Underdogs or Underestimated?

The San Francisco Giants are the 2010 World Series Champions, and they won in impressive fashion. They went 11-4 in the postseason, handling teams easily even while maintaining the identity of an underdog. While hindsight is 20/20, perhaps they shouldn’t have been underdogs – this team really was one of the best in baseball all year.

In total team WAR, the Giants ranked 4th at +47.4 wins. Our replacement level is set at about 48.5 wins, so that number makes the Giants something like a team that deserved to win 95 games this year. They had more total team WAR than the Rangers, Yankees, or Phillies, and the roster they brought into October was the best version of any they had put together all year.

If they had started the year with Buster Posey at catcher, Pat Burrell and Cody Ross on the team, and Madison Bumgarner in the rotation, they would have almost certainly finished better than their final 92-70 record. That was a ~95 or so win team that ran over the Braves, Phillies, and Rangers.

While a few of the guys on the team were discards from other organizations who the Giants picked up on the cheap, those guys surrounded a core of extremely good players: Posey, Tim Lincecum, and Brian Wilson are all among the best in the game at what they do. Getting career years from role players like Andres Torres and Aubrey Huff certainly was a huge part of why the Giants won, but those guys were more exception than rule. By and large, the Giants collected a bunch of quality role players who did their jobs well and didn’t prevent the legitimate stars on the team from carrying them to a championship.

Were the Giants the best team in baseball? I don’t know, but they were certainly in the discussion, and they made a pretty strong case the last couple of months of the season. Brian Sabean should be proud of his guys for playing well in October, but he should also be proud of his staff for putting together a roster that could contend. The Giants may have been underdogs, but only because we didn’t give them enough credit in the first place. They were a championship caliber team, and they proved it on the field.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


72 Responses to “Underdogs or Underestimated?”

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  1. Matthias says:

    I think where the Giants fell short offensively (going into the Series) they were able to make up for with defense and pitching. It doesn’t hurt to get some major scoring outbursts early, either.

    http://sportsstatsanalysis.wordpress.com/2010/10/26/1002/

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  2. hairball says:

    Thank you, Dave. San Francisco deserved this. What a year!

    -happy happy happy Giants fan

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    • JimNYC says:

      I’m extremely upset about this. I’ve always hoped that the Giants would never win a World Series, as punishment for their allowing the Dodgers to leave Brooklyn and moving baseball out of the East Coast where it belongs. My grandmother was a baseball fan for long enough to have seen Babe Ruth play in person, and when the Dodgers left Brooklyn, she didn’t watch another game for almost forty years — I took her to a game at Citi Field this year, and while she loved the Jackie Robinson rotunda, it also made her sad at what was lost.

      That this bunch of carpetbaggers who betrayed a city that loved them now has a World Series title to credit for their sins is, to me, unconscionable. It’s a sad day in New York.

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      • giants faithful says:

        For all the millions the Yankees pay (and admittedly titles you win), I find it shocking at how often I see those New Yorkers boo their own team when they are down. Leaving in the seventh. That is what is unconscionable. New York doesn’t deserve the Giants. Out West, we support our team. Thick and thin. What we witnessed last night was one of the greatest moments in sports history.

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      • 81 says:

        I missed the part in baseball history where Bruce Bochy and Brian Sabean insisted the Giants leave New York and continued to manage the team for another 53 years.

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      • JimNYC says:

        81, the actual individuals involved are unimportant, in the same way that if you’re Armenian, you’re still going to have a problem with Turkey even though everyone involved during WWI is long gone. The Giants and the Dodgers deserved to suffer for what they did to NY, and, in my view, so long as one solitary Brooklyn Dodger fan draws breath, there’s no justice in a San Fransisco title. John McGraw is somewhere rolling in his grave right now that a “city” that didn’t even exist two hundred years ago now has a title at the expense of his beloved Giants.

        And, two points on the Yankees: The only fans who leave in the seventh inning are the ones who are there on free corporate tickets who aren’t real baseball fans. It’s unfortunate, but it’s also a fact of life that premium Yankee tickets are pretty much the exclusive domain of Fortune 500 companies who buy up blocks of them to schmooze with clients. That’s part of what lets the Yankees have all that money that everyone complains about it — and if it upsets you that your city doesn’t have that, then it’s your own fault for not moving to New York.

        Second, of course the fans boo when the team is losing. Why on Earth wouldn’t you? “Supporting your team through thick and thin” makes absolutely no sense — if you don’t boo your team when they perform badly, they won’t get the idea ingrained in their marrow that winning is the only option and that anything else is a disgrace. Which is the whole piont of competitive sport, no? That’s something I’ve never understood about fans from outside New York. If Omar Minaya is doing a crappy job, how else are fans supposed to improve their team aside from making sure that he constantly hears their displeasure booming in his ears every second of every game, and sees himself splayed out on the back pages of newspapers with derogatory headlines every day? Otherwise, he’d just think that he’s doing an ok job.

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      • Matt says:

        It’s OK JimNYC; I always root against the Mets because one time a former Dodger was rude to a friend of my cousin.

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      • 81 says:

        Equating a baseball team moving from one city to another to genocide: Not exactly the commentary I expect from a poster on a website devoted to rational, fact-base analysis.

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      • LUVMYGIANTS says:

        You are not a true baseball fan…no way and you cannot ever claim to be. Let the game of baseball be enjoyed by fans who truly understand the immense importance this game has in history. Instead of blasting an entire organization for “moving” to another city, take a look at how history follows baseball and baseball follows history. Until 1954 and on, there was no baseball teams west of the Mississippi…the west was growing and demanded to be part of the baseball phenomenom. The Giants and Dodgers both decided to be part of the west, so a whole new generation could enjoy this magical game – along with a rival like no other in baseball (besided the Red Sox / Yanks). I have always been a baseball fan and really understand the impact this game has on America. As our country evolved, so did baseball – so much of America’s history is tied into this beloved game. The best thing I did in college was take a class “The History of Baseball”…thought it was an easy pass. No way, this class delved deep into how baseball and history is intertwined. What a great learning experience – it enabled me to see the “whole picture”.

        If you are a true baseball fan, get over it…enjoy the game and quit being a hater. I, for one, am extremely proud to be a SF Giants fan…both for their former home of NY & new home of SF – this championship is for all the greats, living and departed, who helped build this great organization.

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      • TonyG says:

        JimNYC: You’re an idiot. San Francisco was established/founded/settled in 1776 which makes it 234 years old. We also hate to Dodgers.

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      • giants faithful says:

        Sir, you have just validated everything that the honest, hot-blooded American hates about the yankees. Thank you. You are not bad fans. You’re not fans at all.

        Do you carry that philosophy about booing you own team into raising your children?

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      • WilsonC says:

        Well, at least the Yankees didn’t win. Just think of all the Championships they’ve won after their callous betrayal of the city of Baltimore!

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  3. mdw says:

    “Were the Giants the best team in baseball?”
    Yes. They won the World Series which makes them the best team IN THE WORLD!

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  4. Richard says:

    Did you watch the NLCS? In no way could it be said that the Giants easily handled or “ran over” the Phillies (and weren’t the Braves games close, too?). Obviously the Giants were a good team and were overlooked by too many, and your basic point about their WAR is well taken, but let’s not get rhetorically carried away.

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      I came to make the same point. The Rangers were “ran over”. They “handled” the Phillies despite being outscored in the series. They “squeaked by” the Braves.

      Let’s not get carried away here. The Giants are and were a good team, any reasonable analysis said as much. They also were underdogs, don’t forget so quickly how crapshooty the playoffs are.

      Some successful teams from recent history that were deservedly underdogs include:
      2008 Phillies
      2007 Rockies (yes, they lost)
      2006 Cardinals (now they were dogs…)
      2005 White Sox

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      • U-G says:

        The White Sox paced the American League with 99 wins and were in first in the AL Central the entire season. I’m not understanding how they were underdogs.

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      • Brad Johnson says:

        Yes, that was incorrect of me. I recalled thinking at the time that the club was rather unimpressive, but to be fair, I was a much more casual observer of league wide affairs back then.

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  5. this guy says:

    It’s more like the Rangers were overrated. This SF team isn’t particularly good in the context of past champions.

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    • B N says:

      It depends. Pitching-wise they’re one of the best teams I’ve seen in the playoffs, top to bottom. I don’t think I’ve seen this level of pitching put together in a postseason team since the Braves had Smoltz, Maddux, and Glavine. And you’ve have to really reach back to find championship teams through history that have reached that bar.

      Certainly, SF was an uneven team. Very, very pitching heavy (rotation and bullpen) while being only average on offense and defense. On the other hand, pitching means a lot in the playoffs. This was a team that was made to be an underdog. So long as you have great pitching, you have a chance in every game. Even if you were trotting Ruth and Gehrig out there, any one of these pitchers might have been able to work a shutout over 8. On the other hand, they’re also a team that is not built to be a perennial contender. Over the regular season, hitting well is important to the consistency needed to get a playoff spot. But once you get there, having the best pitching gives you at least a 50/50 shot in every series.

      Moreover, I don’t quite see how you can say the Rangers were overrated. They were among the highest scoring teams in baseball and have a top-to-bottom excellent lineup, an okay rotation, and a good closer. They paid their dues, taking down the Rays and the Yankees. I’m not sure what more you’d want from them. By historical standards, there may not be much notable about them but I’d have to state they were in the top 3 AL teams this year and they beat the other two when it counted.

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      • Bigmouth says:

        What makes you say our defense was “average”?

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      • Deelron says:

        UZR/150 has the Giants as the best defense in the league, UZR has them second. That’s not close to average.

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      • this guy says:

        Check the home/road splits on these guys. Lots of Texas inflated stats. That lineup isn’t nearly as good as people think it is.

        The Giants staff is good, but not historically good. They pitch in a pitcher’s haven and faced an inflated lineup that had never seen them before. Outside of Texas, the only Rangers hitter that is exceptional (or even above average) is Hamilton.

        The Giants are good, but the Rangers are vastly overrated.

        Note: The Braves rotations were ridiculously overrated, and I refuse to acknowledge them as a historically good staff. They got calls almost a foot off the plate for most of the 90s. Cut the bullshit. Anyone who actually watched Braves games in the 90s with a critical eye knows that whole Braves era was a MLB manufactured crock of shit.

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      • Nats Fan says:

        I think the giants we saw this year was one of the all time best starting pitching staffs ever and will be for years to come. In 5 years I would bet big money that most of you will agree with this statement. Lincecum, Cain, and Baumgardner are all as a group as good as Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz were at the same point in their careers. I know I was a Braves fan then. Sanchez and Zito are better than Steve Avery and Kent Merker were in 1995 (Braves staff #4 and #5 pitchers). Mark my words this team is in for a serious run that may compare favorably to the early and mid 90s Braves.

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      • B N says:

        I listed their defense as average, because while they have some excellent defenders (Sanchez, Ross/Schierholz, Uribe, Torres), they have some average guys (Huff, Posey, Renteria), and have some weaker spots (Burrell/Guillen, Panda). It’s actually a bit better than I thought, because Renteria had a good year after having two bad years so perhaps I’d bump them up to above average. With that said, by playoff standards or historic standards nobody is going to be crowing about the defense on this squad.

        Basically, in order to get to average hitting, the Giants had to sacrifice defense mid-season. I’d bump them up to above average if we’re going to believe the defensive resurgence of Renteria, but you’d have trouble convincing me that Renteria to Sanchez to Huff would be a memorable defensive combination.

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      • B N says:

        To clarify though, I will revise my estimate of defense to “above average” however. Though ultimately, it’s the pitching that is winning the series.

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      • B N says:

        Re: “Check the home/road splits on these guys. Lots of Texas inflated stats.”

        Huh? Didn’t they play 3 games in Texas? Did I miss something here? SF shut them down IN Texas. I don’t think home/road splits mean much when you’re assured to play at least as many home games as road games unless you go a full 7..

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  6. Spoilt Victorian Child says:

    When I look at total team WAR (Teams -> Team Totals -> Value), I see the Brewers in fourth with 29.1. Where else am I supposed to be looking?

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  7. CesarV says:

    So again, Renteria hits two HRs in the WS after hitting only 3 during the season. So a stat head goes where? Regression? SSS? And an old school guy goes where?Intangibles? Clutch? Experience?
    I recall the article about how acquiring Ross was supposed to be an absurdity because the Giants were so far behind they should be focusing on the wild card. Sabean for president.

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    • B N says:

      With that said, anyone who’d guess that Renteria would hit two home runs in one series would be a liar. He’s never hit more than 16 in a year, and that was when he was good! I’d term his play as being a lucky stroke for a mediocre signing. Or maybe karma payback of last year, which was a career worst.

      On the other hand, Ross was actually a solid pickup. The guy is an average defender in CF, above average at the corners, and averages 20 HR per year. Even with his pedestrian OBP, that’s a useful part. While the question could be if Sabean actually intended to GET Ross, as opposed to blocking move collateral, grabbing a 2+ WAR guy who can play all 3 outfield positions for a postseason run seemed like a good idea even at the time. I think the criticism was that the Giants already had too many outfielders, but thankfully for them they realized the Guillen shouldn’t be one of them…

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    • Deelron says:

      How about in a small sample size a major league caliber player can preform in a highly unpredictable manner?

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  8. Jeff Wise says:

    I love watching teams that play team baseball each and every night. Any team that doesn’t have a set of huge home run hitters is going to be called the underdog.

    I looked at the Giants stats again and they just didn’t make many errors this season in the field. Great defense and great pitching.

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    • Kazinski says:

      Errors aside they were a great defensive team. I was really impressed with their infield defense in the playoffs, aside from Huff. Outfield defense too, Torres is one of the top centerfielders in baseball, and when they have Ross in LF, and Schierholtz in RF, that may be the best outfield in baseball, at least defensively.

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  9. Xeifrank says:

    Underrated? Underdogs? Yeah, both. One could’ve made a lot of money this post-season by betting a steady stream of underdogs. A LOT!
    vr, Xeifrank

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  10. Bigmouth says:

    I think what people consistently underestimate is the Gigantes’ defense, which was stellar this year. Our team UZR was the best in baseball.

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  11. bill says:

    not arguing that Braves were worthy, but SF hardly “ran over” Atlanta. wasn’t 8 earned runs in 4 games. not exactly a bulldozer.

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  12. Bill says:

    Small sample size. Any team in baseball can beat any team in baseball, over a 5/7 game series.

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  13. James says:

    Giants had .597 winning percentage against teams not named Padres, which would place them among the best for the season (Phillies had .599). I would say underestimated… perhaps cumulatively the least flawed of the legitimate contenders (best overall pitching considering top 3-4 starters and relievers, serviceable fielding and offense).

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    • Matt says:

      That’s a good point. The games against the Padres were pretty much a sss oddity that was starting to correct itself as the season went on. They lost so many close games to the Padres early in the year (losing a 1 hitter!) that could have gone either way, and that did a lot to deflate their winning percentage. Also, as Dave mentioned, the team entering the post season was a much better team than the team that took the field in April.

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    • pounded clown says:

      So you were aware that the Phillies were a veritable MASH unit this season?

      10/03/2010 J.C. Romero Day-to-Day Left game – Sore lower back
      09/29/2010 Placido Polanco Day-to-Day Left elbow soreness
      09/10/2010 Jimmy Rollins Day-to-Day Right hamstring tightness
      09/07/2010 Domonic Brown Day-to-Day Sore right quad
      09/07/2010 Brad Lidge Day-to-Day Sore elbow
      09/06/2010 Scott Mathieson 15-Day DL Strained right lat muscle
      08/25/2010 Danys Baez 15-Day DL Back spasms
      08/19/2010 Ross Gload 15-Day DL Strained right groin
      08/13/2010 Carlos Ruiz Day-to-Day Sore right quadriceps
      08/10/2010 Placido Polanco Day-to-Day Left game – left biceps tendinitis
      08/02/2010 Ryan Howard 15-Day DL Sprained ligaments, left ankle
      07/28/2010 Shane Victorino 15-Day DL Left abdominal strain
      07/27/2010 Jimmy Rollins Day-to-Day Bruised left foot
      07/21/2010 Jamie Moyer 60-Day DL Sprained ligament, left elbow
      07/18/2010 Roy Oswalt Day-to-Day Left ankle contusion
      07/09/2010 Wilson Valdez Day-to-Day Sore left wrist
      07/01/2010 Brian Schneider Day-to-Day Right hand injury
      06/29/2010 Chase Utley 15-Day DL Right thumb surgery – out 6-8 weeks
      06/26/2010 Placido Polanco 15-Day DL Left elbow inflammation – out 3-4 weeks
      06/24/2010 Chad Durbin 15-Day DL Strained right hamstring
      06/19/2010 Carlos Ruiz 15-Day DL Concussion
      06/16/2010 Antonio Bastardo 15-Day DL Left elbow ulnar neuritis
      06/01/2010 Placido Polanco Day-to-Day Sore elbow
      05/26/2010 Carlos Ruiz Day-to-Day Sore right shoulder
      05/22/2010 Jimmy Rollins 15-Day DL Right calf strain
      05/17/2010 Chase Utley Day-to-Day Flu-like symptoms
      05/12/2010 Carlos Ruiz Day-to-Day Right knee
      05/10/2010 Brad Lidge 15-Day DL Right elbow inflammation
      05/09/2010 Brian Schneider 15-Day DL Strained left achilles
      04/29/2010 Ryan Madson 60-Day DL Surgery, right big toe
      04/16/2010 J.A. Happ 15-Day DL Left forearm strain
      04/13/2010 Jimmy Rollins 15-Day DL Strained right calf
      03/26/2010 Joe Blanton 15-Day DL Strained left oblique
      03/26/2010 J.C. Romero 15-Day DL Recovery from left elbow surgery
      03/26/2010 Brad Lidge 15-Day DL Recovery from knee and elbow sugeries
      01/14/2010 Brad Lidge Day-to-Day Right knee surgery

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  14. Miguel says:

    It was the “Year of the Pitcher” and the Giants had the best pitching in the league, especially since September 1st. It should come as no surprise that it ended the “Year of the Giants”.
    Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, Bumgarner, Wilson, Romo, Casilla, Lopez, etc. These guys are dirty. They deserve their due.

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  15. bill says:

    Yeah, definitely apt that the Giants won in the “Year of the Pitcher” (please let’s not have to hear that again). Great performance by them, and they were definitely underrated coming into the playoffs.

    But they certainly did not “run over” the Phillies, a 4-2 series in which the winning team got outscored isn’t exactly dominance. Let’s not get hyperbolic (or hyper-bowlic, as Curt Schilling might say).

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  16. Joe says:

    I have to disagree with Dave Cameron.

    Giant’s war (4th best according to the article) is greatly inflated by luck.

    HR/FB among pitchers is regarded by fangraphs to be mostly luck. Giants had lots of this.

    For hitters, in this year alone they played pretty good, but it was much better than the true talent level. If you take a 3 year average of the starting 8 hitters you would get a better reflection of the true WAR level.

    2 key homers came off a guy who had 3 in the season.

    If you apply these tweaks I bet the Giants would be around 8-10(just a guess). Actually doing the math would be quite the task, so it will be up to individuals if they agree or disagree that the Giants were not the 4th best true-talent WAR team.

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    • Bigmouth says:

      I’m too lazy to check right now, but I’ll bet pitching and defense remain at or near the top of the league even over a three-year window.

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    • Steven Ellingson says:

      HR/FB rate for a whole team is probably more of a reflection of the ballpark than of luck.

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    • pitnick says:

      “Playing better than true talent level” isn’t luck.

      And people have been saying for years that Matt Cain’s FB/HR ratio, for example, is lucky. But that luck has sure been remarkably consistent…

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  17. The Nicker says:

    I probably shouldn’t bring this up, since I think Dave does a great job here, but . . . people rip on Dave for #6org all the time, but perhaps he should take more heat for the Giants being the #21org. Even with the type of bad contracts they have, no team with that sort of team-controlled pitching core going forward should be ranked that low.

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    • DrBGiantsfan says:

      No question #21 was a ridiculously low ranking for the organization. Once again, I believe pitching was overlooked, underestimated or undervalued. I said so at the time and got ridiculed for it. Yeah, vindication feels real good right now.

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  18. Danmay says:

    I think that if the Giants had lead that division most of the year (lets say that the Padres bad “September” had happened in June) and still ended up with the same 92 wins, then the underdog tag may not have stuck so well even thought they would have been the exact same team. That’s just my opinion.

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  19. Scout Finch says:

    Let’s all boil it down. The team playing the best ball at the end of the season and into the playoffs wins it all.

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    • Jason B says:

      So true, I mean Colorado won that world series a couple of years back after that torrid September…

      (Oh wait…they didn’t?!?! Can someone show me quantitatively how this momentum late in the regular season is a positive influence on postseason performance? I almost certain that’s one of those myths that’s been batted down. Too lazy to look for the post/reference.)

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  20. DonCoburleone says:

    Maybe keep this in mind the next time you rail against the NL West for being a huge joke of a division??? THANKS!

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    • SRG says:

      because the giants got hot and played better than superior teams for a month?

      the NL west still has the dodgers, diamondbacks and the padres (a giant fluke in themselves).

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  21. mbrady16 says:

    If talking heads are to be believed, the only reason the Rangers lost was because that silly nobody Cliff Lee dared throw a strike to Edgar Renteria.

    Because if you have a chance to intentionally walk a guy with a season wOBA of .314, you HAVE to do it, lest Tims McCarver and Kurkjian scorn you for eternity.

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    • Matt says:

      That’s not the ONLY reason the Rangers lost. Didn’t you hear HR explain? The Giants won because Aubrey Huff bunted.

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  22. Jim says:

    Congrats to the Giants for their fantastic run through the playoffs and World Series title.

    That being said, they were realistically the 4th best team in the playoffs and caught lightning in a bottle at the right time.

    They had a collection of scrap heap hitters that played well above their heads for a couple weeks, and a pitching staff that pitched well above their heads too. I’m not trying to take anything away from them, but it really was a fluke how they managed to win so easily.

    I keep hearing about how teams should follow the “Giants model”, and I can’t help but chuckle a bit. Draft a bunch of pitchers and hope you get lucky enough to have them all be effective in the bigs, and grab a bunch of replacement level position players throughout the year and pray they turn into all stars come October. Yup, that was the Giants way this year, it totally full proof.

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    • Kevin Yost says:

      They might have had the 4th best regular season roster, but they had 4 dominate starters, and Barry Zito. When you take out Barry Zito, you’re roster becomes a whole lot better.

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  23. cs3 says:

    its funny that people lose sight of the fact that being the “best team over the course of the season” is only relevant to getting a team INTO the playoffs.
    once there, regular season performance becomes insignificant.
    all that matters is is which team is playing best right now.
    and this year the Giants pitched the best, played the best defense, and hit well enough WHEN IT MATTERED.

    and i cant begin to tell you how happy i am!

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  24. CircleChange11 says:

    Lack of stars. It’s that simple.

    I was trying to think who is the “face” of the offense. I know who had the best season, but when you think about preview images for pre-game television graphics, they Giants have nowhere near the name recognition of the other teams’ players (outside of Lincecum).

    Stars = perceived talents.

    The Giants aren’t the first lesser known offense to win a World Series, nor will they be the last. Perhaps they, and th eothers, can continue to alter how we view things.

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    • Jason B says:

      “Lack of stars. It’s that simple.”

      Oh my…oh my. No. You aren’t really conjecturing that (Giants with Huff/Sanchez/Uribe/Sandoval around the infield) > (Giants with, say, Pujols/Utley/Tulo/Zimmerman) are you?

      Winning *in spite of* lacking star power does not equal winning *because of* lacking star power. The former is quite true. The latter would rightly be considered preposterous.

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      • durs836 says:

        I don’t think he’s saying they won BECAUSE they lack stars… he’s saying the Giants are perceived to be underdogs BECAUSE they lack star power.

        Now instead say they had Pujols/Utley/Tulo/Zimmerman around the infield paired with their staff… I would say that team would be seen as WS favorites BECAUSE of the star power (plus thats an all star level infield.. if most of them are performing to their talent at the right time).

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  25. jack7521 says:

    Let’s say the Braves, Phillies and Rangers are all better teams than the Giants. And let’s remember that the Giants team that broke camp in April would have been lucky to finish third in their division. And I’m not holding my breath for a repeat with the same players in the same positions.

    But from September 1 until November 1, no team played baseball better. It was a total team effort. Good to great pitching. Exploiting other team’s mistakes and just keep going balls out from first pitch to last out.

    It was the most fun I’ve had in 50+ years as a Giants fan.

    Is the rotation one of the best in baseball? Ask me again in 10 years. But I like their chances and predict a Cy Young for Matt Cain soon.

    Call it luck. Call it mojo. Call it a fluke. But I’ll be calling it a Championship. See you at the parade.

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