Quiet Giants should never be overlooked
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- This is par for the course for the Giants. Five days removed from Opening Day in Arizona, they already are chasing the Dodgers.
No worries, mate. They're used to playing second fiddle in the National League West -- even when they're striking the best notes in the orchestra.
In the standings as well as in the realm of the national media machinery, defending division champion Los Angeles is on top of the heap after taking two from Arizona in Sydney, Australia.
Off and running, Hollywood's team has the star power, the unmatched payroll and the widespread anticipation of a magical ending to the script this time around.
And their eternal rivals, the Giants? They have their privacy, their solitude and the undying love of their faithful fan base in the gorgeous city by the San Francisco Bay. Oh, they also have this: two World Series championships in the past four seasons, something no other team in the sport can flaunt.
"We don't feel like we've ever had the focus on us," Madison Bumgarner, the Giants' Opening Day starter, said. "We're a team not a lot of people [outside the Bay Area] talk about.
"Nobody gave us a chance to win in 2010 and 2012. Everyone thought we'd get beat in the division. We don't care if we don't get talked about. We just care about what we have to do to win."
The Dodgers roll out flamboyant, fascinating personalities, one after another. Yasiel Puig seems to get more national attention for his speed on the roadways and his unpredictable behavior than Giants catcher Buster Posey drew for winning the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 2012.
Like most of his teammates, Posey keeps his innermost thoughts to himself. The Giants take their cue from their leaders: Posey, Matt Cain and manager Bruce Bochy, the former catcher with the cool, relaxed style -- and impeccable professional profile.
"It doesn't matter to us at all," Bochy said when asked about the sizzle associated with the Dodgers. "From my standpoint, you understand the attention being focused on the Dodgers. The moves they've made, the players they've acquired, the things they've done on the field.
"We don't even talk about it. These guys are here to work and get ready to play baseball. That's it."
It was revealing how the Giants reacted in the aftermath of the Dodgers' blockbuster trade with the Red Sox on Aug. 25, 2012. Los Angeles acquired Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto for five players, the most prominent of whom was James Loney.
The expectation was that the expensive deal would lift the Dodgers, trailing the Giants by three games at the time, over San Francisco. The Giants were dealing with the 50-game ban of their hottest hitter, Melky Cabrera, for violating the MLB drug policy.
Taking seven of their final nine games against the Dodgers, the Giants pulled away and won the division by eight games. Bochy and Co. went on to stage one of the most remarkable runs in postseason history, coming from behind to subdue the Reds and Cardinals in the NL playoffs before sweeping the Tigers in the World Series.
How soon we forget.
A frustrating, disappointing 2013 season seemingly has taken the two-time champs off the national radar. Undone by a rash of injuries and substandard performances by leading lights, the Giants plunged to 76-86, 16 games off the Dodgers' pace.
They made two significant off-season moves, acquiring proven starter Tim Hudson and slugger Michael Morse. Essentially, they trusted their own, in-house talent.
Even-numbered seasons have brought out the best in this outfit. The inability to reach the postseason after their 2010 and '12 titles has produced a garden variety of theories in San Francisco.
"It's kind of odd how it's worked out," Bumgarner said. "But I'll take it every other year."
In spite of all their struggles, the Giants still managed to claim the series series, 11-8, from the Dodgers last year. Oddly, San Francisco, at 44-32, was seven games better than the Dodgers inside the division.
The NL Central (23-11) and American League (14-6) beat up on the defending champs, ruining their season.
None of this means a thing now to the unflappable Giants as they go about their business with a familiar resolve. Truth be known, they probably love the notion that they're once again sailing beneath the radar, not expected to make much of a splash off the Pacific Ocean.
Still waters do run deep.
"Our young guys -- Bumgarner, Posey, those guys -- are well-grounded, humble," Bochy said, unintentionally characterizing himself. "They appreciate what they have and what we've been able to accomplish here. They're determined to keep it going.
"We have our characters, too. Behind closed doors, we have some personalities here. It's a nice blend. It's always been a good mix here."
The team's most identifiable character from the 2010 championship cast -- "The Beard" -- happens to be a Dodger now. Wouldn't you know it? Post-surgery, closer Brian Wilson left, signing a free-agent deal with L.A. last season and regaining his prime-time stuff down the stretch.
Wilson is back for another run with manager Don Mattingly's colorful troupe this season, presumably as a $10 million setup man for Kenley Jansen.
That kind of thing never would happen in San Francisco, where the payroll is at least $60 million lower than that of the big spenders down south.
They might not be the most interesting men in the baseball world in the popular perception, but the Giants -- loaded with low-profile substance and armed with two championships -- should not be overlooked.
They have their bling, even if they don't flaunt it.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.