Giants poised for another World Series run
Just for fun, let's come up with a model for a World Series champion. In no particular order, we'd insist on:
Dominant starting pitching
Firepower in the lineup, especially at the top and in the middle
Players comfortable being on the game's biggest stage
A manager who is at his best when the lights are bright and the tension is high
A home ballpark that's packed, loud and occasionally intimidating
A club that has dealt with some adversity, that has grown in closeness and sense of purpose through the season
Ladies and gentlemen, meet your 2012 San Francisco Giants.
They passed every test during a difficult regular season, and now they are nicely positioned to win a second World Series in three years.
The Giants are here despite losing closer Brian Wilson to an elbow injury in the first month of the season. And that was just the start.
Tim Lincecum won just three of his first 18 starts and had a mind-boggling 6.42 ERA at the All-Star break.
Finally, just as Lincecum was getting back on track, San Francisco learned in mid-August that its best offensive player -- Melky Cabrera -- had been suspended 50 games after testing positive for a banned substance.
To weather those three storms speaks volumes about manager Bruce Bochy's leadership, and also the tenacity and resilience of the clubhouse leadership.
The Giants are good enough to win because of a rotation that begins with Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. San Francisco is 40-22 in their starts, and both have been dominant enough to carry the Giants right through the playoffs.
Lincecum has been much better in the second half of the season, and if Bochy slots him into the third spot in the rotation, Lincecum could put a nice finishing touch on a frustrating season.
Offensively, the Giants have been almost a run per game better since Cabrera departed. That happened because Bochy installed Angel Pagan as his leadoff hitter, and because senior vice president and general manager Brian Sabean made perhaps the best Trade Deadline pickup of the season.
Marco Scutaro is hitting over .400 since being acquired from the Rockies, and with Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval having big seasons in the middle of the lineup, the Giants are arguably better offensively than they were in 2010.
Two young guys have made a huge difference. Brandon Crawford has been outstanding defensively at shortstop and also gotten his batting average close to .250.
First baseman Brandon Belt has taken advantage of his second season in the Major Leagues, hitting .349 in August and .323 in September. He has been so good that Bochy probably will put him in left field even when Posey is playing first base.
As for the bullpen, Bochy has made it work. Six relievers have gotten saves, and Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo have combined for 36. Jeremy Affeldt and George Kontos have done a nice job getting the ball into the hands of the late-inning guys.
Finally, there's Bochy. He has been one of the game's most respected managers for so long that his genius is sometimes taken for granted.
But there's almost no one better. Bochy has a feel for his clubhouse and his players, is terrific at organizing a bullpen and never seems to sweat the small stuff. This season is a reminder of how good he is.
So there is it. With AT&T Park filled, with the Giants finishing fast, with the pitching lined up and the bullpen performing well, no team is better positioned at a run through October than San Francisco.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.