SAN FRANCISCO -- Excuses, excuses, excuses.
The Giants would have had a million of them to explain away a lost season. Almost from Day One, troubles beset Bruce Bochy's club, and any one of them could have provided an appropriate title for 2012: The Shearing of The Beard. Freddy's Dead. The Pained Panda. Spilled Melk. The Freak Gone Weak.
Somehow, the Giants rode through every disaster and won the National League West with a better record than they had two years ago when they won the World Series.
How could so much have gone right when so much went wrong?
As they enter the postseason, let's review the 10 greatest challenges the Giants faced, and how they overcame them.
1. Brian Wilson, the Giants' stalwart closer, threw 56 pitches on back-to-back days in Colorado on April 11 and 12, and he hasn't pitched since. After Wilson complained of pain in his right elbow, tests revealed a ligament tear necessitating season-ending Tommy John surgery. Gulp.
Santiago Casilla stepped into the closer role and recorded 21 saves before the All-Star break. When Casilla faltered, Bochy turned to a committee of relievers, with Sergio Romo and Javier Lopez doing most of closing.
2. Freddy Sanchez, one of the 2010 postseason heroes, looked like he might be ready to start the season. But it was a mirage. His surgically repaired right shoulder was in no condition to make tough throws from second base. He not only didn't start the season,
Ryan Theriot, Emmanuel Burriss and Joaquin Arias took turns at second until Theriot settled there in May. Then, after an injury to Pablo Sandoval in late July, general manager Brian Sabean acquired Marco Scutaro from Colorado -- for a minor league infielder -- to help fill the void at third base. When Sandoval returned, Scutaro took over second base and the No. 2 spot in the batting order. In the end, the club's weakest position became one of its strongest.
3. Tim Lincecum, in a development totally unanticipated, went from ace of the pitching rotation to its Achilles heel. His first half was nightmarish: 3-10 with a 6.42 ERA and calls for Bochy to remove him from the rotation.
The other four starters stepped to the fore. Matt Cain emerged as the staff ace, pitching a perfect game en route to becoming the All-Star starter. Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong posted All-Star caliber first halves. And Barry Zito won 15 games. Bochy stuck with Lincecum, and he went 7-5 with a 3.83 ERA in the second half.
4. Aubrey Huff, the Opening Day starter at first base, hit a home run April 13. He hasn't hit one since. On April 21, after an 0-for-4 day in New York that dropped his average to .182, Huff abruptly left the team, citing an anxiety disorder. He returned to the club in May but subsequently injured a knee in the celebration of Cain's perfect game June 13.
Huff's demise forced the Giants to give more consistent playing time to Brandon Belt. After a midseason slump, Belt has pulled his average into the mid-.270s, posted a very respectable .360 on-base percentage and given the club a defensive upgrade at first base.
5. Pablo Sandoval was fresh off a 20-game hitting streak when he broke the hamate bone in his left hand (he'd broken the same bone in his right hand in 2011). Then he was investigated for an alleged sexual assault; charges were never filed. More trouble came July 24 when Sandoval injured his hamstring while playing first base. He missed 18 games and struggled on his return, going 41 games without a home run.
Arias stepped in at third base during Sandoval's first absence and proved to be more than adequate defensively, making a number of spectacular plays. The second absence was the catalyst for the Scutaro trade, a monumental factor in the Giants' stretch run.
6. Melky Cabrera, the All-Star MVP and one of the game's best stories of the year, was suspended on Aug. 15 for testosterone use. It was a blow many figured would doom the Giants. Without the league's top average hitter and run scorer, the Giants lost to the Washington Nationals, and many defeats were expected to follow.
Giants players, many upset about how Cabrera had let them down at such a crucial time, took it as a collective challenge to get to the finish line without him, with Buster Posey, Angel Pagan and Scutaro leading the way. The Giants won seven of the next eight games, including a sweep of the Dodgers in Los Angeles, and went 25-9 to clinch the N.L. West title.
7. The Dodgers, a month removed from a big trade that netted them star shortstop Hanley Ramirez from Miami, made a much bigger deal on Aug. 25. In exchange for nothing that weakened them short term, the Dodgers acquired from Boston four players including slugging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and starting pitcher Josh Beckett. Coming 10 days after the Giants' misfortune with Cabrera, the Dodgers were hoping to blow away their historic rivals to the north.
In retrospect, the Giants got all the momentum they needed to win the West before the big trade, sweeping three games at Dodger Stadium to open a 2½-game lead on Aug. 22. The Dodgers, meanwhile, saw their expensive gambit fizzle in early September, when they lost seven of eight, including two of three to the Giants. At least for this season, the deal was a bust.
8. Through the first month of the season, the Giants were on pace to commit 162 errors -- one per game -- and they led the major leagues in miscues for much of the first half, committing 69 errors in 86 games. Leading the way was Brandon Crawford, the young shortstop who committed 12 errors in the first 60 games.
Crawford did an about-face, making just six errors in the final 102 games and becoming one of the most reliable -- and often spectacular -- shortstops in the game. Moreover, Belt's ability to scoop throws in the dirt turned many potential errors into outs. Scutaro's move to second base tightened up the defense even more.
9. After winning the West in 2010 largely on the strength of their power, the Giants were the worst long-ball team in the majors this year. They barely made it to 100 home runs, and were even worse at AT&T with just 31 homers in 81 games. How weak is that? Barry Bonds hit 37 by himself in 2001.
But the Giants compensated for home runs in other ways. They led the majors in triples. They led in sacrifice flies. They stole 118 bases, their most in years. They also scored 118 first-inning runs, a notable number for a team that was 67-21 when it scored first.
10. At the start of spring training, Bochy made the bold pronouncement that Nate Schierholtz would be the starter in right field. Schierholtz lost the job before the team broke camp. The opening day right fielder was Cabrera, and he played there for a good deal of the first month. Gregor Blanco took the job in early May, Cabrera moving to left field, and held it for the better part of three months. But when Blanco's production fell off, the Giants had a burgeoning crisis.
On the last day before the trading deadline, Sabean acquired right fielder Hunter Pence from Philadelphia. Despite a slow start and a batting average of .219 since joining the Giants, Pence gave the club decent run production -- 45 RBIs in 59 games with seven home runs -- and has provided some degree of protection for Posey in the batting order. He also allowed Pagan to return to the leadoff spot, where he flourished. Not coincidentally, so did the Giants.
Take the Giants postseason quiz at http://www.mercurynews.com/quiz/ci_21666002/quiz-san-francisco-giants-postseason.