Frantz: Sabean’s magic supplied Giants with perfect blend

| October 04, 2010

In the time since the Giants last enjoyed the sweet taste of champagne success, United States Senate terms have begun and ended, newborn infants have walked into first-grade classrooms and Buster Posey went from Georgia high school Player of the Year to linchpin of the lineup of the new NL West champions.

Yes, it has indeed been six long years between playoff appearances and division titles for the Giants, but when Brian Wilson struck out Will Venable to close out the resilient San Diego Padres, six seasons of frustration and futility disappeared with the fresh corks sent hurtling skyward Sunday afternoon at AT&T Park.

And regardless of who may claim the most discerning palate in the home team’s clubhouse, victory could not have tasted sweeter for anyone other than general manager Brian Sabean.

To partially paraphrase and completely misquote former NFL coach Dennis Green: These Giants aren’t who we thought they were. Quite frankly, these Giants aren’t even who they thought they were. And that, in large part, is due to the efforts of the often-maligned Sabean.

Thought by many to be completely one-dimensional before the season began, the Giants were picked in most national baseball circles to finish right at .500, give or take a game or three.

All-pitch and no-hit they’d be, riding the arms of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and maybe Barry Zito, to somewhere near third place in the division. The only bat worth a darn in the whole lineup belonged to the Kung Fu Panda (Pablo Sandoval), and even he wouldn’t have a year big enough to carry the banjo hitters and the automatic outs in the batting order to anything beyond mediocrity.

Believing the scouting assessment to be frighteningly accurate, Sabean and his crew went to work. It actually started a month or so before pitchers and catchers even reported, with the January signing of Aubrey Huff, and it didn’t end until Cody Ross was claimed off waivers from Florida in late August.

In between, Sabean added Pat Burrell, Mike Fontenot and Jose Guillen, all of whom have played instrumental roles in the team’s rise to the top of the West, while watching Posey evolve from Triple-A phenom into possible NL Rookie of the Year.

By the time Sabean was finished maneuvering, the supposedly impotent lineup Bruce Bochy had to work with would finish with the 11th-highest home run total in baseball, and the 13th-best slugging percentage — and that’s without the aforementioned Panda having anywhere near the season he produced in 2009.

And oh by the way, the pitching staff lived up to the hype — despite Lincecum’s first non-Cy Young season in three years — by leading all of baseball with a 3.38 team ERA.

And now the question is how far Sabean’s assortment of pieces and parts, assembled by Bochy into a dizzyingly beautiful work of art, can march into the postseason. Well, playoff baseball is always about pitching, and while Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe form a potent 1-2 punch at the front of the Atlanta rotation, they’re off schedule.

That means the Giants, with Lincecum well-rested and ready to rock and fire, will have a distinct advantage, at least in the divisional round. So how far can the Giants realistically go? Strangely enough, the answer is likely to be awfully similar to those preseason projections: As far as their arms can carry them.

Bob Frantz is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at bfrantz@sfexaminer.com.

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