SAN FRANCISCO -- Giants manager Bruce Bochy called this a tale of two seasons. And with apologies to Charles Dickens, he was absolutely correct. San Francisco appeared to have punched an advance ticket to the World Series with its 32-11 surge from April 23 to June 8. Then came a series of slumps that left the Giants only six games above .500 on Aug. 12. The Giants stabilized themselves at that point, enabling them to make their third postseason trip in five seasons. The reasons the Giants legitimized themselves as contenders included these five:
Joe Panik: The 23-year-old rookie provided much-needed stability at second base almost as soon as the Giants recalled him from Triple-A Fresno on June 21. Not only did he fill a positional void, he helped upgrade the offense from the No. 2 spot in the batting order. Panik already displays the poise of a 10-year veteran, indicating that he could remain where he is for a long, long time.
Jake Peavy: Needing a replacement for the injured Matt Cain in the rotation, the Giants acquired perhaps the best one available when they obtained Peavy from Boston for Minor League pitchers Edwin Escobar and Heath Hembree. Lacking the stuff that made him a three-time All-Star, Peavy lost his first three starts with the Giants. At that point, he turned around his season, and San Francisco's, by winning six of his next seven outings while demonstrating considerable savvy.
Change at closer: Squandering three of five save opportunities in late June cost Sergio Romo the closer's job. In stepped Santiago Casilla, who converted his first 10 save chances while performing equally well against right- and left-handed batters. Better yet, Romo ironed out his flaws and proved to be a capable setup reliever.
Offensive outburst: For a significant portion of the season's second half, the Giants topped the Majors in scoring, batting average with runners in scoring position and batting overall. Their late-summer resurgence, distinguished by their 19-8 record from Aug. 13 to Sept. 12, can be largely attributed to their proficiency at the plate. Hunter Pence, Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval all received National League Player of the Month votes for August and remained productive in September, though Sandoval cooled off as the month progressed.
Better depth: As was the case in 2013, when the Giants finished 76-86, injuries and ineffectiveness eroded their lineup and rotation. But the attrition didn't spoil their season this time. Pence prevented the leadoff spot from becoming a wasteland by filling in ably. In addition, the Giants were quicker to turn to Yusmeiro Petit as an alternative -- initially when Cain was hurt, then when Tim Lincecum moved to the bullpen.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, and follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.