Ships passing in the night, the 2010 National League Championship Series was the turning point for both the Phillies and the San Francisco Giants,
Back then the Giants were frankly just thrilled to be there, facing a Phillies team on the verge of being the first National League team to make three straight World Series appearances since the 1942-44 Cardinals. Charlie Manuel’s boys were in year four of a five consecutive year NL East run, seeing no reason it shouldn’t continue indefinitely.
It did for one more season, before the team began to nosedive until reaching its current predicament. Meanwhile not only did those upstart Giants win that series in six games, then beat the Rangers in five to win it all, they’ve gone on to take the Series two more times, most recently knocking off the Royals in seven last season.
What’s enabled them to sustain their success while the Phils have declined?
Start with consistency at the top in manager Bruce Bochy and pitching, along with the willingness to make changes where needed.
"We have a good thing going and have had it going the last five years,’’ said left-handed relief specialist Javier Lopez, one of six active Giants pitchers from 2010 still going strong, with injured Matt Cain due back soon. "We know each other strengths and weaknesses from the starting staff down into to the bullpen and the coaching staff has stayed the same. Pitching, defense and timely hitting has kind of been our thing, particularly in the post-season. There’s always a new person stepping up."
In 2010 that was Cody Ross, who slugged three homers and won the NLCS MVP. Former Phil Pat Burrell also played a key role, along with Freddy Sanchez, Aubrey Huff and Juan Uribe. By 2012 when they swept the Tigers to win it again, Huff was the only one still around, the rest replaced by a new cast featuring another former Phil, Hunter Pence, Pablo Sandoval and Angel Pagan.
Only catcher Buster Posey has been there from the start, along with all those pitchers, including 2014 Series hero Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincicum and four relievers. In contrast just four Phillies — Ryan Howard, Chase Utley., Carlos Ruiz and Cole Hamels — have survived.
"In 2010 they had a good rotation and they still have good pitching," said Ruiz, before the start of a weekend series that saw the Giants take two of three against Ryne Sandberg’s club (the Phillies won 6-4 Sunday to avoid a sweep). "They were able to put it together and win some games. It’s amazing they could win three World Series. We were in the playoffs trying to win and then the next year when we had all those aces (adding Cliff Lee to the mix). We didn’t get it done. That’s something we have to put on the side now."
With then starters Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Joe Blanton, along with relievers Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson long gone, Phillies pitching is now a shell of its former self. Meanwhile the Giants, with all that continuity on the mound — especially in the bullpen, where Lopez, Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo have remained intact—have become a modern dynasty.
"We’ve got stability, especially with the relievers," said the just turned 36-year-old left-hander Affeldt, a starter early in his career. "When it’s good why would you want to go anywhere else? The Giants seem to have a good understanding of free agency and the market. I don’t know if what happened to the Phillies surprises me. That team has gotten maybe a little bit older. But we’ve got a good group of homegrown players. We have the pieces in place to be a good team long after I’m gone, while Philadelphia is going through a cycle."
Perhaps what’s happened here should serve as a cautionary tale to teams who sentimentally hang onto their stars too long.
"At some point you do have to make some changes via free agency or whatever," said Bochy, whose club was at the White House Thursday to meet with President Obama for the third time in five years. "We pretty much kept our core guys in the bullpen and our core pitching and made a couple of tweaks."
The results have been apparent since 2010. That’s when the Giants first announced themselves, while the Phillies began to show the first chinks in their armor.
It’s been a different story for both ever since.