SAN FRANCISCO (CBS / AP) — Success in pro sports often causes a champion’s rivals to play follow the leader, and if that’s the case in baseball this winter, what lessons can other teams take from the San Francisco Giants?
Few experts predicted that their collection of ace pitchers and lineup castoffs would win the World Series when the playoffs began, particularly after they only clinched the National League West title on the final day of the regular season.
Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos believes San Francisco’s unlikely victory only underlines that there is no single roadmap to baseball’s summit, while one American League scout suggested other clubs may mimic the Giants’ emphasis on homegrown pitching.
Either way, both felt the post-season reinforced the notion of playoff unpredictability where the best team doesn’t always win, but rather the one that happens to be playing best at the time.
“There’s merit to that,” Anthopoulos said Tuesday. “You can be as good a team as you can be on paper, but if you slump or don’t play well in the post-season then you’re going to get bounced. That’s what makes great stories in the post-season, some people come out of nowhere and everyone is talking about Cody Ross or Edgar Renteria because they came up big.”
Ross, the National League Championship Series MVP picked up on waivers in August, and Renteria, the World Series MVP who was signed as a free agent in December 2008, are two of the so called “castoffs and misfits” to deliver in the clutch for the Giants.
Catcher Buster Posey and infielder Pablo Sandoval are the among club’s few homegrown regular position players, a sharp contrast to a stellar pitching staff acquired predominantly through the draft.
That’s what really caught the AL scout’s attention, and he thinks other teams may start prioritizing pitching in the coming drafts as a result.
“For years it was pitching, pitching, pitching for the Giants,” said the scout. “They took Madison Bumgarner in the first round 10th overall (in 2007), Tim Lincecum, 10th overall (in 2006), they hit on those guys. Matt Cain, 25th overall (in 2002), they did well there. They got Brian Wilson (24th round in 2003) and Jonathan Sanchez (27th round in 2004).
“They got the bats through the secondary or third markets, so great job on the amateur scouting for the arms, and the pro scouting for the bats.”
Yet the Giants may have caught lightning in a bottle with their offence during the playoffs. With an offence that ranked 17th of 30 teams in the majors with just 697 runs scored during the season, they relied very heavily, perhaps too much so, on their pitching staff.
A slight step back by even a small few of their pitchers could turn their often narrow margin of victory in 2010 — adoringly described as “torture” by players and fans — into a pile of losses next year.
That’s why Anthopoulos doesn’t necessarily see some of his counterparts adjusting their approach very much.
“The last few years the World Series winners have varied so I don’t know I would ever say one team won a World Series in one year and that’s the model,” he said. “Both general managers did a great job — but there are a lot of ways to skin the cat.
“I just don’t think you can pin yourself down to one style.”
He points to both the 2008 World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies and the 2009 winning New York Yankees as prime examples of that.
“You can say the Phillies, who were the best team in the National League, they have a good group of homegrown position players, stars, in Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and other than Cole Hamels, they’ve filled in their rotation through the trade route,” Anthopoulos pointed out.
“Or look at the Yankees. They got (free-agent starters) A.J. Burnett and CC Sabathia last year and (added them to) position-player wise Robinson Cano, Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter.
“I think you try to take away (ideas) from all teams, but you just don’t know what opportunities are going to present themselves to make your team better.”
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