Until the 2012 San Francisco Giants came along, all beards and pitching and defence, the last team to go to the postseason finishing dead last in home runs in the majors was the 1987 St. Louis Cardinals.
These Giants didn’t have anybody steal 109 bases the way Vince Coleman stole bases, but their 118 steals were good enough for fourth place in the National League, and anything or any team that channels Whitey Herzog’s Go-Go Cardinals is worthy of praise. Another reason to be impressed with the Giants is at a time when the Caribbean winter leagues aren’t what they used to be, it is a player who won a job with an impressive Venezuelan League campaign who has emerged as a key piece of the team.
Gregor Blanco has made people forget Melky Cabrera, just as Sergio Romo has mitigated the loss of Brian Wilson as Giants closer. Cabrera was left off the Giants’ postseason roster after being suspended for violating baseball’s drug policy, despite leading the NL in hitting at the time of his penalty. The only time his name has been mentioned this postseason is whenever Giants general manager Brian Sabean talked about next season. Blanco’s seen to that, just as Giants hitting coach Hensley Muelens predicted.
Muelens, who manages Bravos de Margarita in the Venezuelan League, recommended the team sign Blanco, a 28-year-old left-handed hitter who spent last season in Triple-A with the Syracuse Chiefs (the Washington Nationals’ affiliate) and who won the most valuable player award in the Venezuelan League last winter, finishing fourth in batting (.337) with a league-leading .478 on-base percentage, 18 steals and 48 runs scored.
“He had a history,” Muelens said Saturday. “He had [1,034] at-bats in the majors with the Atlanta Braves and Kansas City Royals, but I saw something different, too, when I watched him this winter.
“He was more patient, and I saw a guy with gap power that would play well in our park.
Blanco knew the Giants were interested, but was leaning toward signing with the Miami Marlins until the Giants offered him a contract to make the team as a non-roster player. Had the contract from the Giants arrived a day later, he said, he would likely have joined Ozzie Guillen’s team.
Now the Giants have a postseason revelation. He has played spectacular defence – he made a running catch in the left-field corner at Comerica Park on Saturday, describing it as a play where “the ball kind of caught itself” – and is third on the club in on-base percentage in the postseason despite hitting just .234. His personality fits nicely in a quirky clubhouse that pulsates with energy, and his teammates spare no effort in talking him up.
“He’s a guy who’s not afraid to go deep in counts and taken pitches,” said Muelens. “We didn’t have that last year. We swung and missed a lot.”
Muelens said that Sabean would call him into his office in 2011 and express frustration at the Giants’ offence. Do something, would be his plea. Mission accomplished: Despite a palpable lack of power, the Giants averaged almost a run per game more in 2012.
It might seem surprising that a coach who as a player had the nickname Bam Bam would take what might be described as a holistic approach to offence, but much of Muelens’s thinking has been moulded by AT&T Park.
This is a team built on pitching, defence and, increasingly, contact hitting. Romo said he was not surprised that the Giants are where they are in the postseason, playing the way they are, because “pitching, defence and timely hitting are how we won all year.”
That’s why the addition of Marco Scutaro added some glue to the lineup, and in the second half of the season they had the best road record in the major leagues.
The Giants’ style plays well anywhere – home or on the road.