With two more victories, the San Francisco Giants will be the World Champions of baseball. And should it happen, I'll be more puzzled than ever how they pulled off such an improbable stunt even as the champagne flows.
Yeah, I know, pitching -- no one is beating them in an arms' race. When he's on, Wee Timmy Lincecum is as fun to watch as any pitcher since Pedro in his prime, and Matt Cain is showing a national audience that Lincecum isn't the lone ace in black and orange. Madison Bumgarner's bright future is becoming a bright present, and Jonathan Sanchez looks -- and has been -- untouchable at his best. The rotation is the envy of pitching coaches everywhere, and Bruce Bochy (who might be my favorite manager, Non-Tito Division) and Dave Righetti have done fine work with that staff, from the pair of aces all the way to goofball closer Brian Wilson.
But the old notion that pitching is 90 percent of the game is just an arbitrary adage; even Cliff Lee gives up runs sometimes, as we rediscovered to moderate surprise in Game 1. It's stunning, however, that he gives up runs to this bunch. Upon first glance, the Giants lineup card looks like the roll call for the Island of Misfit Ballplayers, and that conclusion doesn't change with a second glance. Many names scrawled in by Bochy are of aging semi-stars like Pat Burrell and Edgar Renteria who won't be in the majors much longer. Then there are overachievers like Juan Uribe, who has had an adjusted OPS over 100 twice in his 10-year career, is letting it fly like he's Sammy Sosa in '98. Say this for the man: he doesn't get cheated.
Sure, Aubrey Huff has had a productive career -- his comps include such quality hitters as Pedro Guerrero, Ben Oglivie, and Vernon Wells -- but his OPS in his age 33 season is 200 points higher than it was last season. Rookie Buster Posey is a franchise player in the making, but he wasn't supposed to be this good, batting cleanup for a World Series team, not so soon. The player who was expected to carry their offense, Pablo Sandoval, has regressed to the point that you almost forget he's on the roster. Just call him Panda non grata.
It's such a weird team . . . and that's before taking into consideration the bizarre Red Sox Castoff factor. There's Renteria, ol' achy-backed, this-rotten-infield-has-rocks-in-it, I-miss-the-NL Rent-A-Wreck himself, who somehow manages to deliver in big moments and look washed up at the same time. There's Guillermo Mota, who's an answer to a decent trivia question: Who was the third player the Red Sox got from the Marlins in the Josh Beckett/Mike Lowell/Hanley Ramirez deal? He was shuffled along to Cleveland before ever pitching an inning for the Sox.
And there's Manny Delcarmen . . . well, OK, he's not on the Giants. Just testing you there. But he'd fit right in with this cast of castoffs. If you need further proof that assembling a bullpen requires a great deal of luck from year to year, reminds yourself how you felt about Javy Lopez and Ramon Ramirez the last time either called Fenway Park their baseball home. Repeat after me: Relief pitching is volatile and unpredictable, and it's foolish to trade real prospects for anything less than premier bullpen arms.
(In a related note, kudos to whoever it was in the Texas dugout who reminded Ron Washington that it's OK to remove a relief pitcher when he's, oh, let's say, thrown 10 straight balls in a close game during the flippin' World Series. If Washington had his druthers, poor Derek Holland would still be out there throwing neck-high fastballs. And by the way, is Neftali Feliz on the Rangers' playoff roster? Is Washington aware of this? Are you sure?)
There is one Giant who formerly played for the Red Sox who is easy to root for. It's hard to believe Freddy Sanchez is 32 years old now; you'd think time would pass slower when you spend six seasons in baseball purgatory in Pittsburgh. It seems like, well, if not just yesterday then just a few seasons ago that he earned a standing ovation and chants of his first name at Fenway after flawlessly and often spectacularly fielding 10 grounders at third base in a June 2003 victory over the Astros. "That's the most electrifying and awesome feeling I've ever been a part of," said Sanchez at the time. It was his 20th big league game.
He's probably surpassed that feeling once or twice as his career blossomed, and you get the sense he's in the middle of his defining moment right now. But there was a time when Red Sox fans, recognizing him as one of the bright lights in Dan Duquette's neglected farm system, thought his glory days might come at Fenway.
Rated as the Red Sox' sixth-best prospect by Baseball America in 2002 (behind such luminaries as Seung Song, Tony Blanco, Rene Miniel, Delcarmen, and Casey Fossum) and fourth the following year, he was traded to the Pirates at the July 2003 deadline in a deal for Jeff Suppan, one of Theo Epstein's more regrettable swaps since it also cost them a chance to keep hard-throwing lefty Mike Gonzalez.
Three years later, he was an unlikely batting champion, hitting .344 to edge out Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols, rumored to be a couple of pretty decent hitters. He led the league in doubles (53) in 2006 and had an .851 OPS.
It was the best year in a nice career. Two of his top three career comps at age 32 are a couple of ex-Sox, Bill Mueller and Mark Loretta. Good and appropriate company, I say.
He finally escaped Pittsburgh purgatory with a trade to San Francisco last season, and so here he is now, tearing it up in the World Series, becoming the first player since Jacoby Ellsbury (Game 3, 2007) to have four hits in a Series game when he accomplished the feat -- with three doubles, no less -- in Game 2.
It's been cool to see Sanchez thrive and gain some national notice during his first postseason in his nine seasons. And not just because he's one of the few hitters in this quirky and abstract San Francisco lineup whose current success is relatively simple to comprehend.
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.