The Washington Nationals won four road games to earn their first world championship in franchise history and in doing so stopped the Houston Astros from claiming their second title in three seasons. The conventional wisdom was that by winning that second title, they’d be in contention for team of the decade.
Hmm . . . two titles in three seasons. Where have I . . . where have we seen . . .
. . . yes, and . . .
. . . ahh, that’s it!
Oh, but wait . . . what’s this?
That’s three in five seasons. Does that mean the Giants had a better 10-year run than the Astros? Why, it sure does, folks. They were more successful than every other team.
The Dodgers won nearly 100 more regular season games and a lot more playoff games, but no championships. The Yankees won more games than anybody, but no championships. The Red Sox won 50+ more games but had just two titles. And for all the talk of the Astros potentially being the team of the decade, they won 31 more games than the Royals over the course of the decade, and like the Royals, have just one championship. There were 12 teams with better records than the Giants and they combined for four World Series wins.
The Giants won three, as you’ll recall.
So, embrace it. The Giants are the team of the decade. Their most successful decade since moving to San Francisco. They were the Warriors before the Warriors were the Warriors, and they’re part of the reason why the Warriors moved from Oakland to San Francisco. They’re also the reason teams believe they can use their best starters in high leverage playoff situations, thanks to Madison Bumgarner’s World Series Game 7 performance.
But what is the Team of the Decade? And does it really matter? No, it actually doesn’t. And yet, as time passes, teams do become associated with eras. At the turn of the century, ESPN did this weird retrospective where they put together hypothetical games between NFL teams of the decade. The 1970s Steelers. The 1980s 49ers. The . . . I can’t remember the other teams. Essentially, they took what they felt were the best teams of their eras and fake played them against each other. And that was fun, but ultimately, a trifle, right?
What does it mean that the
Braves Yankees were the team of the nineties and the Red Sox were the team of the aughts? At the very least, it reflects a life-changing experience for everyone involved (I’m including we fans in this). Generally, though, it means the team reflects its era best. Yeah, we are in the age of juiced home run balls, but that’s a late-decade development.
The Giants’ early decade success has surely been thwarted by the democratization of Statcast, but remember that they were one of the first teams to incorporate the on-field laser tracking for defense. Their emergence as a force came about because of the young pitching they’d drafted and developed, and the core of the lineup was based on the same success, with some savvy veteran adds where needed.
The Giants did everything a successful team does to become a champion, and in the 2010s, their planning, development, and flat out luck — the series of events that led from Jose Guillen to Cody Ross will always stagger me if I think about it for too long — raised them above the fray. You might even say far beyond.
They didn’t win seven consecutive division titles or post three consecutive 100+-win seasons, nor were they the most recognizable franchise on planet Earth (Yankees) or the darling of most TV writers and film directors (Red Sox), they were just a three-time world champion with a heap of league-leading talent. It wasn’t just Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner making lasting memories. Remember the 2012 All-Star Game?
The Giants were so good and so unconventional in how they were good — singles, doubles, and infield hits, and far from league-leading on base percentages! — that they were villains. They got all the benefits of Melky Cabrera’s first half in 2012 (he was an All-Star starter), and none of the negatives of his PED suspension. Barry Zito beat Justin Verlander in the World Series after the Giants rallied from 0-2 and 1-3 deficits in the DS and CS before it.
They did everything the great teams have done, but they were never flashy, they were never the on-paper absolute best. Misfits, cockroaches, and a revolving cast of second basemen finally moved the franchise beyond its old persona of Barry Bonds and the Giants to the World Champion San Francisco Giants. We all saw it.
For those reading this who strenuously disagree, consider this: most of what the Giants did to setup their decade of success began in the decade prior. Tim Lincecum had won his two Cy Youngs before 2010. Madison Bumgarner was drafted in 2007. Buster Posey was drafted in 2008. Pablo Sandoval was signed in 2003. So, plenty of teams are setup to be the team of the 2020s.
And there are no doubt many people, perhaps thousands, who prefer to measure success by the processes that have been established. The “process over results” crowd knows what we know: you can’t predict baseball, so they place more value in the thinking and action before the game than what happens on the field. We all prefer order over chaos, but no team walks onto the field without some sort of process. The Giants didn’t make it up as they went along. They executed their vision. It never aligned with conventional wisdom or cutting edge paradigm, but it was a process they determined could lead to success.
They were right.
The thing is, it happened. The Giants were the best team of the 2010s.