2015 San Francisco Giants: They know how to get even


Ken Henderson

Outfielder Ken Henderson played his first major-league game as a teen in 1965 but didn’t stick until four years later. At his best Henderson had Moneyball attributes: high on-base percentage, power, efficiency in stealing bases. In 1970, Henderson batted .294, sluged .460, walked 84 times and stole 20 bases in 23 attempts. A year later he batted .264 with 15 homers, 84 walks and 18 steals in 21 attempts as the Giants won the NL West. Henderson hit 17 home runs in 1972, 11 of them in August when he hit .409 and knocked in 28 of his 51 RBIs for the season. Named Player of the Month, it was the next-to-last one he was a Giant. Henderson was traded to the White Sox, for whom he hit 20 homers in 1974 and knocked in 95 runs. He was 19th in the MVP race in ’74, four spots ahead of Dick Allen whose OPS was 111 points higher (.938-.827) but who left the team with two weeks to play in the season. The rest of Henderson’s career was nomadic, playing for five teams in his final five seasons. He hit 13 home runs for the Braves in ’76, and had 13 at-bats for the NL West champion Reds in ’79 before they sold him to the Cubs, for whom he played his last game in 1980. Career stats: .257 average, 122 home runs, 1,168 hits, 86 steals, .739 OPS, 106 OPS+, 14.8 WAR.

On deck: Kyle Crick was the 49th pick of the 2011 draft, compensation for the Dodgers signing of free agent Juan Uribe. Which begs an important question: Juan Uribe warranted compensation? He did, for his .289 average in 2009, and his 24 home runs, and two more in the postseason, in 2010. But Crick was more than Uribe’s signing deserved (especially after Uribe hit .204 and .191 in his first two seasons as a Dodger). Crick is a 22-year-old right-handed pitcher who strikes out a lot of batters (366 in 299.2 innings) and walks a lot (186), which portends high pitch counts and a possible future in the bullpen. The Giants have an overload of starting pitchers, but Crick is a potential midseason upgrade, an iPhone 6 to their iPhone 5 rotation.

Trivia: When was the last time the Giants won the World Series and pennant in a year ending in an odd number?

What he said: Buster Posey, according to the Sacramento Bee, on whether he’s worried the Giants lost too much power with the departure of Michael Morse and Pablo Sandoval: “No, (Norichika) Aoki told me he was going to hit 20 (home runs). So I’m not worried about it.” What he meant: “It may take the next three seasons, but Aoki will hit 20 home runs.”

Outlook: The Giants weren’t the best team in baseball in 2014 but won the World Series, which is what happens when you let 10 teams into the postseason. It’s not always the best team that wins but the hottest, and the Giants were 12-5 in the postseason. They were just 45-53 in the last four months after a 43-21 start, and the 88 games they won is the same number as 2009 and just two more than 2011, both years they missed the playoffs.

The 2014 Giants were so adrift last summer they started Dan Uggla for four games at second base in late July. They scored five runs and lost all four. It’s hard to believe a team that turned to Uggla — .149 average, .442 OPS — could win the Little League World Series in August let alone the big one in October.

The Giants became the sixth wild-card team to win the World Series (can you name the first five? answer below) because they were the best-managed and had the best left-handed pitcher in October; the best from April-September didn’t help the Dodgers nearly as much in the playoffs.

The Giants were 12th in MLB in 2014 in runs scored and 10th in ERA, which befits a team that was tied for eighth in wins (with the Pirates and A’s) and tied for eighth in run differential at +51. The Mariners, who were 29 runs better and one win worse, didn’t even make the playoffs. Could Felix Hernandez have had a postseason like Madison Bumgarner’s? Not without the opportunity.

The Giants have failed to make the playoffs after each of their previous two World Series, and they may not this year, either. The biggest concern is their lack of power: the team ranked 17th in home runs in 2014 with 132 and lost Morse and Sandoval, who hit 16 apiece, and replaced them with Casey McGehee, who hit four, and Aoki, who hit one. Of course, the Royals were the only team last year to hit fewer than 100 home runs, ranked last, and did pretty well for themselves, as the Giants certainly recall.

This year’s team looks a lot like last year’s, only not as good. It has lots of starting pitchers if not depth — of the 11 games not started by Bumgarner last October, the Giants received only one quality start — though perhaps Matt Cain and/or Crick will be an improvement. There’s less power, though they hope Brandon Belt, whose career high is 17 homers, can at last live up to his name. But there’s also a full season Joe Panik at second, a deep bullpen, and good defense, with Aoki in left and not right, where he made every catch for the Royals a high-speed chase.

ESPN’s Keith Law ranked the Giants’ farm system 29th, and it hasn’t been out of the top 20 this decade. It shouldn’t be, since it’s drafted last twice and will again this June. And yet the Giants have produced Panik, catcher Andrew Susac (career .797 minor-league OPS), infielder Matt Duffy (.332 at AA last year; if Panik wasn’t established at second base Duffy might get the chance to be) and has Crick and his opposite Clayton Blackburn (more control, less stuff, career 2.98 minor-league ERA) ready when the inevitable Jake Peavy and/or Tim Hudson injury happens.

At some point, it’s best to concede that the Giants know what they’re doing, and are pretty good at it.

Trivia answer: The Giants last won the World Series in an odd-numbered year 82 years ago, in 1933. They won 91, lost 61, led the NL with home runs with but 82 and beat the Washington Senators in five in the Series. Mel Ott hit 23 home runs, Carl Hubbell won 23 games and player-manager Bill Terry, who succeeded John McGraw a third of the way through 1932, hit .322. Cuban Dolph Luque, who was on the Reds Series winner in 1919, won the Game 5 clincher in relief, at age 43 on Ott’s homer in the 10th. Luque pitched 9.1 scoreless three-hit innings of relief in the two Series, 14 years apart, with 11 strikeouts; he played for parts of two more seasons, appearing for the last time at age 44 in April, 1935. The Giants have won four Series since in even years (1954, 2010, 2012, 2014), and lost two more in even years since (1962, 2002). They last won the pennant in an odd year in 1989, when they were swept by Oakland in the Series.

The first five wild-card teams to win the World Series were the Marlins in 1997 and 2003, the Angels in 2002 in the first previous all wild-card Series, the Red Sox in 2004 and the Cardinals in 2011.

Team song: Randy Newman: Lonely at the Top

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