With his four-hit, 10-strikeout, complete-game shutout of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League wild card game Wednesday night, lefty starter Madison Bumgarner earned the battle-tested San Francisco Giants their third spot in the NL Division Series in the last five seasons.
The last two times the Giants made the NLDS they went on to win the World Series in 2010 and 2012. History isn’t exactly on San Francisco’s side when it comes to claiming a third title, however. Going back over the years, no team has won three World Series titles over a five-year span since the New York Yankees took four from 1996 to 2000. And before the Yanks it was the Oakland Athletics with a three-peat from 1972 to 1974.
That’s two franchises from completely different eras, each blessed with some of the best players in the league during one crucial (and coincidental) five-year span. Not to mention the talent that’s worn a Giants jersey (Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, and Barry Bonds combined to claim one Worlds Series title) that weren’t part of a dynasty before.
But should the Giants manage to claim their third World Series title, they very well could be considered baseball’s latest dynasty. And they might not be finished.
The key contributors to San Francisco’s starting rotation like Bumgarner and Matt Cain are locked up until at least 2019, with Tim Lincecum and Tim Hudson not available for free agency until 2016. Lincecum has seen his production drop off dramatically, and Hudson is nearing retirement, but general manager Brian Sabean is expected to rely on free agents and pitching prospects to fill out the rotation. Right-handed starter Kyle Crick is considered the team's top prospect.
On offense, San Francisco’s maestro behind the plate and their best hitter, catcher Buster Posey, is in the heart of his prime, and the 27-year-old MVP candidate will likely finish his career with the Giants when his contract is up in 2022. And even if Posey’s bat dies down, his presence behind the plate will be invaluable for any of San Francisco’s future pitchers.
Right fielder Hunter Pence is under contract until 2019. He was first on the Giants with 190 hits, second to Posey with 20 home runs, and tied second baseman Brandon Crawford with 10 triples.
The heart of the Giants lineup and rotation is clearly intact for the next several seasons, but there are some questions that must be answered. Third baseman Pablo Sandoval will be a free agent next season, as will team save-leader Sergio Romo. Crawford is also on a one-year deal that expires at the end of the season.
Even with those questions, the Giants aren’t going to get ahead of themselves, especially with such a tough matchup to start the postseason.
San Francisco faces no small task in the Washington Nationals, their first foe in the NLDS beginning Friday in the nation’s capital. The Nats fielded the best starting rotation in baseball during the regular season with Doug Fister, Tanner Roark, Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmerman headlining a group that combined for a 3.04 team ERA.
Washington was also the ninth highest scoring team in the Majors, and is trying live down their unfathomable Game 5 crumble to the St. Louis Cardinals back in 2012 when they gave up four runs in the top of the ninth inning to lose 9-7.
The Giants already know what it’s like to get that proverbial postseason monkey off their backs after erasing the franchise’s 56-year title drought in 2010, and they also have a strong rotation and a formidable offense to match the Nats. San Francisco will counter with rely on starters like Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong, Hudson, and Jake Peavy, a rotation that would’ve been even more dominate had it not lost Cain for the season to an elbow injury in August.
Other than Peavy and Hudson, each of the current rotation, including Lincecum, made a major contribution in the two World Series runs. Vogelsong earned a victory in three of his four starts in the 2012 postseason with a 1.09 ERA and 21 strikeouts, while the Giants won all four of Bumgarner’s starts in the 2010 run and two years later he managed to shrug off two poor performances in the NLDS and NLCS and shutout the Detroit Tigers in Game 2 of the series. Lincecum claimed two victories in the 2010 series, including the Game 5 clincher when he gave up one run over eight innings.
NLDS Full Schedule
Game 1: Friday, Oct. 3, 3:07 p.m. in Washington
Game 2: Saturday, Oct. 4, 5:37 p.m. in Washington
Game 3: Monday, Oct. 6, TBD in San Francisco
Game 4*: Tuesday, Oct. 7, TBD in San Francisco
Game 5*: Thursday, Oct. 9, TBD in Washington