Larry Baer Built SF Giants into Surprise NL West Frontrunner

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Although National League West watchers anticipated a season-long faceoff between Los Angeles and San Diego to determine the winner of the division, as it stands currently, with over four-fifths of the season complete, it’s actually the San Francisco Giants on top.

The Giants have taken the National League by surprise and currently boast the best record in baseball. In a division that has been focusing its attention mainly on its Southern California clubs, the Giants have unexpectedly emerged with a gleaming record and gaining momentum toward season’s end.

“I think there’s something pretty deep-seated in being part of a winning culture,” commented SF Giants CEO and President Larry Baer, who has been with the club since 1992.

“I think there is a really strong ethos to having been in a winning culture and knowing what it takes to get through a long season and a winning environment.”

Even longtime Giants’ shortstop Brandon Crawford, who has two World Series titles under his belt, admits that he wasn’t immediately convinced that the Giants actually had the qualifications to get where they are today.

“I’d be lying if I said going into spring training that I thought we would have the best record in baseball,” he admits.

“We had a competitive team; I think I knew that. But I wasn’t sure how we would stack up against the Dodgers and Padres. So far, we’ve done a pretty good job.”

Last month’s trade deadline intensified the pennant race as the Dodgers acquired talent such as Max Scherzer, a three-time Cy Young winner, and stellar shortstop Trea Turner, while the Giants nabbed former MVP Kris Bryant from the Chicago Cubs.

As result of the trade deadline deals, the Giants, Dodgers and Padres now have three of the National League’s top four records. And with MLB resuming the traditional playoff structure this fall, the pressure is on as the division winner immediately moves on to the best-of-five division series. The two remaining teams will be forced to face off in a wild card showdown, which means that one of the three will have just a one game postseason.

General manager Scott Harris affirms that the Giants had planted the seeds for this season’s success last year. After starting 8-16 in the 2020 season that was shortened by the pandemic, the Giants went 21-15 till the finish. This strong finish convinced Harris that the Giants “had a solid base to build from.”

Still, the Giants, with the oldest lineup in the MLB, made little noise in the NL and were barely noticed as the 2021 season opened. They really didn’t show any sign of having the star power or energy to pull off the record they’ve achieved thus far this season. Catcher Buster Posey, the club’s 34-year-old star player and three-time World Series veteran, made the decision to opt out of last season due to concerns about the Covid-19 pandemic. And Kevin Gausman, the team’s No. 1 starter, started the year off with a lifetime ERA of 4.26.

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So, it didn’t really seem like the Giants were preparing for an impressive shift. Although Harris affirms that “We had plans to be good this year,” he never imagined that this team would emerge with the best record in baseball.

The Dodgers, current defending champions, and the Padres, came to be seen as not only the best two teams in the NL West, but possibly in all of baseball. It was expected that the two would be battling one another all the way through the World Series while the Giants went largely ignored.

“To be honest, it was kind of annoying,” admitted Gausman. “You’re just constantly hearing about those guys. Everybody was picking us to finish last or second to last in the division. So it’s been nice to shut some of those people up.”

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Still, it’s not quite obvious how the Giants achieved their impressive record. The Giants don’t have a pitching-power-trio like the Dodgers’ Max Scherzer, Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw. They also don’t have a lineup with top sluggers like the Padres’ Fernando Tatís Jr. and Manny Machado. But their success is well-earned. In the National League, the Giants lead in home runs, rank third in ERA, and are just behind the Dodgers with the league’s second-best overall run differential.

With several key players that may potentially be playing their last season with the Giants, there have been some stellar performances from team veterans, such as Posey, who’s having his best season since he won the MVP back in 2012. Meanwhile Crawford, who almost lost his standing in the club after hitting .228 back in 2019, is currently enjoying his best offensive season in 2021.

After spending the 2017 through 2019 seasons playing in South Korea, 35-year-old Darin Ruf has become a force to be reckoned with, posting an OPS of about .950.

“I’ve learned not to rule out any level of performance with that caliber of player,” Harris said with regard to the obvious talent populating the team this season.

The pitching has also been star quality. Gausman, pitching his now-famous split-fingered fastball more often than at any other time in his career, has evolved into a Cy Young candidate with a 2.29 ERA.

Anthony DeSclafani, a free agent who joined San Francisco in December, is now favoring his slider and changeup over his fastball and has a 3.28 ERA.

“It doesn’t always take the big-name people for a team to be successful,” said Bryant, former Cubs slugger and a star acquisition by the Giants at the deadline. “That’s why this team has been so successful—there are a lot of guys stepping up.”

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The unexpected rise of the Giants has brought a new level of excitement to the NL West, with fans on the edge of their seats for a race that will probably the entire duration of the regular season.

Read more on the NL West here: https://www.mercurynews.com/2021/08/24/nl-west-watch-sf-giants-dodgers-keep-pace-as-padres-keep-sliding

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