Giants have challenges ahead, but don’t bet against them 

click to enlarge Catcher Buster Posey, left, brings strong leadership and offensive production to the three-time World Series champions. Posey is one of several players who have been on all three championship teams. - CHARLIE RIEDEL/2014 AP FILE PHOTO
  • Charlie Riedel/2014 ap file photo
  • Catcher Buster Posey, left, brings strong leadership and offensive production to the three-time World Series champions. Posey is one of several players who have been on all three championship teams.

Editor's note: Aubrey Huff was a member of the 2010 and 2012 Giants teams that captured their first World Series titles in the Bay Area. He currently is an assistant baseball coach at Canyon Crest Academy in San Diego. Here, the former first baseman-outfielder addresses the challenges ahead for the team in its repeat bid this season.

When people ask me if the Giants can repeat, I have a quick response. Of course they can. They did it last year with the same team by and large.

After what happened last year, I'll be the last person to write the Giants off. While I was doing radio in the San Francisco area, they were in the middle of a train wreck of a season. We talked about them constantly. The A's were rolling, and the Giants were playing miserably. Everybody was writing them off. They were done. They were toast. I kept telling everybody, "Hey, this is a long season. You can't get caught up in it." I sang that same tune over and over again. A lot of people don't understand that baseball an everyday deal. Because there are so many of them, a major-league game doesn't count as much as an NFL game or an NBA game. I said, "You've just got to stay positive." Boy, was I right. In tough times, you've got to stay resilient, and this team has that. It's battle-tested. It's experienced.

This Giants team also has proven winners like Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey. Matt Cain is back. Hopefully, Timmy Lincecum can bounce back with him. Jake Peavy, Tim Hudson and Ryan Vogelsong are up there in age, but they're bulldogs. Hunter Pence's injury is worrisome to me because he's the heart of the offense. Buster leads by example, Hunter leads by passion and his mouth. He backs up his talk. To miss him is big, but Brandon Belt may be able to fill the void at least for a while. He's the kind of guy that, if he stays healthy, the power will start to turn on. If they can stay afloat without Hunter in the first month or so then get him back healthy ... I think you'll see a very good Giants team this season.

Over the years, general manager Brian Sabean has taken a lot of heat unfairly. He didn't do much in the offseason, but you know what? To me, that's brilliant. You won with this group, so bring them back. As the season progresses, you see where you are as a unit. You see where you need to fill holes, and Brian does that.

Teams that blow millions of dollars in the offseason on prized free agents ... how may times does that work? Rarely. A lot of people have given the Washington Nationals all this credit. They're gonna run away with the pennant and march to the World Series. Do they have a great team on paper? Absolutely. But do they have the clubhouse chemistry? Who knows? From my experience, chemistry can be almost as important as talent.

So my advice to the Giants would be to keep the clubhouse tight. That hasn't been a problem in the past. Far from it, in fact. They have a good group of leaders now, and the players have fun with each other a lot like our 2010 championship team. Other than talent, that was the biggest attribute we had — a bond that everybody shared in our clubhouse. By and large, we were just a bunch of guys who nobody else wanted. Pat Burrell had been released. Cody Ross had been on waivers. Basically, I was picked up off the scrap heap from Detroit. With the exception of our stellar pitching staff, from Edgar Renteria to Juan Uribe, we had a bunch of grinders who you would call just baseball players.

That was the common denominator for the 2010 team — we had that "it" factor in the clubhouse. There wasn't a whole lot of "Me, me, me." I've been in a lot of clubhouses where it's a toxic environment, but you certainly didn't feel that in our clubhouse. You can just tell guys who play for themselves and don't care about the success of the team. Their team loses by 10 runs, and these particular individuals gets a couple hits, hit a homer and are as happy as heck. Or they're disappointed when they win and they don't do anything. It's those kind of guys — selfish, obnoxious — who can be found on some teams in numbers, but our team didn't have any.

I tried to take as much of a leadership role on that team as I could that season, but it was a group effort. Andres Torres stepped up and became an inspirational leader for us. When Burrell signed, he instantly became a hit in the clubhouse. He and I gelled and kind of set off each other. Man, the way Freddy Sanchez played every day ... he just played hurt and played sore. Edgar Renteria was the captain of that team in my opinion, even if he didn't play a whole lot in the regular season. When you look at the whole, that's really what carried that team. I wouldn't necessarily say that every one of them was a leader, but every one was an important part of the team as a unit.

The current Giants have a lot of what we had in that regard. Start with Buster. When he came up to the big leagues, he was just a rookie. By the end of the first month, I remember gravitating toward him as a veteran player because of his presence. It's very, very rare for a young player to come in like that, but that's how much of a natural leader he was then and still is today.

With any championship team, you've got to have a manager like Bruce Bochy who every guy respects. He's going to be in the Hall of Fame once day. What impresses me most is Bruce is the master of knowing each player and what that individual needs to be successful. He knows how to push the right buttons. Some guys need a kick in the ass to play well, and he knows what guys need that. Other guys need to be coddled to get the best out of them, and he knows them, too.

Not only did he know his personnel, not so much on the talent side, which he did understand, but his ability to connect on a personal level was the best I've ever seen. When you have a manager like that, you trust him wholeheartedly as a player, no matter if you're on the field or the bench that day. You know exactly where he stands. You trust that he knows what he's doing with the lineup that day. To play for Bruce on two championship teams was a humbling, awesome experience.

A manager like Boch means a world of difference. When I played with the Tampa Bay Rays and the Baltimore Orioles, I had some OK managers. But I never realized what a really good manager was until I got to San Francisco, in the same way that I never knew what a good organization was until I got to San Francisco.

I always thought I was in the big leagues in Tampa Bay and Baltimore. I was like, "Wow! This is pretty cool." Then I got to San Francisco and it was, "Man! I don't think I ever was in the big leagues until I got here!" That's how much different the Giants' organization was from top to button, from the front-office staff to the managers to the players. The way they did business was truly unbelievable. When I hear people say they've had bad experiences in San Francisco, it makes me say, "What? You've got to look in the mirror, man."

So why didn't it work for us in 2011 like it did the previous year? Geez, injuries, dude. When you lose the heart and soul of your lineup like we did in Buster, it's devastating. Pat had a bum foot. Cody had a bad leg. Edgar was gone. I put too much pressure on myself to carry the load and had just an awful, awful year. The pitching was there, but we didn't score enough runs. We lost a huge chunk of our offense in the middle of the order. It was just one of those years when injuries hit us really hard.

Everyone wants to win the World Series, but you know the odds. When you win it all, it leads to more confidence, not pressure. We had no shortage of it even though we fell short in 2011, and I know the current team will have a lot of it to open this season.

When we started the playoffs, every single day, every single game to the last month, was a playoff game seemingly. We played Giants baseball — it was torture, because almost every game was decided by one run or came down to the last at-bat. It was always a grind. Every playoff game is like that, so we were conditioned for 162 games to play in the playoffs. We didn't drub our opponents and they didn't drub us. It was 3-2, 2-1, 1-0 every ... single ... day. When we got to the playoffs, that's what the games were all about, and we knew how to win those games.

I don't advise the Giants to be in a close race if they can help it, but I can't say that a runaway will benefit them, either. How many teams dominate the regular season and then win the World Series? It doesn't happen all that much. The way teams are built nowadays, as young as some teams have gotten, it doesn't work that way anymore. It's more about who can survive close games in the playoffs. Look at the Giants last year. Think about it — they had only one lights-out starter in Madison in the playoffs, to be quite honest. Guys contributed here and there, but Madison was the guy throughout the postseason.

Yet you didn't see any panic on that Giants team. You could tell by the way the players conducted themselves. In the World Series, the biggest difference between the Kansas City Royals and the Giants was, if you looked at the Royals, they were wide-eyed and sweaty. I wouldn't say they looked overmatched, but the moment caught up to them. Then you saw Madison and Buster and guys who looked like they had been there. You know, ho-hum, just another day at the office. You could see the confidence from having been in that position before, and that carries a lot of weight.

That is really all there is to it, man. You don't have to have the best players to be the best team. I've seen that way too often. What you need are guys who believe in each other, grinders who may not have the most talent but have the heart, the will and the desire to go out there every day and play for the guy next them, not themselves. That's what winning is all about to me.

Mostly, the Giants just need to stay healthy. That's it — just stay healthy. Because all this team has to do is get to October. Nobody will want to see them then. I don't care if another team wins 140 games in the regular season. If they see the Giants even as a wild card in the playoffs, that team will be scared to death because it knows the Giants have all that experience — World Series experience — and that's really important.

Everything has to click. Everybody has to contribute. Everybody has to stay healthy. Everybody has to get along. Those are a lot of ifs, but we've seen the Giants pull it off before, haven't we?

About The Author

Aubrey Huff

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