Reporting David Elfin
The San Francisco Giants, 20 months removed from the franchise’s first World Series title in more than five decades, finish out a three-game visit to Washington tonight.
While there are several ways to win a championship, the Giants provided the Nats with a fine blueprint that the home team has followed well through nearly half the 2012 season.
San Francisco won it all in 2010 even though it didn’t have a hitter with more than 85 RBI (and just two with more than 67). Only two Giants hit more than 18 homers (and they only combined for 50). Only three of manager Bruce Bochy’s regulars batted better than .268 with catcher Buster Posey leading the way at .305.
In short, there were no MVPs or future Hall of Famers like Albert Pujols (St. Louis Cardinals 2006, 2011) or Derek Jeter (New York Yankees (1996-98, 2009) in San Francisco’s lineup. Eight of their 15 National League rivals scored more runs.
The Giants won the Series because of their outstanding, young pitching. Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Jonathan Sanchez, then 25, 26 and 27, respectively, combined for a 42-30 record with an earned run average well under 3.50. Closer Brian Wilson, then 28, had 48 saves and a 1.81 ERA. No NL staff had a lower ERA.
The formula hasn’t changed much in San Francisco this year except that Madison Bumgarner, who was just 20 in 2010, has replaced Sanchez in the Big Three with Cain and Lincecum.
Amazingly, San Francisco is just a half-game behind the front-running Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West even though Wilson’s season ended after two innings before Tommy John surgery and Lincecum, the 2009 NL Cy Young winner, is 3-9 with a 6.08 ERA after getting smacked around by Washington on Monday. Bumgarner is 10-5, 3.27 despite being pounded by the Nats yesterday while Cain, who pitched the 22nd perfect game in major league history on June 13 and tries to prevent Washington’s sweep tonight), is 9-3, 2.53.
The Giants’ pitching had been so good before coming to Nats Park that, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, last week they became the first staff to throw four straight shutouts in 17 years and the first to ever do so against first place teams.
Now, let’s look at the Nats. Of their eight hitters with at least 120 at-bats, rookie outfielder Bryce Harper has the highest average at .280. First baseman Adam LaRoche leads the sluggers with 15 homers (one more than shortstop Ian Desmond) and 52 RBI (five more than Desmond). Although Washington scored at least five runs in each of its past eight games, only six NL teams have fewer.
However, the Nats’ 3.18 ERA is baseball’s best. Ace Stephen Strasburg (9-3, 2.81), fellow All-Star Gio Gonzalez (11-3, 3.01) and hard-luck Jordan Zimmermann (4-6, 2.77) form a superb Big Three with Edwin Jackson (5-4, 3.73) and Ross Detwiler (4-3, 3.30) rounding out a rotation that includes a trio of 26-year-olds with Strasburg the kid at 23 and Jackson the old man at 28. Tyler Clippard (13 saves in 14 chances, 1.83), the 27-year-old 2011 All-Star, has anchored a superb bullpen that has yet to receive anything from 2011 closer Drew Storen, 24, who’s due back from elbow surgery after next week’s All-Star break.
If the Giants could win the World Series in 2010 after six years out of postseason and with someone named Nate Schierholtz as their right fielder, surely the Nats have a shot at winning it all in 2012 with spare parts Tyler Moore, Rick Ankiel, Steve Lombardozzi and Roger Bernadina sharing outfield duty until Jayson Werth returns from a broken wrist next month.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin