Gorcey: If the Giants make a run, it will be because of Brandon Crawford

Just after Brandon Crawford’s Wednesday walk-off landed on the the green siding of Levi’s Landing, his wife Jalynne posted her thanks to Instagram.

She and newborn son Bryson had stayed up until almost 10 p.m. to watch what was a 0-0 affair between the San Francisco Giants and the Colorado Rockies, and thanked her hubby, the Giants’ starting shortstop, for making sure she wouldn’t have to lose any more sleep than absolutely necessary with a ninth-inning homer.

Nursing may be an energy-intensive activity for new mothers, but watching late-inning Giants baseball this season probably burns just about as many calories. Three-fifths of the projected starting rotation has spent significant time on the disabled list. Three-quarters of the starting infield has, too. So have two starting outfielders. Yet, somehow, at the official midway point, the Giants were five games back of first in the NL West, and three games over .500. That ‘somehow’ is Crawford.

“He went through a lot last year,” said manager Bruce Bochy. “He knows he’s one of the leaders of this club, and I think he’s assumed that role. He’s our shortstop. He’s the leader of the infield. He’s hitting in the heart of the order, and he has stepped up and handled that well.”

Last year, the Giants lost 98 games while Crawford had the worst season of his professional career, and no wonder. He and Jalynne — a former UCLA gymnast — suffered two miscarriages. Jalynne’s sister died due to complications from asthma, and her other sister came out as one of Larry Nasser’s accusers.

Asked if the birth of his son eased his mind at all, Crawford said, “I don’t think it did anything for me.”

“It was a little tiring for a couple days, but they’re still in Arizona, so I’m getting good sleep right now,” he said.

Luckily for Bryson, he has yet to learn about Even Year Bullsh … I mean Magic (although, lately, the only magic that’s been going on is seeing late-inning leads disappear). He has yet to learn about the Giants’ patented brand of torture. He just sleeps. A lot. That’s fine by Crawford, who flew to Scottsdale after last Sunday’s game to spend a precious home day off building Lego sets he bought in Washington D.C., with his three older kids. He didn’t get a chance to spend much time with them when he spent three days of paternity leave in Arizona for Bryson’s birth.

Braylyn, Jayden and Braxton haven’t forgotten what Dad looks like — he Facetimes with them regularly — but most NL pitchers would sure like to. With all the injuries and all the tumult, Crawford has been the one constant.

After a .189 April, he’s hit .373 in 50 games, with seven home runs, a triple, 18 doubles and 33 RBIs. Take out an 0-for-10 skid in the days before Bryson’s birth, and 0-for-8 as he got his timing back following a three-day paternity leave, and he’s hitting .423. That’s not even counting his defense.

“Watching Crawford every day, it’s definitely fun,” said starter Andrew Suarez, who got three double plays from Crawford in his last start. “He makes all these hard plays look easy.”

Crawford is 32nd in the Majors in defensive runs saved, and 22nd in defensive wins above replacement. He’s 29th in overall WAR, with a 2.98 mark already much higher than his 2.1 from a year ago.

“He’s definitely stepped up a level, for sure,” starter Madison Bumgarner said last week. “His defense has always been there, a step above anybody else. Now, his offense is in the same category.”

As we head into All-Star season, Crawford has the third-most votes of anyone in the Major Leagues. He leads his second-place contender (Dansby Swanson) by the second-widest margin. He’s a mortal lock to start his first All-Star Game, after serving as a reserve in 2015. He’ll probably have to buy some more Lego sets, because he won’t won’t have a break.

“It’s not really something I’m thinking about,” Crawford said last week. “I got three days off for Bryson, so I’ll take that little break if it means going to an All-Star game.”

Aside from his three-day paternity leave, Crawford is virtually the only Giants regular not to miss significant time (only two non-leave games).

Should San Francisco do what they’ve done in 2010, 2012 and 2014, it starts with Crawford. If they so much as make the playoffs with Crawford continuing his offensive pace, it’s hard to make an argument for anyone else as the MVP. Now, hey, we haven’t even made it to the All-Star break, but consider this: Every time the Giants have made the postseason this decade, they’ve not done it with a surplus of talent. They’ve done it with spit and duct tape and moxie and grit and shenanigans. In short: They’ve done it on heart.

Crawford can play the cool cat all he wants, shooing media out of the clubhouse by playing N*SYNC’s “Bye Bye Bye” (solid choice, by the way) and saying the birth of his fourth kid (he’s done this three times before, so it’s old-hat by now) didn’t have much of an emotional impact on him. Before that, though, the last time Jalynne was in town, it was hard to mistake the look in his eyes as he wrapped his arms around her in the hallway between the dugout and the clubhouse.

Amidst autograph seekers and other team family members and of course some intrusive reporters, he was steady. If there’s a pulse of this team, it runs through Brandon Crawford. If there’s a heart to this team — beyond the shirt-ripping Hunter Pence walk-offs or a singing Johnny Cueto or a pitching Pablo Sandoval — it’s the guy in the messy man bun, in charge of the clubhouse tunes.

Ryan Gorcey is the sports editor of the San Francisco Examiner. He grew up a Dodger fan and graduated from Cal, so he’s used to crushing disappointment, yet is oddly optimistic. Or just plain odd. Follow him on Twitter at @RyanGorcey or email him at rgorcey@sfexaminer.com.

Ryan Gorcey
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