Stellar pitching foundation for Giants' playoff run

Stellar pitching foundation for Giants' playoff run

SAN FRANCISCO -- Amid the happy mayhem of the Giants' clubhouse, general manager Brian Sabean was explaining to a handful of reporters what distinguished his team.

"Our organization is built on pitching," Sabean said.

As if anybody needed a reminder.

Pitching has been the currency of baseball since the game's inception, but it became a more valued commodity for the Giants when they moved into their bayside ballpark in 2000. It was then called Pacific Bell Park, and it's now known as AT&T Park. By any name, the outfield is spacious and home runs often die in the wind -- that's right, wind, though it's not as extreme as Candlestick Park, the Giants' previous home.

Standout staffs
Best team ERA in the National League
Rank Team ERA
1. San Francisco Giants 3.36
2. San Diego Padres 3.39
3. Atlanta Braves 3.56
4. St. Louis Cardinals 3.57
5. Philadelphia Phillies 3.67
6. New York Mets 3.70
7. Los Angeles Dodgers 4.01
8. Cincinnati Reds 4.01
9. Florida Marlins 4.08
10. Houston Astros 4.09

It's a pitcher's paradise, and the Giants have capitalized on this by building a formidable staff that propelled the club to the National League West title.

After finishing second in the NL with a 3.55 ERA last season, the Giants topped that category with a 3.36 figure this year.

"Our pitching is the best in baseball right now," said relief ace Brian Wilson, whose 48 saves matched the single-season franchise record Rod Beck set in 1993.

It's difficult to argue with him.

The members of San Francisco's starting rotation didn't miss a turn this year, reflecting their durability and health. Tim Lincecum is the NL's two-time reigning Cy Young Award winner. Matt Cain was an All-Star last year and the rotation's most consistent performer in the second half.

Barry Zito won the American League Cy Young Award in 2002. Jonathan Sanchez threw a no-hitter last year and struck out 205 batters in 193 1/3 innings this season. Rookie Madison Bumgarner was promoted from Triple-A Fresno in late June and displayed a veteran's poise as he posted a 7-6 mark with a 3.00 ERA.

The bullpen had no weak links, as bullpens often do. Giants relievers compiled a 0.90 ERA from Sept. 1 on. Wilson, a two-time All-Star, enjoyed his best year -- he finished with a 1.81 ERA and racked up 93 strikeouts to only 26 walks in 74 2/3 innings. Sergio Romo enjoyed a strong all-around season, with a 5-3 record, 2.18 ERA, 70 strikeouts and 14 walks in 62 innings. Santiago Casilla, inconsistent during parts of six seasons with Oakland, fashioned a 1.95 ERA in 52 appearances. Ramon Ramirez and Javier Lopez have excelled since being acquired at the Trade Deadline, sporting ERAs of 0.67 and 1.42, respectively.

"This bullpen saved us," said manager Bruce Bochy.

"The bullpen's pretty special," Zito said. "It's given Bochy the opportunity to let the starters go six innings, at times five innings, and know that he can go six-seven-eight-nine with the bullpen. That's pretty rare. Sometimes you have a good closer and a good setup guy, but we have about three or four setup guys and an outstanding closer."

Combined, the starters and relievers were overwhelming -- particularly late in the season.

After an 11-3 loss to Arizona on Aug. 28, Sabean and Bochy spoke privately with the starting pitchers, who were 5-13 with a 5.56 ERA in the month by that point. Sabean and Bochy reminded the starters in no uncertain terms that the team's success, or lack of it, rested with them.

The staff responded admirably. San Francisco recorded a 1.78 ERA in September, the lowest for any club in any month of 20 or more games since the 1968 Indians posted a 1.42 ERA in May. It also was the best September ERA since the 1965 Dodgers recorded a 1.59 figure.

Sabean credits the assembly of the Giants' staff to Dick Tidrow, the club's vice president of player personnel, whose skill at evaluating pitching talent is widely respected.

With Tidrow's help, the Giants have used all available avenues to build their staff.

The First-Year Player Draft has been especially fruitful. Cain was a first-round choice in 2002, the same year the Giants last participated in the World Series. Wilson was an '03 draftee. Other valuable selections were Sanchez in '04 and Romo in '05. The real bonanza occurred from 2006-07, when the Giants' No. 1 Draft picks were, in succession, Lincecum and Bumgarner.

Jeremy Affeldt and Casilla were among the club's free-agent pickups. Trades brought not only Lopez and Ramirez, but also Chris Ray, the former Baltimore closer, who went 3-0 with a save in 28 appearances.

"We didn't pitch well in August, but because of those guys, we didn't go into a long tailspin," said pitching coach Dave Righetti.

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.