Sat on my sofa shortly before midnight, I watched Dominic Leone strikeout Eric Hosmer to seal the Giants’ 107th victory and their first NL West title since 2012. Buster Posey, behind home plate, raised up from his squat with his fists in the air as the dugout emptied onto the field. Celebrations began on the mound, players huddled together in jubilation, whilst hugs and high fives were shared between the coaches.
Thousands of miles away, still glued to my sofa, I was beaming like a Cheshire cat. I had that feeling of pride you get only when your sports team creates a cherished memory. Oh, how I wished I was there at the ballpark, among that triumphant sea of orange and black.
Even the most optimistic of Giants fans couldn’t have imagined this. We hoped for a positive year, sure, and would have loved to see a playoff race that stretched late into September. To be in the fight, in the hunt, that would have been great. I would’ve been satisfied.
But nobody of sound mind saw this group and said, “that’s a 100-win team right there.”
And yet, against the odds, these Giants put together the most successful regular season in the franchise’s storied history. 107 wins, 55 losses, an NL West title delivered on the final day. They were pushed all the way by the Dodgers but LA’s streak of eight division championships is over.
In 2021, San Francisco was home to the best team in baseball.
The best team in baseball. The 2021 Giants are the textbook example of what a team can achieve, a truly collective effort. Held together by aging veterans, revival projects on one-year deals, and other team’s cast-offs, this group shocked the league out of the gate and kept on shocking them all season long.
How did they do it?
241 home runs certainly helped. In a pitcher’s park no less. Nobody slugged more in the National League. It was the highest single-season total in Giants’ history. And yet, no individual hit more than 29.
But this Giants team is so much more than pure power.
Begin with the veterans, the core of those championship teams from the last decade, who each enjoyed an age-defying renaissance. To see Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt roll back the years brought joy to every Giants fan.
Posey, having missed 2020 after opting out during the pandemic, began the season with perhaps the most uncertainty around him. What did he have left? Would he be healthy? Posey quickly dispelled those concerns and put together an outstanding campaign. The catcher slashed an incredible .302/.388/.499 (BA/OBP/SLG) with 18 home runs for a 140 wRC+. His .886 OPS was the highest since his 2012 MVP year. Posey proved that even at 34-years-old he is still among the elite catchers in the game.
On the season’s final day, with the Giants in need of a win to clinch the division, Posey’s two-run single with the bases loaded provided the foundation for victory. Farhan Zaidi, President of Baseball Operations and general mastermind of the entire show, was quoted saying it was, “the biggest moment in a season with many moments.”
Crawford is the biggest success story of the year, becoming a legitimate MVP candidate who carried the Giants for much of the season. No longer content to be one of the elite defensive shortstops in the sport, Crawford exploded for the best offensive year of his career: .299/.374/.524 with 24 home runs, 90 RBI, 11 stolen bases and a 5.3 fWAR. He obliterated his previous career-high in almost every offensive category. Crawford has been among my favourite Giants for the longest time and seeing him dominate at the plate was one of the best storylines all year. It felt like every time I wore my Crawford jersey, he homered; I should have worn it more than 24 times, in hindsight.
Belt, our captain, delivered arguably the most impressive season of his Giants career: he hit .274/.378/.597 with a career-best 29 homers for a remarkable 158 wRC+. His excellent defence at first base, combined with that devastating swing, made him one of the key factors to the Giants’ success. I never tired of seeing Belt drop his bat after another monster home run. Belt powered San Francisco down the stretch and the Giants will surely miss him in the postseason, after he broke his thumb with just days of the regular season remaining.
This trio’s impact was undoubtedly significant but they didn’t do it alone. They were supported by a Giants roster that boasted immense depth, the likes of which has never been seen before in San Francisco.
LaMonte Wade Jr., acquired from the Twins in a February trade unheralded at the time, proved to be a masterful addition. Late Night LaMonte, as he will forever be known, developed into the Giants’ most clutch hitter: Wade had six game-tying or go-ahead hits in the ninth inning this year, the most of any MLB player in the last 40 years, and batted .571 in the ninth inning or beyond. A hero was born in the Bay Area, and Wade deservedly took home the Willie Mac award (presented annually to the Giants’ most inspirational player).
The involvement of Darin Ruf (.271/.385/.519, 16 HR, 144 wRC+), Wilmer Flores (18 HR, 113 wRC+), Mike Yastrzemski (25 HR), Kris Bryant (7 HR, 22 RBI, 13 doubles and 6 stolen bases post-trade), and a host of other deserving names cannot be underestimated either. Their excellent performances kept this squad moving forward. Special mention must also go to Curt Casali, the Giants’ backup catcher who masterfully controlled the pitching staff on Posey’s rest days.
Speaking of the pitching staff, the Giants would not have dethroned their arch-rivals in Los Angeles without their superb rotation and bullpen.
Kevin Gausman, Logan Webb, Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood, Johnny Cueto and others combined for a 3.44 ERA, third-best in the majors. Gausman and Webb were particularly strong, forming a dominant duo atop the rotation.
Gausman (192.0 IP, 2.81 ERA, 4.8 fWAR) was appointed the Giants’ ace in the spring and lived up to the title. Over 33 starts Gausman proved to be one of the top pitchers in the NL, and will undoubtedly receive Cy Young award consideration. His 227 strikeouts ranked fourth among all NL pitchers, thanks to that unbelievable splitter. Gausman was the total package; his 11th inning walk-off sac-fly against Atlanta was a highlight many fans will not soon forget.
He had competition for the role of ace in the form of Webb, who developed into the Giants’ most dominant starter by September. Webb (148.1 IP, 3.03 ERA, 4.1 fWAR) got better as the season progressed and capped off a stellar year with victory against the Padres on the final day, in the Giants’ biggest game. He smashed his first career home run as well, proving pitchers can rake too.
— SFGiants (@SFGiants) October 4, 2021
DeSclafani was the Giants’ biggest surprise package. San Francisco’s front office knew exactly what they were doing when they made the veteran starter an early offseason target. Signed to a one-year deal in mid-December 2020, Disco proved to be far more valuable than the $6 million the Giants paid him. DeSclafani (167.2 IP, 3.17 ERA, 3.0 fWAR) punished hitters with his signature slider and renewed changeup, and was regularly the rotation’s most dependable man.
A good rotation needs a competent bullpen to get the job done and the Giants were blessed with such a group. San Francisco’s relief staff proved themselves to be more than competent, establishing themselves as one of the best bullpens in the game. They combined to record an MLB-best 2.99 ERA.
Jake McGee collected an impressive 31 saves and Tyler Rogers appeared in 80 games, the most relief appearances in the NL. Together they formed an often unbeatable partnership. Supporting them was Dominic Leone (1.30 ERA in 53 games), another low-cost, high-reward addition, and the rookie flamethrower Camilo Doval, whose poise and composure were so crucial in the final weeks. Jarlin Garcia, Jose Alvarez and Zack Littell all contributed in key spots as well, throwing over 60 innings each.
Finally, enormous credit must go to manager Gabe Kapler and his talented coaching staff. Despite early adversity in his Giants’ tenure, Kapler has proven himself to be an astute hire and led this team to a place in the history books. His influence cannot be understated. Farhan Zaidi must also be applauded for putting this all together: In Farhan we trust.
2021 will be remembered in San Francisco as one of the greatest seasons ever, regardless of what follows in the playoffs. Fans are obviously dreaming of the World Series, myself included, and there’s no doubt this roster has the talent to win it all.
Perhaps the Giants can go all the way and make 2021 even more memorable, and raise a banner in the new year. That is yet to be determined, but let us not forget or neglect the journey that led us here.
Savour this Giants fans, revel in this moment.
This is a special group, and this was a special year.
Ash Day covers the San Francisco Giants as part of the growing team of writers at Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @AshDay29