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Competitive mentality keeps pesky Giants winning

Competitive mentality keeps pesky Giants winning

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Competitive mentality keeps pesky Giants winning
SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants' success remains steeped in their starting pitching. But they needed other sources to guarantee a return to October baseball.

Eight of the 12 members of the 2010 World Series-winning postseason roster who remain on the team are pitchers, including three starters: Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum. Another, Barry Zito, was on the 2010 club all season but was left off the postseason roster.

"It's tough to get consistent starting pitching in the Major Leagues," said left-handed reliever Javier Lopez, one of the 2010 holdovers. "When you have it, you can see what it can do. It can always keep you in the ballgame."

Elsewhere, new backbeats can be heard.

Catcher Buster Posey is at once a constant and a fresh ingredient. The National League Rookie of the Year Award he won in 2010 reflected his influence, but he missed most of last season with extensive left leg injuries. It's no surprise that Posey is contributing this year; that he's doing so as an NL Most Valuable Player Award candidate is a bonus.

"I don't know that we're known for any real star quality, [though] Buster has been incredibly fortuitous for us and brilliant in his play," said general manager Brian Sabean, the club's architect.

"It's a team effort," Sabean added.

To form that team, the Giants simultaneously evolved and adjusted since their last postseason appearance two years ago.

Like any good organization, they relied on development. Shortstop Brandon Crawford and first baseman Brandon Belt, drafted respectively in 2008 and '09, proved essential as the club jelled.

The Giants reached out to get what they wanted. Sabean traded for center fielder Angel Pagan during the offseason, signed outfielder Gregor Blanco and infielder Joaquin Arias as Minor League free agents and obtained infielder Marco Scutaro and right fielder Hunter Pence shortly before the non-waiver Trade Deadline on July 31.

The Giants needed these additions to survive offensively and avoid wasting their superlative pitching. They subsisted on a starvation diet of 570 runs last year, down from 697 in 2010. This year, they're on pace to score 723 runs -- a barely adequate total, but an obvious improvement.

"We have remnants from the 2010 team that won the World Series, we have some other veterans who have been around the block and we have some young guys coming into their own," Sabean said. "So it's a very diverse group."

It's also a unified group. Cain observed that the players the Giants add usually blend in seamlessly.

"It has a lot to do with chemistry," Cain said. "They've done a great job of adding good pieces. It's not just good players that they've added. It's also players who are good in the clubhouse and good just in general. That has a lot to do with things. Because ... you get some 'I' guys and stuff.

"This is a group of guys [that isn't] that way. You enjoy the attention at times, but it's not one guy and the team. It's everybody trying to find ways to do it together."

The Giants have followed that approach more often than not through four consecutive winning seasons. "Pulling on the same rope" is a phrase that players occasionally use to describe this mindset. Winning it all in 2010 didn't soften the Giants' outlook. If anything, it made them more acutely aware of the challenges inherent in trying to become a champion.

"There's an understanding of how hard it is and how much discipline it takes," said left-hander Jeremy Affeldt, who joined the Giants in 2009.

"It's the same mentality, the same mindset, the same goal and really, the same concept all the way around," said right-hander Sergio Romo, a homegrown Giant who reached the Majors in 2008. "You learn so much from what we've done in the past and you use that to relate to what's going on now."

Sabean likes to say that other teams might possess more talent than the Giants, but they don't compete as well. This is not just the platitude of a front-office executive. It defines who the Giants are.

"There's just a winning mentality here. For one thing, there's an understanding that the game's probably going to be close," Affeldt said. "But we also know, in that understanding, that we compete and expect to win. Our starting pitchers don't go out to give it their best try. They go out there to win. I think the bullpen has the same feeling. It doesn't always work out, but we have that mentality."

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

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