Leapin’ lizards! For the first time since Barry Bonds left his syringe in San Francisco, the Giants are champions of the National League West. They won their first division title since 2003 (and only their sixth NL West title overall) by defeating the San Diego Padres on the final day of the regular season, capping a tremendous second half that saw them rise from mediocrity to the top of the division.
Also, by defeating the Atlanta Braves on Monday night, the Giants advanced to their first NLCS since 2002, when they finished one win short of their first World Series championship since moving to San Francisco in 1958.
At the midway point of the season, the Giants were 41-40 and were a season high 7½ games behind the Padres. They were also 4½ games out of the wild card lead, with five teams ahead of them.
The final week before the All-Star Break saw the Giants playing the lowly Brewers and Nationals. They took both series to inch closer in the wild card race, but were still in fourth place in the NL West, with the Padres, Dodgers and Rockies ahead of them. Enter the New York Mets.
The Mets played better than expected in the first half of the season. At the All-Star Break, they were 48-40, which put them a game ahead of the San Francisco Giants in the wild card race. The two teams then played each other in the first series after the break. Everything changed after that series was completed.
The Giants took the first three games of the four-game series at AT&T Park, shutting out the Mets in the first two contests. In fact, the Mets were held scoreless by Giants pitchers for the first 24 innings of the series. The Mets did manage to salvage the final game of the series, but even then, they needed a blown call by home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi to win it.
Cuzzi called Giants’ pinch-hitter Travis Ishikawa out at home when replays showed that the tag by Henry Blanco was late. The gaffe prevented what would have been the winning run from scoring in the bottom of the ninth inning. The Mets went on to win the game in ten innings.
The series with the Mets was the beginning of a stretch where the Giants won 15 out of 19 games to move into the wild card lead. The hot streak also moved them to within one game of the Padres for the division lead.
As Mets fans all know, the trip to San Francisco was the beginning of a 2-9 road trip that saw the Mets get swept in Arizona, followed by three losses in four games in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, the Giants won two out of three in Los Angeles and followed that up with a four-game sweep in Arizona. The Mets never got close to the Giants again.
The series with the Mets seemed to awaken the Giants’ pitchers, who were already among the best in the National League prior to the All-Star Break. Consider these first half versus second half numbers for the Giants’ starting rotation and bullpen.
- Starting pitchers (before break): 34-30, 3.65 ERA, 1.29 WHIP
- Starting pitchers (after break): 27-25, 3.39 ERA, 1.21 WHIP
- Relief pitchers (before break): 13-11, 3.17 ERA, 1.47 WHIP
- Relief pitchers (after break): 18-4, 2.78 ERA, 1.12 WHIP
The starters showed a modest improvement in the ERA and WHIP department, but the bullpen took things to another level. They were nearly unhittable in the second half, led by closer Brian Wilson, who led the National League in saves and finished with a career-best 1.81 ERA and 1.18 WHIP.
Pitching wins championships and the Giants have plenty of pitching. The top four pitchers in the Giants’ rotation (Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, Madison Bumgarner) all had ERAs of 3.40 or less. No other staff in baseball can lay claim to four starters with ERAs as low as the Giants’ quartet. In fact, Lincecum, who is the staff ace and the winner of the last two National League Cy Young Awards, is the starter with the 3.40 ERA. (However, he is the only one of the foursome who can claim to being the love child of Jennifer Aniston and Mitch from “Dazed and Confused”.)
The Phillies might look like the team to beat in the National League, especially after they dismantled the Cincinnati Reds in a three-game NLDS sweep that included a no-hitter by Roy Halladay, but Halladay can’t pitch every game. The Giants have four quality starters, all of whom are capable of keeping their opponents to a low hit total. (Like Halladay, Jonathan Sanchez can also claim a no-hitter on his résumé.)
Here’s a word of advice to our division rivals down the NJ Turnpike. Don’t start selling World Series tickets yet. The Giants are red hot and their pitchers are leading the way. They took off once the Mets came into town and have never looked back. Therefore, on behalf of the Mets, I have two words to say to the Giants.