Giants manager Bruce Bochy, whose team has reached the National League Championship Series for the third time in five seasons during an era of revenue sharing and playoff expansion meant to create parity across baseball, was talking Wednesday about an organization that is “the model of consistency.”
And it wasn’t his own.
Bochy was referring to the St. Louis Cardinals, who on Tuesday advanced to the NLCS for the fourth year in a row. Not since 2009, when the Philadelphia Phillies lost to the New York Yankees, has a team other than the Giants or Cardinals represented the N.L. in the World Series.
“Really, what they’ve done is incredible,” Bochy said. “The Cardinals have a lot to be proud of, and I think we do. Both organizations do things the right way.”
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That’s difficult to argue, if the barometer is postseason success. The Giants have won two of the past four World Series. The Cardinals won it all in 2011 and reached the World Series again last season, losing to the Boston Red Sox.
“I think it has a lot to do with the depth of our lineups and the good starting pitching, the good bullpen,” said Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford. “And then just the kind of never-say-die attitude that we’ve both seemed to have the past five years, where it’s come down to the last out a few times and somehow we could find a way to fight back.”
Giants fans remember well how the team staved off elimination six times during the 2012 playoffs, then beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in the one-game wild-card round this year to advance to the N.L. Division Series against the Washington Nationals. Just as memorable was the 2011 World Series, when the Cardinals were down to their final strike in Game 6 against the Texas Rangers, only to rally to win that game and the title the following night.
After the Cardinals clinched their division series against the Dodgers on Tuesday, manager Mike Matheny talked to reporters in St. Louis about the number of players on the team’s roster that have come up through the Cardinals’ minor-league system.
“That’s something we as an organization take a lot of pride in,” Matheny said, “when you see how many of these kids came up through and are contributing, not just making it here, but thriving at this level and helping us to be able to walk in there and pop champagne.”
Meanwhile, the Giants, not typically known for having a strong farm system, also have an NLCS roster comprised largely of products of their own player development – Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Crawford, Joe Panik, Madison Bumgarner and Sergio Romo – were all Giants draft picks, while Pablo Sandoval came up through the system after signing as a free agent out of Venezuela. Rookies Andrew Susac and Matt Duffy came up from the minors at midseason to make key contributions as well.
“That’s what it takes, I think, to have consistent success,” Bochy said. “I know I’m very proud of the fact that you can look out there and a lot of these guys came up through our system.”
For another parallel, how about surprises? During the regular season, only five of 15 N.L. teams had a higher ERA from their starting rotation than the Giants (3.74). In their five postseason games so far, though, the Giants’ starters have combined for a 1.04 ERA in 342/3 innings.
The Cardinals in the regular season hit the fewest home runs in the National League (105). In four division series games against the Dodgers, they hit seven.
“Lefties on lefties, too,” Bochy remarked. “I watched the series – they were pounding the ball. They didn’t miss many mistakes.”
And, Crawford said: “It seems like they don’t make a whole lot of mistakes – which I think is kind of how we’ve been winning games. We’ve been pretty good on the physical and mental side of the game. And it seems like they’re that way, too.”
Slightly different are the paths each team took to this point. The Cardinals did not have a losing month this season and didn’t lose sole possession of the N.L. Central lead after Sept. 1. The Giants jumped out to the best record in baseball through June 8, then hit a two-month-plus skid in which they were 15 games under .500, ultimately securing a wild-card berth in the season’s final week.
But the bottom line: One of these teams will lay claim to the N.L. pennant for the fifth consecutive year. And that recent history, argued right fielder Hunter Pence, will matter little when the first pitch is thrown Saturday evening in St. Louis.
“You can chop up a season any way you want and find hot streaks, cold streaks,” Pence said. “You’re a new team every single day and every day is different – postseason is different from the regular season. There’s just lots of things constantly changing.
“I’m not going to sit here and microscope out the season and be like, ‘From this month to this month we were really good, these two games we won, are we that team, are we this team?’ We’re the team we are today.”