11/02/12 11:47 PM ET
Despite adversity, Giants flourished in 2012
By Chris Haft / MLB.com
After the Giants established themselves as legitimate contenders in the National League West, they encountered their most formidable roadblock of all -- neither the Dodgers nor D-backs, but left fielder Melky Cabrera's 50-game suspension following a positive test for testosterone. This removed a .346 hitter from a lineup that was just beginning to gain a semblance of offensive consistency.Yet not even that could stop the Giants. San Francisco charged down the stretch to capture the division title and outdistance the Dodgers, whose acquisition of shortstop Hanley Ramirez, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and right-hander Josh Beckett was expected to propel them into the postseason. The Giants' acquisition of second baseman Marco Scutaro alone eclipsed all of Los Angeles' moves. After arriving from Colorado in a July 27 deal, Scutaro hit .362 with 40 runs scored and 44 RBIs in 61 games with San Francisco.
"We call him 'the blockbuster," left-hander Javier Lopez said, describing Scutaro's impact. Scutaro proceeded to win Most Valuable Player honors in the NL Championship Series against St. Louis.Personifying the Giants' ability to handle adversity, Buster Posey asserted himself as a leading candidate for the NL's MVP Award. Posey hit .336 to become the third catcher since 1876 to win the NL batting title, shrugging off the effects of the extensive left leg injuries that sidelined him for the final four months of the 2011 season. San Francisco's starting rotation remained formidable, as Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong each won 14 games or more. Cain was especially impressive, pitching the 22nd perfect game in history on June 13 against Houston and earning the decision in the NL's July 10 victory over the AL in the All-Star Game. Lacking Wilson, the bullpen still thrived, ranking second in the league with 53 saves. Santiago Casilla had 25 as he briefly inherited the closer's mantle, and Sergio Romo added 14 in the regular season and four more in the postseason. It all culminated in a remarkable postseason that featured six consecutive victories in elimination games and a four-game sweep of Detroit in the World Series. "I couldn't be prouder of these guys," Bochy said. "To be world champions in two out of the last three years, it's amazing. I know how difficult it is to get here, and I couldn't be prouder of a group of guys that were not going to be denied." Record: 94-68, first in NL West. Defining moment: Cabrera's suspension -- more specifically, the Giants' reaction to it. Following the 6-4 loss to Washington they absorbed on Aug. 15, the day Cabrera received his banishment, the Giants went 30-14 through the rest of the regular season. Nobody expected that. Of all the adverse circumstances the Giants had to overcome, this one potentially was the most extreme. It not only threatened to undermine the Giants' performance on the field, but also their collective psyche. As was the case with fans, Cabrera was popular among players, having earned their admiration with his consistent, sincere effort. To learn that Cabrera wasn't 100 percent sincere could have rocked the team's faith. On the contrary, the Giants showed the considerable faith they had in themselves. They grew closer as a team, as the postseason demonstrated. What went right: Nearly everything. Posey's successful return proved essential. General manager Brian Sabean's midseason acquisitions -- Scutaro, right fielder Hunter Pence and left-hander Jose Mijares -- all contributed. Outfielder Gregor Blanco and infielder Joaquin Arias, who signed as Minor League free agents, made significant impacts. Led by shortstop Brandon Crawford, the defense improved substantially through the season. Starting pitchers missed just one assignment due to injury. Bochy's closer-by-committee plan, which initially met with skepticism, generated excellence. The Giants halted their characteristic offensive shortfall by hitting a Major League-best .296 with runners in scoring position after the All-Star break. That helped San Francisco become the seventh team since 1900 to reach the postseason despite hitting the fewest homers in the Majors. What went wrong: Though the Giants overcame the injuries to Wilson and Sandoval, just being presented with those challenges was taxing initially. When Sandoval returned, he showed a disappointing lack of power (12 home runs in 442 plate appearances) before he reclaimed his big-fly stroke in the postseason. Scutaro arrived largely because second baseman Freddy Sanchez never recovered from shoulder and back ailments. Playing their first full Major League seasons, Crawford and first baseman Brandon Belt endured bouts of inconsistency. Tim Lincecum's overall output (10-15, 5.18 ERA) was perplexing and disappointing, though the right-hander's impressive postseason relief outings indicated that he remained capable of dominating opponents. Biggest surprise: Zito's renaissance. After posting a 43-51 record with a 4.48 ERA in his first five Giants seasons, the left-hander enjoyed his first winning campaign with San Francisco (15-8, 4.15). Zito essentially earned his entire $126 million contract -- the deal that made him a perennial object of ridicule among fans and media -- by adding victories in Game 5 of the NLCS and Game 1 of the World Series. He allowed one run in 13 1/3 innings in those two games. That was a solid ending to a year in which the Giants won Zito's last 14 starts.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.