Just 11 years ago, the San Francisco Giants won three World Series titles over a span of five years.
Remember that? It feels like a lot of people forget, but several players from those teams remain.
Despite being one of the great dynasties of the last 15 years, the Giants are rarely discussed as such. They are barely mentioned with the likes of the NFL’s New England Patriots or the NBA’s Golden State Warriors.
As incredible as their run was, the best statement the Giants have made about how incredible an organization they are has come in 2021.
How They Started
The Giants entered the season with no expectations. Legendary catcher Buster Posey came into 2021 with just a team option for next year left on his contract, and it seemed like he would be taking a victory lap with the orange and black before finishing his career elsewhere.
The team had finished under .500 every year since their last postseason appearance in 2016, and along the way, the core of that dynasty came apart piece-by-piece.
Manager Bruce Bochy–the club’s legendary skipper since 2007–retired following the 2019 season. That same winter, the team’s ace Madison Bumgarner signed with the division rival Diamondbacks.
Shortstop Brandon Crawford–part of the 2012 and 2014 teams–had seasons with wRC+s of 86, 93 and 73 from 2017-2019, respectively. He had a solid 2020 (111 wRC+), but what can you really take away from a 60 game season?
He was also entering the year on an expiring contract, looking like an early trade candidate come deadline time.
The final piece of their World Series winning core, Brandon Belt, had a great 2020 posting 173 wRC+ in 51 games. He is an unrestricted free agent after 2021.
With a projected rotation of journeyman arms and reclamation projects: Kevin Gausmann, Johnny Cueto, Logan Webb, Anthony DeSclafani and Aaron Sanchez, it seemed like just another year of a transitional phase in the team’s history.
PECOTA’s preseason projections had the Giants finishing at 75-87, good for fourth in the NL West behind Bumgarner’s Diamondbacks, losers of 110 games. PECOTA gave the Giants a zero percent chance to win the division.
ESPN ranked the Giants 23rd in their preseason power rankings, projecting a 70-92 record and giving them just a 1.2% chance of making the Postseason.
They said their best case scenario was “the Giants continue to engage in a bold rebuilding effort without bottoming out.”
The Giants clearly did not care about no stinkin’ projections.
San Francisco took sole possession of first place in the division for the first time on April 29, lost it for about a week at the end of May, then did not relent that lead until September 1st.
It was an omen for what was coming in September that the Dodgers took a half-game lead on the first day of the month, and then the Giants tied them the next day. It set up an epic finish with a month left and the two best teams in baseball–and iconic rivals–tied atop their division.
Both teams seemingly refused to lose that month as the Dodgers went 22-7 in September and October.
The bad news for them was the Giants went 23-7.
The team that was supposed to be under .500 went head-to-head with the mighty Dodgers, and they dethroned them.
The Giants won 107 games and became the first team to win the division other than LA since 2012, when they won it en route to their second World Series title of the 2010’s. Their 107 wins is the best mark in franchise history, and is the most wins by a team that won their division on the last day of the season.
A Giant Force
They are one of the most shocking juggernauts we have seen in recent memory, and it is a tribute to a tremendously run organization. They maximized the talents of all of their players while putting together a well-rounded club that does everything well.
The Giants had 12 players with over 100 wRC+ (min. 200 PA) and 10 players with an OPS over .750–league average in 2021 was .728. They were 2nd in home runs, 5th in team wRC+, 4th in team OPS and 3rd in hitting fWAR. Their starters were 3rd in ERA and their bullpen had the lowest ERA in the league at 2.99. The next best was–who else–the Dodgers at 3.16.
Their 241 home runs are even more incredible when you consider that no player hit more than 30. The Giants had 10 players hit more than 10 and seven hit more than 15. Posey hit 18, Crawford hit 24 and Belt hit 29.
Their 31-17 (.646) record in one-run games was the best in baseball. They also had the best record in games that involved save situations (three-or-less runs) and in blowouts (five-or-more runs).
The San Francisco Giants were the best team in baseball no matter which way you slice it.
The Giants Are The Blueprint
They are the story of the season in Major League Baseball and I kept thinking: why are more teams not like them?
Look at what the Nationals did this year. They were two years removed from a World Series title, and shipped off their aging core rather than maximizing it.
The Chicago Cubs traded most of their World Series winning core and are heading for another lengthy rebuild. One of their stars even went out to San Francisco at the deadline and helped hold off the Dodgers!
That trade for Kris Bryant showed the difference between the Giants and some other organizations. Despite an aging core, they saw an opportunity to get better in the present and they pulled the trigger. They even managed to not auction off their future, as they traded just one of their Top 30 prospects.
San Francisco gave their World Series winning core a second wind and they look primed to continue on as a contender for at least a few years.
The Giants extended Crawford, Posey’s team option seems all but guaranteed to be picked up, and how could you not re-sign Belt after posting 173 and 158 wRC+ the last two seasons? They are also likely to be in the running to keep Bryant in the offseason.
The organization saw an opportunity to end a rebuild before anybody expected them to and a season later they are the best team in baseball.
In a time in the game where the league is so plagued by penny pinching and unnecessary rebuilds, how refreshing to see a team throw all of that aside and give their guys a second chance at glory.
Having covered the Miami Marlins all year I could not help but think they could have been just like the Giants.
Their young pitching core–led by Sandy Alcantara–seems ready to lead a contender. If they had just invested in the offense they could have been one. Instead they traded Starling Marte and Adam Duvall, started multiple non-MLB level players and finished 28 games below .500.
Giant Finish In Store?
What the Giants accomplished was nothing short of incredible and they are not finished yet. Why would anybody bet against them? They have the one thing you want above all in the Postseason: Experience. No other team has three guys that know what it takes to win multiple championships and have done it together.
Losing Belt to a thumb injury is a huge blow, but his presence in the clubhouse will be bigger. The players recently put a makeshift “C” on his chest as a sign he is their chosen captain.
They also left no doubt that they are the best team in the league all season long. They are the team that unseated the defending world champions in the NL West. The 2021 San Francisco Giants are the team that held off the mighty Dodgers down the stretch. It really makes me wonder why they are not the favorites to win the whole thing.
It also makes me wonder whether teams will learn from them. If they will ask themselves the same question I asked all year: why are more teams not like the Giants?