SAN FRANCISCO — Brandon Crawford’s fingerprints are all over some of the San Francisco Giants’ biggest postseason moments. A reformed hitter in 2021, Crawford’s new swing and penchant for clutch hits could be the catalyst to the Giants’ success against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series.
A career-best regular season in the rearview mirror, a 34-year-old Crawford can look back at his .298 average, .895 OPS and 5.5 fWAR as proof that a tweaked swing has unlocked a new gear for a career that appeared to be on the decline.
But his team-leading 21 go-ahead RBI and 12 game-winning RBI — ranked second behind LaMonte Wade Jr.’s 13 game-winners — stand as a reminder of Crawford’s transcending capability to execute in big moments. Before Game 1 of the NLDS at Oracle Park, Crawford was cool headed heading into his 38th career postseason game, his first since 2016.
His heartbeat might flutter during the national anthem, but postseason pressures don’t differ much from regular season ones, he said. The Dodgers breathing down the Giants’ necks in the division race until Game 162 allowed Crawford an avenue to get re-acquainted with that pressure.
“Obviously the atmosphere will be different, but we saw that a couple times this year,” Crawford said, asked about the differences between the regular season and postseason. “The past weekend was a little more intense from pitch one, the crowd was into it. We saw that with our last series here against the Dodgers where it was a pretty full crowd, and loud from the get go. I’m sure we expect that tonight also.”
The Giants ensured they could play in front of a friendlier home crowd for an NLDS between the two best regular season teams, but Crawford is no stranger to silencing hostile crowds. Crawford’s grand slam hushed a raucous PNC Park crowd in Pittsburgh for the Giants’ 2014 wild card game against the Pirates. His first, and only, postseason home run that came off Pittsburgh’s Edison Volquez broke open a scoreless game, paved a path for Madison Bumgarner’s complete game shutout and set the tone for the Giants’ World Series win.
Much changed for Crawford since his wild card heroics. An offensive decline that saw him batting .245 from 2017 through the 2019 seasons flipped a switch when Farhan Zaidi took over San Francisco’s baseball operations and brought with him an analytics-based coaching staff eager to bring the All-Star back to life. Last spring, Crawford overhauled his swing and stance with hitting coaches Donnie Ecker and Dustin Lind and Justin Viele to optimize his bat path.
While Crawford as an individual has been reformed at the plate, the Giants’ platoon-heavy methods have changed the team around Crawford. Crawford may have some of that old postseason mentality hanging in his mind, former manage Bruce Bochy and current manager Gabe Kapler have polar opposite methods for which they deploy lineups and make in-game decisions.
“In ’12 and ’14, we used the same starting lineup for the most part with the same guys coming out of the bullpen every night. So that’
s probably the biggest difference,” Crawford said. “But I think the main one is how many different guys are being used nowadays. It feels like our whole roster, maybe not in one game, but through the course of a few games our whole roster will be used.”
Crawford has thrived under both managers and regimes. Now, the Mountain View native will get a chance to lead his childhood team against their rivals.
“I was taught at a young age not to like them,” Crawford said. “I think as a baseball fan, I respected the other team no matter who it was, even if it was the Dodgers. I didn’t necessarily root for them, but respected and appreciated their players throughout my time as a fan.”