Giant Moments

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This is a story about a team led by a dominant starting rotation that took the National League by storm. It’s the tale of a team that found a new way to win games seemingly every night, and a bottomless supply of heroes to star in the leading role. Led by the midseason call-up of a bright young rookie who energized the team, they caught fire late in the year and the magic of their season reached a new level as summer turned to fall. This is a story about the 2010 San Francisco Giants.

Back in June, we compared the 2008 Rays season to the one the Nationals have put together this year. But the Giants run in 2010 shares many similarities as well. Any discussion of the strength of either of these clubs begins and ends with their starting pitching. And while Tim Lincecum and Stephen Strasburg are the well-known aces, the comparison runs much deeper.

Jordan Zimmermann has taken over Matt Cain’s title as the most underrated pitcher in the National League.

Matt Cain was long thought of as one of the most underrated pitchers in the game, a star hiding in plain sight. One possible explanation was his win-loss record, which always belied just how strong of a pitcher he had been. Even after making his first All-Star Game in 2009, he sported a career mark of just 44-51 heading into the 2010 campaign despite a 3.53 ERA. But the strong, quiet Cain has continued to be the hidden star of the staff, only busting onto the nationals stage with his perfect game earlier this year.

Cain’s consistency cannot help but conjure images in Nationals fans’ heads of Jordan Zimmermann. A similar pitcher with a similar style, Zimmermann pounds the strike zone just like Cain, and has become the most reliable force in a formidable rotation. The Wisconsin native enters this three-game matchup the owner of the second-best ERA in the National League, trailing only one other man: the Giants own Ryan Vogelsong.

There are also the two hard-throwing lefties with devastating breaking balls: Jonathan Sanchez and Gio Gonzalez. While Gio has had a more consistent career, Sanchez turned in a 13-9 record with a 3.07 ERA and 205 strikeouts in 2010, leading the league at just 6.6 hits allowed per nine innings. Gonzalez this year leads all Major Leaguers at just 6.8 hits per nine.

Meanwhile, Madison Bumgarner, who was called up as a rookie in June that year, posted a 7-6 record with an even 3.00 ERA over 111.0 innings pitched in 18 starts. Fellow southpaw Ross Detwiler, in his first full-time starting role, has gone 6-5 with a 3.18 ERA in 116.0 innings, having made his 18th start on Sunday in Arizona.

Adam LaRoche has matched Aubrey Huff’s 2010 production and leadership for the Nats this season.

There was also a veteran first baseman by the name of Aubrey Huff who put the 2010 Giants on his back, quietly producing the best overall offensive season on the club. He bashed a team-high 26 home runs and drove in 86, also best on the club. His left-handed power bat, hitting between righties Buster Posey and Pat Burrell, kept opposing pitching staffs honest.

The Nationals, meanwhile, have Adam LaRoche who leads all NL first basemen with 23 home runs, while sharing the lead with 75 RBI. Both performances are well-known and well-loved by their respective fan bases, but are fairly under-the-radar nationally.

A big reason they are overlooked is the performance of each team’s dynamic rookies. With the hype that surrounded Bryce Harper’s debut, it is easy to forget just how loudly Giants fans were clamoring for Posey in 2010. After making a cameo as a September call-up in 2009, he began the year at Triple-A, and the fans in San Francisco grew more and more restless until his promotion in late May. His brought much more than just his bat to the team – much like Harper – injecting the club with a shot of adrenaline that pushed the club forward.

But while both teams’ pitching staffs stand out on the stat sheet and their marquee rookies are fan and media favorites, it is how they win games in late, dramatic fashion that makes them so much alike. It could be argued that the two dynamics are very much interrelated, that the ability for the starters to shut down opposing offenses often leads to close contests and late-game theatrics. But regardless of the reason, the results are undeniable.

San Francisco’s 2010 campaign was “There’s Magic Inside,” a proclamation that turned out to be prophetic as the Giants raced all the way to a world championship. The Nationals have yet to see how far their Natitude will carry them, but at 71-44, they own the best record in the Major Leagues entering a huge three-game showdown in the City by the Bay, beginning Monday night.

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