World Series Preview
It’s that time again, baseball fans. After more than six months of grueling schedules, injuries, hard-fought wins, and disappointing losses, it’s time for the Fall Classic. The World Series is here, and I couldn’t be happier to have my team playing. For at least the remainder of this week, I still have baseball worth watching, and I can cheer and curse and worry and curse some more along with all the players. I must say that the wait until Spring Training is certainly a lot shorter when your team is still playing at the end of October. But enough about that; it’s time to take a look at the Giants and the Tigers, and just who will come out on top (hint: I’m not even going to pretend to be unbiased on that question).
San Francisco Giants
The Giants accomplished an incredible feat in the NLDS. They became the first team in major league history come from two games down in a best-of-five match and win. They swept the Reds in Cincinnati, and earned a place in the NLCS. Then, they dispatched a Cardinals team that has proven to be unbelievably talented, and not at all inhibited by the loss of Albert what’s his face. Forcing games six and seven, when the Cards held a 3-1 series lead, showed some seriously fantastic playing, and plenty of Giants deserve the respect of any opponent.
Buster Posey had a rough postseason so far, but he won the N.L. batting title and Comeback Player of the Year awards this season, which means that his funk is only a matter of time and more at-bats. Pablo Sandoval is a big power threat, as well. The Giants also made some key trades this summer that have paid immediate dividends, including getting Hunter Pence from the Phillies Marco Scutaro from the Rockies. It was these kind of low-key, high-impact moves that showed San Francisco never lost faith in its ability to win the N.L. West title and make it to the World Series.
The Giant’s rotation offers a lot of wonderfully successful pitchers who are continuing that in the postseason. Matt Cain had a perfect game this season, and has been a solid ace in the last two series. His ERA was a bit elevated in the Division Series (just over 5.00), but he brought it down to just over 2.00 in the Championship Series. Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito have been strong two and three men, with Vogelsong putting up a combined 1.42 ERA in the postseason, and Zito blanking the Cards in his last start over seven and two-thirds innings. Madison Bumgarner has been a bit rocky, giving up 10 earned runs in two starts so far. But it would seem that Tim Lincecum has had a bit of resurgence during the postseason, warranting two starts of mixed results. No matter how you look at it, the Giants’ rotation is a tough group to go through, and they will, undoubtedly, give the Tigers’ hitters fits all series long.
The Tigers have shown everyone exactly why they were predicted to win the World Series before Spring Training even began. After a hard-fought ALDS, which included a complete game shutout from Justin Verlander in Game 5, they swept the Yankees and broke Derek Jeter. That’s not a feat easily accomplished. The rotation sent some of the best hitters in the game into their worst slumps in years. Without quality playing by almost the entire roster, there’s no way that the Tigers would have muscled through those two series and find itself on the precipice of a World Championship.
Sure, Buster Posey won his awards, but even if his average was higher, there’s no way he’s better than the Tigers’ batting champ. Miguel Cabrera walked away with the Triple Crown this year (and I GUARANTEE he still won’t win the Silver Slugger for third basemen this year, because awards people choose to screw the Tigers over whenever it’s at all feasible), and despite not hitting many out of the park in the first two series, he still hit in every game, got on base, drove in a few runs, and did all the things that made him the Triple Crown winner. Prince Fielder hit over .300 for the first time in his career, while still adding 30 home runs and 108 RBIs. Delmon Young has decided that he’d wait until the postseason to do anything useful, despite being in a contract year. Jhonny Peralta’s defense and bat have picked up over the last few games, Austin Jackson is still contributing, and even situational player Avisail Garcia is doing more than anyone could have hoped for. This is not an offense to be trifled with, to be sure.
The starting rotation has been almost perfect the entire postseason. It seems as if this group of four can do no wrong right now (although, I’m sure at least one of them will do some wrong in this series). Between Verlander putting together a complete game (and nearly throwing a second), Fister finding is mastery of control again, Sanchez developing into what the Tigers hoped for when he was acquired from the Marlins, and Scherzer proving he’s healthy again, this is not a rotation that hitters want to mess with. They forced A-Rod to sit on the bench in two games. They blanked Robinson Cano for nearly four games. They made Curtis Granderson look like 2008 Grandy again. Nick Swisher is terrible (that one’s just for me). It’s hard to believe that they’re suddenly going to get worse, especially after being locked so intently on this series and total victory.
Keys to the Series
For everything the Giants have going in their favor right now, the Tigers are just a little bit better. The Giants have a batting champ, the Tigers have a Triple Crown. The Giants have a rotation that’s killing it, the Tigers have a rotation that gave up two earned runs in 24 innings pitched. The Giants do, however, have far and away the better bullpen. The key to the Giants’ success is going to be in doing whatever they can to knock out the Tigers’ starters, and get into that bullpen. No one is sure how Jose Valverde is going to be used from here on out. Phil Coke just doesn’t have what it takes to be a full-time closer right now. So the Tigers’ bullpen will be a key for the Giants.
For the Tigers, it’s going to be taking advantage of fatigue. The Giants had to play every possible postseason game so far, with the exception of the Wild Card play-in. That many consecutive games this time in the year is going to take its toll sooner or later. So Detroit needs to press an attack for as long as it possibly can. Wear down these already worn out players, and someone on their side will make a costly mistake. Detroit also needs to make sure it doesn’t fall into the trap of having a week to recover. In 2006, the Tigers swept the Athletics in the ALCS, sat around for a week, and got stomped by the Cardinals in the World Series. Jim Leyland knew this, and wanted to prepare better for this upcoming match. There have allegedly been simulated games this past weekend, workouts, and just generally staying mentally prepared for the task at hand.
Tigers in six. Justin Verlander pitches Games 1 and 5. Doug Fister pitches Games 2 and 6. Max Scherzer will be working Game 4 at Comerica Park. I think the Giants are tough, and obviously being at home will help them to an extent. I think they’ll split those two games, then the Tigers will take two of three at Comerica Park. After heading back to San Francisco, the Tigers will smell victory, and take Game 6, bringing the championship to Detroit for the first time in nearly 30 years. Tigers in six.