Subtle acquisition of Mijares paying off for Giants
Left-hander has made San Francisco bullpen one of the most balanced in baseball
ST. LOUIS -- Attempting to overtake the San Francisco Giants in the National League West race, the Los Angeles Dodgers went on a 33-day shopping spree that began the last week of July, adding eight players to the big league roster, including former All-Stars Hanley Ramirez, Brandon League, Shane Victorino, Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett.The Giants? They looked to patch some holes, but nothing that shook the baseball world like that Gonzalez-Beckett-Carl Crawford-Nick Punto deal the Dodgers made with Boston, adding $268 million in guaranteed contracts.
The Giants picked up second baseman Marco Scutaro, a potential free agent that Colorado wanted to move to open up roughly $1 million in salary, and outfielder Hunter Pence, another pending free agent, from Philadelphia. They signed outfielder Xavier Nady, who was released by Washington.And then, with the Kansas City Royals in the midst of a clubhouse cleansing that included the firing of first-base coach Doug Sisson and unloading backup shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt, the Giants put in a waiver claim on Royals left-handed reliever Jose Mijares. They never thought he would get far enough through the waiver process to wind up at AT&T Park. Think again. Mijares got all the way to the Giants, clearing the entire American League, and slipping all the way to the Giants, who had a better record than any NL team except Washington, Atlanta, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. And surprise, surprise, the Giants, not the Dodgers, hit the jackpot. The Giants are the ones playing St. Louis in the NL Championship Series, having split the first two games at AT&T Park, and now headed to Busch Stadium for the next three games, beginning Wednesday. Scutaro has gotten his share of attention for his late-season offensive eruption, and Pence brought a persona with him from Philadelphia, providing outfield depth that became even more critical in San Francisco when Melky Cabrera was suspended for 50 games in mid-August for the use of a performance-enhancing substance. Mijares, though, was the perfect piece for the pennant race and postseason puzzle. He is not a former All-Star, most likely not a future All-Star. He's worn his welcome out in both Minnesota, which non-tendered him in December 2011, and Kansas City, which let him go on waivers. He, however, filled out the Giants' bullpen, giving manager Bruce Bochy three legitimate left-handed relievers to combine with his right-handed brigade. Mijares allowed Bochy to easily mix and match his way through the final three innings of a game, and eased any agony over the fact that closer Brian Wilson was lost for the season due to Tommy John surgery. With Mijares to go with lefties Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez, combined with the right-handed quartet of Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo, George Kontos and Guillermo Mota -- who have been supplemented in the first part of the postseason by Tim Lincecum -- the Giants have every reason to feel the game belongs to them if they get through six innings with the lead. After Casilla initially closed, Romo has assumed that ninth-inning role most of the time of late, and the other six mix and match perfectly. Mijares provides the early lefty that was missing. Affeldt gives Bochy a ninth-inning option to face left-handers and right-handers if Romo needs a rest. And Lopez can handle whatever chore Bochy wants. That load of lefties is particularly significant in the NLCS against St. Louis, which features left-handed hitters Jon Jay and Daniel Descalso in the starting lineup. More importantly, when Cardinals manager Mike Matheny starts looking for pinch-hitters, his roster is left-handed heavy. Matt Carpenter, Skip Schumaker and Adron Chambers are left-handed. Shane Robinson and backup catcher Tony Cruz are the only right-handed options. And the Giants' left-handed brigade has been particularly tough on left-handed hitters. Mijares, who went 3-2 with a 2.56 ERA in 78 regular-season appearances between Kansas City and the Giants, allowed left-handers only a .211 batting average and a .269 on-base percentage. Left-handers hit .191 against Lopez with a .240 on-base percentage, and .236 against Affeldt with a .319 on-base percentage. Even more impressive, in 318 at-bats, left-handed hitters managed only 23 extra-base hits against the three lefties, and only two home runs -- one off Mijares and one off Lopez. The three left-handers have proven to be the right combination for the Giants.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.