Role reversal for Giants, Dodgers
Pitching-rich San Francisco no longer relies on sluggers
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Distinguishing the Giants from most of their Major League brethren is relatively simple. Tim Lincecum's brilliance, Matt Cain's determination and Jonathan Sanchez's promise help shape the team's identity: Pitching.This emphasis has been evident for a while, but it's particularly striking when the Giants are compared with their chief rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers. For decades -- from the Say Hey-day of Willie Mays and Willie McCovey, through the eras of Jack Clark and Will Clark, then on to Barry Bonds' reign -- the Giants were renowned for slugging. Simultaneously, the Dodgers' lengthy lineage of aces -- Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Don Sutton, Fernando Valenzuela, Orel Hershiser, Ramon Martinez, Hideo Nomo -- affirmed the club's stature as a pitching-oriented bunch. Now, the teams appear to have exchanged roles. The Giants are coming off a season in which they allowed two or fewer runs in a Major League-high 67 games. The Dodgers boast a lineup that includes Manny Ramirez and the impressive young nucleus of Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp and James Loney. San Francisco's pitchers relish their reputation. "That's definitely a good target to have on our back, knowing that we have guns that can come out on any given day and do something special," said Lincecum, the two-time National League Cy Young Winner, before the Giants' 3-2, 10-inning exhibition victory Monday over the Dodgers. "I'm sure that gives our side a little more of an edge." "As a staff -- starters, relievers -- we do take pride in being one of the best," closer Brian Wilson said. Though the Giants maintain a healthy respect for Los Angeles' lineup, they won't sell themselves short. "They've got a great lineup. There's no doubt about that," said left-hander Barry Zito, who allowed one run in three innings Monday. "But pitching can always equalize." "They do have a number of guys in the lineup who can hurt you, so you have to eliminate mistakes," said Lincecum, who's 3-1 lifetime against the Dodgers. Yet, he added, "Nobody in here's scared of their lineup."
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Wilson emphasized that regardless of who's in the opposing lineup, "it doesn't really change the approach you're going to take. You're still going to go out and pitch to your strengths."Besides, like many oversimplications, these characterizations aren't entirely accurate. The team that recorded the Majors' lowest ERA (3.41) and opponents' batting average (.233) last year was the Dodgers, not the Giants. "It's not like we decided we're going without any pitching," Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said with a chuckle. "Do we have Tim Lincecum here? No. Not yet. But there are a lot of teams that don't have Tim Lincecum. Our pitching is more of a combination of parts for us." Colletti acknowledged that the Dodgers have obliterated their image as a club that thrived on winning low-scoring games.
"I think our team's a little bit different than what people will generally stereotypically consider the Dodgers," he said.Colletti noted that this stereotype included speed, which the Dodgers no longer possess in abundance. But, he pointed out, few teams have an appreciable amount of speed. "So it's not just the Dodgers that have changed," Colletti said. "The way the game is played has changed, too." The combination of pitching and defense remains essential, though. Monday's game, however meaningless it might have been, confirmed this. Six pitchers combined to limit Los Angeles to two runs, a Cactus League-low for San Francisco thus far. Kevin Frandsen and Buster Posey, stationed out of position at first base, contributed deft plays, and rookie right fielder Roger Kieschnick's strong one-hop throw retired Ronnie Belliard at home in the 10th. This reinforced the belief shared by Giants pitchers that they're the chief obstacle for any opponent. "If this guy can't do it, the next guy's going to give what he can," Wilson said. "Everybody's helping each other out." Then again, Zito reminded that even the best of reputations carries only so much weight. "Just because they talk about it doesn't mean we're going to win more games because of it," Zito said. "So we can't rest on that."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.