Four years ago the San Francisco Giants were Barry Bonds team.
At age 43 he was the aging, controversial face of the franchise that was on the verge of breaking sports greatest record all with the cloud of steroids hanging over his head.
He was mercurial, powerful, flawed, eye-popping and everything in between. He was also San Fran’s biggest hindrance as much as he was its main attraction. Even though he smacked balls over outfield fences with Herculean ease and it drew millions of fans and thousands of media personnel, his involvement in the steroid era is what drove the Giants over the edge.
Bonds and his life became bigger than the Giants. No one cared about the individuals that surrounded him, that coached him, or that hit behind him… it was all about him. The homeruns, the walks, the flaxseed oil, the cream, the clear, it was all about Barry Bonds all of the time. It didn’t matter that J.T. Snow was still playing three years after he should’ve retired, or that their rotation wasn’t good enough to contend in the Pac-10 it was the Bonds show 24/7-365.
When Bonds finally did break Hank Aaron’s homerun record in 2007 you could see a shift in the organization almost immediately. In plain view the organization praised Bonds, celebrated him, honored him, behind the scenes however, they were planning on how to move forward.
You see as much as Bonds dragged the Giants through the mud with his pursuit of Aaron and evasion of the feds, the Giants went along with it because of the financial gains that came with such a chase. After the chase was finished the Giants were eager to start anew and it showed.
At the end of the season Bonds was not resigned. All of the murals, signs and everything that had to do with Bonds were quickly removed. The mission was simple, the Giants wanted to get as far away from Bonds as possible and recreate their identity.
They had young guys that they were dying to trot out on to the field, able bodied young men who could bring the heat on the mound and the wood at the plate. Guys like Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez, Matt Cain and eventually Buster Posey and Travis Ishikawa. These were there building blocks for the future, the guys that would make the Giants relevant again as a team.
Let’s just say the Brian Sabean was right in his methods.
4 years later there isn’t a quirkier, weirder, more fun group of players on one team the there are with the San Francisco Giants.
One look at the roster and you would think that this couldn’t possibly be a serious Major League contender for a title. Lincecum looks like he belongs in an emo band, Cain looks like a Judd Apatow comedy character, third baseman Pablo Sandoval’s nickname is Kung Fu Panda and his weight last year could’ve verified that and Brian Wilson is… well… Brian Wilson.
The team is more like the Goonies than a professional ball club. The personalities make for fun fodder in the media and on television; however the product on the field more than outshines the 30 million quotables we might hear from these guys this year.
For all of the talk about the Phillies Fab 4 of Halladay, Oswalt, Hamels and Lee, the Giants have a case for the best rotation in the league. Lincecum is a two-time Cy Young winner and at age 26 who might be the best power pitcher in the league at 5-11 165. Cain might be more talented than Lincecum and began coming into his own last fall with 21 1/3 innings of stellar pitching where he only allowed one earned run. Sanchez has a no-hitter under his belt and even though he has spells of inconsistency he can be a sub 3 ERA, sub 1.2 WHIP guy. Finally how about Madison Bumgarner? The brightest star of the World Series last year will get his first full season of pitching under his belt after watching his 8 inning shutout of a gem in Game 4 at Arlington last October. When you think about it Barry Zito was brought in to be their ace 4 years ago at 19 million a season over 7 seasons, now he’s the fifth starter and had no impact on their title run last year at all. If he can finally break .500 and go 5-6 innings consistently then how can this rotation not be considered the best in the bigs?
The lineup is more of a crap shoot, but they have guys that can get the job done when asked. Veteran Aubrey Huff was a perfect fit at first base and had one of his best years statistically last year and with Sandoval in better shape those numbers could go up. The star of the group is Posey though. Posey was a mate may call-up that fit in right away and was a stud at and behind the plate. He led the team with a .305 average and 18 homeruns in the last four months of the season. He became the bat the Giants craved for years and he also matched the hype that came attached to his name coming out of Florida State.
His work behind the plate was amazing as well. Even though Lincecum struggled at times last year the Giants led the National League in ERA (3.36), strikeouts (1331) and batting average allowed (.236).
He’s arguably the face of the franchise and is well on his way to be the best catcher in the league.
The best of all of these guys has to be Brian Wilson. His antics are great for TV with his “tanned” beard, his “gimp” looking buddy the machine walking around and his penchant for the ridiculous. His pitching is decent too.
Wilson has established himself as the game’s best closer leading the league in saves last year with 48 and a fastball reaching 100 on the gun. He is this generation’s Mariano Rivera, because once he’s in the game its lights out for the competition.
Watching this group come together last year was a fun experience and a reminder of how quickly an organization can change.
4 years ago they were club Bonds with limited membership. This year it’s a gang of misfits who enter 2011 as World Series champions and have a great shot at repeating. It’s a great turn around a great team to follow.
With the way that they are built they should be good to follow for a long time.