The 2011 National League MVP: Buster Posey

Scoff if you will at that headline, but the idea has merit. Buster Posey has proved just how valuable he is by his absence from the San Francisco Giants.

Posey broke his leg May 25 while trying to keep Scott Cousins of the Florida Marlins from touching home. Cousins scored, the Marlins won, and it’s not much of a stretch to say that the Giants lost their season that night. The mood in the clubhouse afterward was somber, and it seemed the whole Bay Area was downcast the following day when word got out that Posey was probably through for the year.

The Giants held the National League West lead for much of the summer, many weeks after Posey was sidelined. But the lack of scoring that Posey helped San Francisco overcome in their 2010 championship drive returned with a vengeance in the second half of this season. The defending champs were punchless, with the worst offense in either league.

Posey’s replacements, backup Eli Whiteside and AAA call-up Chris Stewart, struggled at the plate most of the season. They batted at the bottom of the lineup, not in the heart where Posey had been.

Also a factor in the Giants fall from first was the drop in the level of expertise behind the plate. Whiteside and Stewart let too many balls get away. Although they never quite made the comparison in words, the Giants broadcasters conveyed the change in their tone whenever the non-Poseys let one slip past. And the backup backstops didn’t gun down many runners or stop them from trying the way Posey did.

I can’t fault Whiteside and Stewart for their handling the pitching staff, however. The Giants starters were as impressive as ever in almost every statistical category but wins.

No one should lay the Giants’ troubles this year solely at the feet of Buster Posey. Closer Brian Wilson started the year hurt and is ending it hurt. The rest of the bullpen, so brilliant down the stretch last year, proved mortal. Miguel Tejada flopped at shortstop. Aubrey Huff lost his stroke. And so on.

But Posey was the nucleus of the Giants who swept to victory last fall. The team’s diminished powers in 2011 were at the very least exaggerated once he went on the disabled list.

The Giants have not been eliminated from the playoffs, but no one seems to believe either Arizona will falter or the Giants will catch the Diamondbacks with a late surge.

Maybe if Posey came back ….

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