Bruce Bochy. From his rapport with his players to his mastery of bullpen moves to his encyclopedic knowledge of the game, Bochy’s calm, collected leadership is being increasingly recognized as the best in the business.
Bullpen excellence: Whereas the Tigers’ bullpen has struggled mightily throughout this year’s playoff run, with beleaguered closer Jose Valverde floundering even in Sunday’s simulated game, the Giants relievers have been stellar. Sergio Romo has stepped up to replace the injured Brian Wilson and the addition of two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum to the pen has proved to be another brilliant move by Bochy.
Barry’s back! The Giants have won each of pitcher Barry Zito‘s last 13 starts going all the way back to August 2. Zito, who has stoically endured years of abuse for his lackluster performance ever since signing with the G-Men for a record $126 million back in 2006, is looking like his old Oakland A’s Cy Young-winning self. He’s set to start Game 1 of the World Series and although the Justin Verlander– Barry Zito matchup may appear lopsided on paper, the Giants’ faithful believe Barry can go toe-to-toe with anyone right now.
Panda’s back! Like Barry Zito, third baseman Pablo Sandoval has taken his lumps over his years as a Giant. After a tremendous rookie year, “Kung Fu Panda” endured a sophomore slump that saw him relegated to the bench due to a lack of production. But weight issues and a less-than-stellar 2012 regular season campaign aside, the Panda is on fire. He’s hitting .320 with three homers and nine runs batted in during the postseason, and he and Marco Scutaro are two of the hottest hitters on the planet right now.
Marco Scutaro: If Sandoval is on fire, Scutaro is a four-alarm fire. The scrappy second baseman, who the Giants stole from the Colorado Rockies for minor leaguer Charlie Culbertson before the trade deadline, has been the biggest surprise of the year and arguably the best player on the team since then. He hit an incredible .500 — 14 for 28 — during the NLCS, earning Most Valuable Player honors for that series. He’s more than made up for the loss of Melky Cabrera.
Cain is able: After Lincecum’s unexpected fall from ace this year, erstwhile No. 2 starter Matt Cain found himself ace by default. Despite a few rocky starts, Cain has performed admirably and sealed the deal for the Giants with a solid 5 2/3 scoreless innings against the Cardinals in Monday’s 9-0 rout in Game 7 of the NLCS. He won’t be available to pitch until at least Game 3 but with pitching being one of this team’s great strengths, his rotation mates are capable of solid outings until then.
Vogey’s the real ace right now: No contest. Although Cain may be the official ace of the Giants’ staff, Ryan Vogelsong is by far the most dominant pitcher this side of Justin Verlander at the moment. One could argue that Vogey deserved to be NLCS MVP almost as much as Marco Scutaro; he won both games he started and allowed only two runs in 14 innings while setting a career record with nine strikeouts in Game 6.
Vogelsong’s rise to the top tier of MLB pitchers has been a most unlikely one. It includes a road that led from San Francisco to Pittsburgh to Tommy John surgery to big-league washout and a stint in the Japanese league before returning to the Giants and posting the lowest earned run average on a star-studded staff. If he keeps it up in the World Series, he can be every bit as good as the vaunted Verlander.