MLB

MLB playoffs 2021: One Giant leap? Why San Francisco's depth sets team up for postseason run

By Sports Desk October 07, 2021

Up until this point, it has been a season to remember for the San Francisco Giants, who are playoff-bound for the first time since 2016.

A franchise-record 107 wins and the best record in baseball saw the Giants fend off reigning World Series champions and rivals the Los Angeles Dodgers for the National League (NL) West title.

It was San Francisco's first division crown since 2012 as they ended the Dodgers' streak of eight straight NL West trophies.

San Francisco's World Series charge is being spearheaded by their golden oldies – Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt and Buster Posey – after a tough couple of years, with Gabe Kapler overseeing dramatic improvement with a stacked roster of experienced veterans.

 

From afterthoughts to contenders

As the Giants prepare for the NL Division Series (NLDS) against the aforementioned Dodgers, it is safe to say they entered the 2021 season as afterthoughts in their own division, despite missing the playoffs by just one win in last year's coronavirus-shortened campaign.

All eyes were on the star-studded Dodgers and a surging San Diego Padres franchise hot off signing Fernando Tatis Jr. to the third-richest contract in MLB history – a 14-year, $340 million deal – after both bolstered their already impressive squads. The Dodgers brought in reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer and eventually future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols plus ace Max Scherzer and Trea Turner. The Padres acquired frontline starters Yu Darvish and Blake Snell in blockbuster trades.

Without a postseason berth since losing to the Chicago Cubs in the 2016 NLDS, the Giants needed an historic campaign to dethrone the Dodgers in the NL West and hold off an exciting Padres squad.

Despite boasting the oldest roster in the majors with an average age of 30 years and 313 days, they achieved just that and became the first NL team to win more than 106 games since the 1986 New York Mets.

 

 

Rejuvenated veterans thriving under Kapler

Eyebrows were raised when the Giants and president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi hired Kapler to succeed beloved San Francisco figure and future Hall of Famer Bruce Bochy in 2019. Kapler's two-year stint with the Philadelphia Phillies left a lot to be desired. But his shortcomings have long been forgotten as the Giants and their roster reap the rewards of Zaidi's decision.

"They're a teaching staff," reliever Tony Watson said of Kapler's coaching staff, which included MLB's first full-time female assistant Alyssa Nakken. "You could see the improvement of guys throughout the roster, one through 26. It wasn't just the young guys that were coming up and still developing, you saw Buster, [Crawford], [Longoria] and Belt changing their swings and changing the way they go about their days. That's a tribute to all 14-15 staff members and being able to relay information and ideas."

Belt (33), Crawford (34) and Posey (34) were all part of San Francisco's World Series-winning team in 2014, and, despite their advancing years, have all improved under Kapler's management.

Belt enjoyed the best 162-game campaign of his career thanks to his .597 SLG, .975 OPS and 29 homers (surpassing the 18 he hit in 2015 and 2018). It was the same for Crawford (.522/.895 and a career-best 24 home runs).

Belt, Crawford and Darin Ruf (.519/.904) have all enjoyed career years in both SLG and OPS. When factoring at least 100 plate appearances and a team playing in 155 or more games, the 2021 Giants are the first franchise since the Cardinals in 2004 to have three-plus players with career years in both SLG and OPS.

Posey – who is looking to become the first NL player since Sandy Koufax and Johnny Podres to win four World Series rings with the same team – boasted his best SLG (.499) and OPS (.889) since the Giants were crowned world champions in 2012. His 18 homers were his most since his 19-homer campaign six years ago.

Fellow veteran Evan Longoria also enjoyed a return to form, with the 35-year-old’s SLG (.482) and OPS (.833) numbers his best since his penultimate season with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2016.

It is a similar theme with San Francisco's pitchers – starters Kevin Gausman (2.81), Anthony DeSclafani (3.17) and Logan Webb (3.03) finishing the regular season with career-high ERAs.

Gausman (227) heads into the postseason with a career-best 227 strikeouts, while DeSclafani (152) only managed more strikeouts in 2019 when he struck out 167 batters during his time with the Cincinnati Reds. Gausman finished the year behind only Corbin Burnes in Stats Perform's Strike+ metric, which measures which pitchers rack up both whiffs and called strikes.

 

Depth shines in the Bay Area

The Giants achieved a first in their 137-year existence, hitting 241 home runs in a season for the first time. They achieved the feat without a single 30-homer hitter on their roster – the highest number of homers without a player reaching at least 30 home runs in MLB history.

It was a collective effort. Case in point: The Giants had 17 players with at least five homers this season – an MLB record. Belt (29), Mike Yastrzemski (25), Crawford (24), Wilmer Flores (18), Posey (18), LaMonte Wade Jr. (18), Ruf (16), Alex Dickerson (13), Longoria (13) and Austin Slater (12) all reached double digits.

Rather than rely on stars like Posey, Belt and Crawford, the Giants – who hit 103 game-winning RBIs, the second highest in the majors since 1974, ended the season with six players aged 30 or older among the team's top four in home runs – the highest figure since 2014, ahead of the 2018 Giants (five).

"It's just been such a collective effort. Contributions up and down," Posey said. "We set the [franchise] record for homers [in a season] and pinch-hit homers. Those are some examples. You've got most the home runs ever for the team and nobody has 30."

 

Of San Francisco's home runs, 18 came in pinch-hit situations – a single-season MLB record, eclipsing the 2016 Cardinals.

This season's Giants are unlikely to produce an MVP or Cy Young Award winner, but their championship run is fuelled by a selfless approach.

San Francisco's quartet of Gausman, Logan Webb, Alex Wood and DeSclafani further solidified the team-first mentality – helping the Giants rank second in the majors with a 3.24 ERA in 2021. Run suppression was aided by the Giants suppressing the longball, as the team finished with an average of 0.93 homers allowed per game this season, the best in the majors.

While their NLDS opponents may have more star power, the Giants counter with one of the deepest and most talented squads in franchise history. Their opening playoff series should be an instant classic, and the Giants have proved they'll be a tough out for any team they face.

Related items

  • Patriots beat Bills in wild weather for seventh straight win Patriots beat Bills in wild weather for seventh straight win

    The New England Patriots stayed hot in the NFL on Monday after extending their winning streak to seven games after prevailing 14-10 against the Buffalo Bills.

    Not even wild and windy weather could stop the red-hot Patriots, who are the AFC's number one seed thanks to their success away to the Bills.

    Entering the matchup, New England had won six straight games – the franchise's longest winning streak since they celebrated eight successive games to start 2019.

    Bill Belichick's Patriots continued where they left off at Bills Stadium, where the team improved to 9-4 despite rookie quarterback Mac Jones only throwing two-for-three passing for 19 yards and no touchdowns, while tallying another five carries for minus three yards.

    It was a gruelling battle between the top two teams for fewest points allowed this season – Buffalo had conceded just 182 points, with New England giving up 190.

    An eventful opening quarter saw the Patriots and Bills trade touchdowns after Buffalo's Gabriel Davis caught a 14-yard pass from Josh Allen (15-of-30 passing for 145 yards and a TD), having seen Damien Harris complete a dazzling 64-yard run.

    Harris' touchdown was the longest rushing TD by a Patriots player since Hall of Famer Curtis Martin (70 yards) in 1997.

    The game was eventually decided by the kickers – Nick Folk converting a field goal in each of the second and fourth quarters to sink the Bills (7-5).

  • PSG boss Pochettino not unsettled by Man Utd rumours PSG boss Pochettino not unsettled by Man Utd rumours

    Paris Saint-Germain head coach Mauricio Pochettino said he is not settled by ongoing Manchester United rumours.

    Pochettino has been heavily linked with Premier League giants United, who are eyeing a long-term manager following the interim appointment of Ralf Rangnick until the end of the season.

    Reports have claimed Pochettino is interested in returning to England, where he previously guided Tottenham to the 2019 Champions League final, having also worked for Southampton.

    Ligue 1 leaders PSG have been criticised for their performances this season following a 1-1 draw at Lens, while speculation has claimed Lionel Messi has grown unhappy with Pochettino's approach.

    But as PSG prepare for Tuesday's Champions League fixture with Club Brugge, Pochettino insisted he is calm in the mist of the rumours.

    "I feel good," Pochettino said during his pre-game news conference. "And I feel calmer because I have the backing of my players, I have the backing from the club which knows what we are trying to do.

    "We are part of a growth process. There are two things growing, one is visible, which is the team's style of play. And the tactics, and communications, and links within the playing style. And then there is those links in the dressing room, and our day-to-day experience, and that takes time.

    "Both things need to improve at the same time, and with the right balance. There is an internal process going on in terms of settling in, and the players getting to know one another. We have built a solid group that is battling for the same target, and everyone wants to be a part of the group. That way, everyone can give as much as they can in order to achieve targets. That is the process we are part of.

    "There are highs and lows. And we need to do better in terms of our play. We need to develop our ideas more, and have that flexibility that teams need to face the obstacles posed by the opposition. That is what we are going through. Based on that, I feel calm.

    "This is Paris Saint Germain, and I understand that. It is a shining light so that having qualified in the Champions League, and with an 11-point lead in the league, there are still things that aren't going well, and I agree that we have to do better in many areas.

    "As for the noise surrounding the club, that is what you get when you are at a club like Paris Saint Germain. We have the coaching staff and players who know what they want and what we are working on here, so nobody will take us away from our beliefs. We are clear about our ideas and we respect everything around us. But we continue down our path."

    Messi could become just the third player – after George Weah in 1994 and Neymar in 2017 – to score in his first three consecutive home games for PSG in the Champions League.

    Kylian Mbappe has five goal involvements in three matches against Brugge – his joint-most against a single opponent in the competition, along with Red Star Belgrade and Istanbul Basaksehir.

    Since the start of the 2012-13 season, PSG have only been beaten once in 29 home games in the Champions League group stage (W23 D5) – 2-1 against United in October 2020. The French side have scored 79 goals across these fixtures, at an average of 2.7 per game.

  • Napoli's Insigne offer unacceptable but renewal still possible – agent Napoli's Insigne offer unacceptable but renewal still possible – agent

    Lorenzo Insigne's agent Vincenzo Pisacane said Napoli's contract offer for their star captain was not "acceptable" nor "appropriate", though he insisted it is not too late to sign a renewal.

    Insigne, who emerged from the youth team of boyhood club Napoli in 2010, is set to become a free agent at the end of the season.

    Negotiations over a new deal have proved fruitless so far amid reported interest from Serie A rivals Inter and Milan as well as La Liga giants Barcelona and Premier League quartet Tottenham, West Ham, Arsenal and Newcastle United.

    Pisacane was asked about Insigne's future at Diego Armando Maradona Stadium.

    "An offer has been made that is not considered acceptable, not considered appropriate," Pisacane told Canale 21. "But it doesn't mean we don't talk to each other anymore.

    "Everyone plays their part, there are those who ask questions and those who request. The best thing is to talk to each other.

    "I have read several times that Lorenzo has asked for the moon, but no request has ever been made. He feels Napoli as part of him, he perhaps holds Napoli excessively close. I struggle to find a player more attached to the shirt."

    Insigne – a Euro 2020 winner with Italy – has continued to perform for Napoli, playing a key role in the team's strong start to 2021-22.

    He has scored four goals and supplied five assists in Serie A this term as Napoli sit third in the standings, two points behind leaders Milan.

    The 30-year-old ranks third for xG per 90 minutes (0.76) in Serie A, while he is also third for assists per 90 minutes (0.43).

    Only Milan's Rafael Leao (21) has managed more shot-ending carries than Insigne (17) this season.

    On the chances of Insigne remaining at Napoli, Pisacane added: "I can't give a percentage, I just can't. Marriages are made in two, therefore I think it's right to meet again, to talk about it and see if there's a possibility or not.

    "I find it strange that we are in December, it's not too late but if I want something and I want to get it, I start working on it.

    "Lorenzo has been a top player in the same team for many years and he always finds incentives to do better. I think it's very difficult to find a symbol like him. I think Lorenzo deserved a little more time."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.