Injuries made Giants' title defense unsuccessful

Injuries made Giants' title defense unsuccessful

Injuries made Giants' title defense unsuccessful
SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants needed 56 years to end their championship drought.

They needed only one more season to build a story that, in some ways, eclipsed their 2010 World Series-winning campaign for improbability.

The Giants used the disabled list a whopping 25 times, more than they had in any year since 1987. The contingent of injured Giants included many key performers such as catcher Buster Posey, second baseman Freddy Sanchez, third baseman Pablo Sandoval, left-hander Jonathan Sanchez, right-handers Brian Wilson and Sergio Romo, and outfielders Cody Ross, Carlos Beltran, Andres Torres, Pat Burrell and Nate Schierholtz.

But as manager Bruce Bochy repeated at various stages through the season, "This club is tough and resilient."

In fact, for most of the summer, the Giants appeared destined to return to the postseason. They owned a 61-44 record and a four-game lead in the National League West on July 28, the date they finished winning two of three games at Philadelphia. Beltran had just been acquired from the Mets to fortify the offense. Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum had reaffirmed their place among the league's pitching elite by defeating the Phillies. Clearly, the Giants were ascending.

What a distorted perception.

The Giants lost eight of nine games after leaving Philadelphia, upsetting their equilibrium. They scored two runs or fewer in seven of those defeats, reflecting their season-long offensive woes. Lincecum defeated the Phillies at home on Aug. 7 to end this stretch, but Beltran hurt his right hand that afternoon and ultimately went on the DL. Three days later, the Giants fell out of first place for good.

The fortunes of Aubrey Huff provided all you needed to know about this year's Giants. Among the position players who appeared in the March 31 season opener at Los Angeles, Huff was the only one who avoided the disabled list. He was the lone Giant to play enough to qualify for the batting title. And entering the season's final week, his batting average hadn't exceeded .250 since April 19.

Here's a summary of the Giants' year:

Record: 86-76, second in NL West.

Defining moment: The sight of Posey clawing at the dirt near home plate in sheer agony was excruciating. The date was May 25, the scene was the 12th inning at AT&T Park, and the incident featured Florida's Scott Cousins sliding home to score a tiebreaking run on Emilio Bonifacio's sacrifice fly. Except this was no ordinary slide. Cousins crashed into Posey, who had stepped in front of home plate to take Schierholtz's throw and attempt a sweeping tag. Posey anchored himself by planting his left knee, ensuring that the collision would have a disastrous result: a broken lower left leg and torn ligaments in his ankle, sidelining him for the season. The reigning NL Rookie of the Year Award winner had just begun to find his offensive form, extending his hitting streak to 13 games. Losing Posey not only weakened the Giants' offense but drained the team's spirit. The Giants actually occupied first place for all but nine days through Aug. 10 after Posey's injury. But scoring remained an issue. And though pre-Trade Deadline acquisitions Beltran, Jeff Keppinger and Orlando Cabrera thrived at times, they weren't a cure-all.

What went right: San Francisco maintained championship-caliber pitching for a third consecutive season. Starters Lincecum, Cain and Ryan Vogelsong made the All-Star team, as did closer Wilson. Completing his first full Major League season, Madison Bumgarner performed just as well as the aforementioned starters, despite losing his first six decisions. This quartet was largely responsible for the Giants' ranking among the Major League leaders in ERA, strikeouts, quality starts and opponents' batting average. Lincecum, Cain and Bumgarner posted records hovering around .500, which could be entirely attributed to poor run support. San Francisco also relied heavily upon its deep bullpen. Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez, Guillermo Mota, Ramon Ramirez and Romo joined Wilson to forge a unit that remained virtually airtight all season. Romo amazed observers with his ridiculously impressive double-digit strikeout-to-walk ratio. Casilla filled in handsomely as the closer when Wilson missed 31 games with a strained throwing elbow.

What went wrong: It usually occurred during the Giants' turn to hit. They remained one of the Majors' lowest-scoring teams all season. San Francisco's flaws were all-encompassing: The top of the order generated scant offense and the heart of the order beat irregularly. Huff endured a season-long slump, Ross wrestled with inconsistency and Torres fell far short of his 2010 production. Aaron Rowand and Miguel Tejada frustrated management so much that they were released on Aug. 31. But the Giants' myriad of injuries provided a legitimate excuse for the offensive woes. Posey's departure created a huge void. So did the dislocated right shoulder sustained by Sanchez, who was lost for the season on June 10. Sandoval developed into the club's best all-around hitter, but only after missing 40 games with a fractured hamate bone and the accompanying surgery.

Biggest surprise: Vogelsong's renaissance was unexpected, coming after a journeyman career that featured a trade from the Giants to Pittsburgh in 2001, spending 2007-09 in Japan and dividing 2010 between the Angels and Phillies in Triple-A. Vogelsong pitched impressively for the Giants as a non-roster invitee to Spring Training, was promoted to San Francisco after Barry Zito sprained his right foot in mid-April, then resuscitated his career while winning nine of his first 10 decisions.

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