Who needs home runs when you have triples?

September 17, 2012, 7:39 pm
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PHOENIX Barring a fairly seismic collapse andor an unanticipated power surge, the Giants are on the verge of accomplishing something unprecedented in the live-ball era.

They would become just the fifth team in the last 78 years to reach the postseason despite hitting the fewest home runs in the major leagues.

The 1987 St. Louis Cardinals were the last team to do it. Whitey Herzogs 82 Cardinals, too. Then you have the 1965 Los Angeles Dodgers and the 1959 White Sox.

And thats it. After the Go-Go Sox, you have to go back to the 1924 Washington Senators -- and thats when the ball was deader than dead.

So what makes these Giants unprecedented, you say? Well, those other four teams led their league in stolen bases. By a wide margin, too. The current Giants, by comparison, have stolen just six bases above the NL average.

The Giants do not have Vince Coleman, who swiped 109 bases in 87, or Lonnie Smith, who stole 68 in 82. They do not have Maury Wills, who led the majors with 94 steals while scratching out all the runs Koufax and Drysdale would need. Luis Aparicio also led the majors with 59 steals in 59, when he and Nellie Fox legged the Go-Go theme all the way from the South Side to the World Series.

So how are the Giants doing it with just 89 home runs? How are they scoring enough not only to support their pitchers, but to bail them out as their arms have softened up a bit in the second half?

Well, Ive got to give a lot of credit to the guys at the top of the order, said cleanup Buster Posey, who was too modest to mention that hes hitting nearly .400 since the All-Star break.

Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro, since he came over here, have been huge, and you cant forget how (Gregor) Blanco and (Ryan) Theriot contributed, especially earlier in the season. And with Pagan, youre talking about a guy who set a triples record. Hes not just getting on base. Hes hitting the ball with authority. Hes in scoring position and were getting him in. That has something to do with it, I think.

After tying and passing Willie Mays on the last road trip, Pagans 13 triples stand as the most in the Giants San Francisco era. Its one more than the New York Yankees have hit as a team this season.

As you might suspect, the Giants 51 triples lead the major leagues. That partly explains how, despite their major league-low 89 home runs, have a respectable .392 slugging percentage just a shade below the .401 average for NL clubs.

But those home runs.oh, those home runs are nice, arent they?

The Giants, as mentioned, have hit just 89. The only other team with fewer than 100 home runs is the Dodgers, and theyve hit 99. So itll take some doing in these final 16 games for the Giants to avoid bringing up the rear in roundtrippers when the season ends.

That only tells part of the story, of course. The Giants arent so power-deprived on the road. Theyve hit 67 in grays -- more than the Dodgers, the Rockies and seven other major league clubs.

At home? Well, everyone knows that part by now. The Giants have hit just 22 home runs in 71 home games at AT&T Park, and if that sounds paltry well, it is. The Padres have hit the next fewest at home, with 42 homers at Petco Park almost doubling the Giants total.

More perspective on that: Detroits Miguel Cabrera has hit more home runs at Comerica Park (24) than the Giants have hit as a team at home. (And in case you were curious, those triples-averse Yankees lead the majors with 121 home runs in the Bronx.)

But heres the interesting part: The Giants have come to terms with this. Whereas past players (and some former coaches, too) grumbled over the 420-foot crown in right-center field, the heavy air and the breeze through the archways, this lineup has made its peace with China Basin.

Sure, its the ballpark, said Posey, who has hit six of his 22 home runs at AT&T Park. It is what it is. Your goal as a ballplayer, wherever you are, is to be consistent. Another goal is to control what you can control. Thats half the battle in this game.

The other half is waged from 60 feet, 6 inches. And on that front, Bochy likes what hes seen.

You look at the club and were more athletic, Bochy said. Were quicker. In 2010, sure, we hit more home runs. But this team can go first to third, first to home. And the other thing that needed to happen is were getting quality at-bats and executing. Its been our best year as far as getting guys over and getting them in. The timely hits in the second half, were getting them. Thats the only way its gonna work when you dont hit home runs.

They found a way to amplify those skills even after Aug. 15, when Melky Cabrera was suspended for a positive drug test. Cabrera was leading the majors in hits and runs at the time. He was the poster child for the Giants offensive philosophy. The poster came down, but the Giants found a way to wallpaper it over.

Ive never been on a team thats been through something like that, Posey told me. I didnt know what to expect, to tell you the truth. So I think everybody should be happy with how they handled it. I mean, really, what choice did we have?

There might be no better choice to hit cleanup on this team, as its constructed, than Posey. Hes not a masher in the typical mold of a No. 4 hitter. But home runs, strange as it sounds, have a way of stopping rallies. Posey is more likely to serve an RBI single to right field or line a double to the gap -- and keep the pitcher in the stretch, the better to wear him down a little further.

Were having lots of rallies, said No. 5 hitter Hunter Pence, who owns 34 RBIs on 38 hits. Crazy, crazy rallies.

The Giant dont have electrifying speed like those Cardinals teams. But special assistant Shawon Dunston, who saw an awful lot of Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee, Tommy Herr and Co. during his playing days for the Chicago Cubs, sees some resemblance between them and these Giants.

Defense, for one, Dunston said. Nah, they didnt make errors. A ball in the gap was cut off. They covered ground. And they were a team you feared, power or no power. They werent all slap hitters, either. And going first to third thats a beautiful thing. Thats how they played. It was runners at first and third every time.

They knew what they were about and they were not embarrassed because they did not hit home runs.

Know thyself. Its not just a macram wall hanging.

Somehow, this years Giants team has found acceptance where so many other clubs found frustration. They arent trying to overpower the big yard at Third and King or gobble up numbers on the road, knowing they cant hit for power at home.

They are not hot to trot.

You know, I just think the goal is to win ballgames and weve got a good group of guys who have that common goal, Posey said. Thats what makes this game fun.