Giants mastering art of deception

Castrovince: Giants masters of deception

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants, as has been the case often this season, made a bunch of lineup changes before Game 4 of the National League Championship Series against the Phillies.

No, Smoke didn't bat leadoff and Mirrors didn't bat cleanup. But with the way this club keeps winning with a lineup that is greater than the sum of its parts, it sure felt that way.

That manager Bruce Bochy inserted the 34-year-old Edgar Renteria, playing with a completely torn tendon in his left biceps and considering retirement at year's end, into the leadoff spot for just the fourth time this year reeked of panic.

Then again, Bochy had no other reasonable alternatives. That kind of reeks, too.


Of course, if you've been following along all year, you probably could have guessed what happened. Not only did Renteria deliver a table-setting hit, but the Giants came through with three RBI singles off Cole Hamels -- two that kicked off second baseman Chase Utley's glove and all three with two outs. Matt Cain basically took care of the rest.

Ballgame. Giants 3, Phillies 0.

They've been winning this way all year.

"We've had a bunch of different lineups, every day, all year," hitting coach Hensley Meulens said. "With our guys, it doesn't matter who plays. Everybody is on the same page. Whoever is in there is trying to do the best he can to score those three or four runs that we need."

They only need three or four runs, of course, because of their prodigious pitching. All the talk entering this series was about the Phillies' big three of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Hamels. But as the Giants have proven, it's best not to overlook what Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez and Cain bring to the equation.

Thanks to their robust rotation and bullish bullpen, the Giants were able to capture the NL West despite scoring just 697 runs this season, the ninth-most in the NL. Consider that when the Giants actually gathered together three runs or more, they went 80-24, the best such record in the Majors.

The lone exception to the season trend came in three "Where did that come from?" days in late August, when the Giants scored a total of 38 runs in three games against the Reds.

"That was," Meulens deadpans, "our offensive outburst for the year."

This formula in which a little goes a long way is nirvana for the purists.

For the rest? Pain.

"There's a reason they call it 'Giants baseball: Torture,'" said Aubrey Huff, who led this club with 86 RBIs in the season proper and came through with another big run-scoring hit on this day. "It's unbelievable how many games this postseason we've been no-hit into the fourth or fifth inning. That [we've stayed in those games] just shows how good our pitching is. And we'll scratch and claw to get a few runs in for them."

The Giants have yet to score more than four runs in a game this postseason. You have to go all the way back to Sept. 25 to find the last time they achieved that monumental milestone (naturally, they lost that one, 10-9, to the Rockies). They've scored five or more just 27 times since the All-Star break.

But with a combination of small ball and big blasts, the wins keep coming. Even if they come by just one run, which was the case in each of the Division Series wins over the Braves.

Home runs didn't play a factor in Game 3, but they help. The Giants had a .684 winning percentage in games in which they hit at least one homer this season. When they didn't go deep? A .391 mark.

"You know, you've got Freddy Sanchez, who can do the little things," said veteran Mark DeRosa, whose season was cut short by a wrist injury but who remains a highly interested observer. "But besides that, you've got eight guys who are dangerous. If you make a mistake, the ball can leave the yard. For a pitcher, if you get on a roll, that can be an easy lineup to go through. But if not, we're going to pop a few."

Indeed, on the whole, this is not a lineup that inspires a great deal of fear in the hearts of men. (Cody Ross might be the lone exception to that rule, right now.)

But it's a total team effort. That unquantifiable and indefinable ability to do just enough to back up the pitcher of record.

"People don't realize how good these guys are," Meulens said, "until they get in a spotlight like this."

Two wins away from the World Series, the Giants are firmly in the spotlight. And it's becoming increasingly difficult to doubt that they'll do just enough to get to that next level.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, CastroTurf. Follow @castrovince on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.