4/17/2014 10:50 A.M. ET
Bochy is a master at his managerial craft
Giants skipper is as good as any in the Major Leagues at running a game
By Richard Justice / MLB.com
The Giants have played six consecutive one-run games, winning four of them. If you're looking for a really simple way to explain Bruce Bochy's genius, there it is.
Am I oversimplifying?
Bochy is going to the Hall of Fame, and you can look it up. Those two World Series championships validated a 20-year managerial career in terms of the ultimate honor.
But long before the Giants had those champagne celebrations in 2010 and '12, Bochy was universally respected for his leadership and communication skills, for his honesty and for running a game -- lineups, matchups, balancing the demands of a long season -- better than almost anyone.
Bochy and general manager Brian Sabean have done things at such a high level for so long that we at times take them for granted. It's maybe the ultimate compliment that when they do something that raises eyebrows -- for instance, giving Tim Lincecum a two-year, $35 million contract -- few second-guess them.
In other words, if they did it, it must be the right thing to do, because their track record is so solid.
Still, in a lot of ways, it's how Bochy uses and organizes his bullpen that sets him apart. No one -- and I mean no one -- is better.
To sit back and watch Bochy work his way through the late innings of a game is a thing of beauty, and plenty of people in the game do just that.
The Giants won their third straight one-run game on Wednesday to run their record to 10-5. They're doing it despite a starting rotation that has been nothing special.
Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong might be the keys to the entire season, and both have had moments when they've looked very good, and other moments when last season's problems have resurfaced.
But San Francisco is 10-5 because first baseman Brandon Belt has led the team's offense to a nice start, and because its bullpen has done extraordinary work.
Bochy has coaxed a 1.78 ERA from his relievers, second in the big leagues only to what Ron Roenicke has done with the Brewers. Best of all for the Giants is that those relievers have worked only 50 2/3 innings, tied for fifth most in the National League.
It's one thing to get the best from a bullpen. It's another to manage the workload of a seven-month season.
As Tony La Russa famously said, "When you're managing the first half of a season, you're also managing the second half." He meant that overworking players in April and May would come back to a bite a team in August and September.
Back to Wednesday at AT&T Park, as the Giants and Dodgers were locked in a 1-1 game in the sixth inning. Vogelsong got the game into the seventh for the first time this season, and so it was on Bochy's shoulders.
When the first two Dodgers reached base, Bochy went to work. He would use four relievers to get the final nine outs, using this matchup and that one again and again.
First, Bochy summoned 32-year-old right-hander Jean Machi to pitch to Matt Kemp.
Jean Machi? The Giants are his fifth organization. Machi has spent all or parts of 11 seasons in the Minor Leagues. When Sabean signed him as a free agent two years ago, there were few headlines.
But last season, Machi emerged as a reliable late-inning pitcher, appearing in 51 games. He's off to another great start this season, and plenty of baseball people probably are asking what San Francisco saw in him.
For one thing, a tremendous changeup, which isn't always the easiest pitch around which to build a resume. Machi threw Kemp four changeups in a five-pitch at-bat and struck him out on the last one.
Andre Ethier beat out an infield single to load the bases, and Machi might have saved the game by getting Juan Uribe to pound another changeup into the ground for an inning-ending double play.
Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval singled in the go-ahead run in the bottom of the seventh, but Bochy still had to get six outs.
The Dodgers got the tying run in scoring position in the top of the eighth, but Bochy played the matchup game nicely. Right-hander Santiago Casilla used 94 mph fastballs to get the first two outs, then Bochy went for left-hander Javier Lopez, who got Carl Crawford, a left-handed hitter, to ground out to end the inning.
By that time, Bochy was down to his closer, and Sergio Romo got the Dodgers in order in the ninth to preserve the 2-1 win.
After the win, Bochy, celebrating his 59th birthday, joked about all the gray hair six straight one-run games was creating.
Which is true. San Francisco rode its starting rotation to those two World Series championships and probably can't get to the postseason without it being very good again.
But the Giants are off to a good offensive start, and if they're in the game in the late inning, their manager typically figures out a way.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.