San Francisco vs. Detroit
The Detroit Tigers finally found a World Series opponent and will open the 108th edition of the Fall Classic against the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday at AT&T Park.
While the Tigers were waiting, though, the Giants were fighting for their lives against the St. Louis Cardinals and on Monday staved off elimination for a sixth straight time and advanced to their second World Series in three years with a 9-0 win in Game 7.
Resiliency has been the Giants' calling card this October, as they also became the first team in NL history to rally back from an 0-2 hole and win a Division Series with a five-game win over the Cincinnati Reds.
Now, history has told us that the long layoff doesn't give any advantage and the Tigers can attest to that, as they were in a similar situation in 2006 and were defeated in five games by a Cardinals team that had just played a seven- game series.
In fact, since the LCS expanded to a seven-game format in 1985 there have been three instances where a sweeping team will be going up against a club that was forced to win in seven games and all three times the team with the additional rest was defeated.
Amazingly, these two storied franchises have never met in the World Series, despite this being the 19th trip for the Giants and the Tigers' 11th appearance. However, this is only the fifth time the Giants will be playing in this round since the team moved from New York to San Francisco.
Of course, the Giants' last trip to the World Series resulted in the franchise's first title since 1954, a five-game victory over the Texas Rangers in 2010.
Detroit will be seeking its first title since besting the San Diego Padres in 1984.
With that in mind, let's take a look at the matchups at each position:
Alex Avila regressed a bit this season after an All-Star campaign in 2011. His batting average fell more than 50 points (.245) and he hit 10 fewer homers (9 HR). His struggles have continued in the postseason, as he is just 5-for-22 with an RBI.
Buster Posey drove the Giants' offense during the regular season with a league-best .334 average, but has struggled here in the playoffs and is coming off an NLCS in which he hit just .154 with only one RBI.
Prince Fielder enjoyed his first year in Motown by hitting .313 with 30 home runs and 108 RBI. However, he's only hit .211 in the postseason and has just one home run and three RBI to his credit.
Brandon Belt offers nowhere near the production of Fielder, but he's a much better defender and is better on the bases than his counterpart. Still, he hit .304 in the NLCS and homered in the Game 7 clincher.
Omar Infante was acquired midseason from Miami to help address a need at second base that has plagued the team the past couple of seasons. He's not a superstar, but has played real well in the playoffs, batting .274 primarily out of the nine hole.
Marco Scutaro may be the hottest hitter entering this series, and is coming off an NLCS that saw him bat .500 (14-for-28) with six runs scored and four RBI. Scutaro has been terrific since coming over from Colorado in a midseason deal, as he is hitting .362 with 44 RBI in 61 games for the Giants.
With a batting average of .330 along with 44 home runs and 139 RBI, Miguel Cabrera led the American League in all three categories to become the majors' first Triple Crown winner since 1967. After a poor ALDS showing, Cabrera showed why he will be the league's MVP a month from now in the ALCS, as he went 5-for-16 with a home run and four RBI. Quite simply he's the best hitter in baseball.
San Francisco counters with a pretty good third baseman of its own in Pablo Sandoval, whose three-run triple in the All-Star Game is a big reason why the Giants will have home-field advantage for this series. Even though he hit .310 in the NLCS with a pair of home runs, this is no contest when matched up with Cabrera.
After a terrific 2011, Jhonny Peralta struggled this past season, as he saw his average drop 60 points to .239. He's been a big part of the Tigers' offense in the playoffs, though, especially against the Yankees, as he hit .388 (7-for-18), including a pair of home runs and three RBI in the clincher.
Brandon Crawford may not give you the type of production that Peralta is capable of, but there may not be a better defensive player in this series.
Detroit manager figures to use ALCS MVP Delmon Young in left for the games in San Francisco. Primarily the team's designated hitter, Young continued his postseason prowess against the Yankees, hitting .294 with two home runs and eight RBI.
When the series shifts to Detroit, Leyland will likely to go with Andy Dirks in left.
Gregor Blanco took over in left for the Giants when Melky Cabrera was suspended for steroids and was a solid replacement. However, he has only hit .211 this postseason, but four his seven hits have gone for extra bases. He's much better defensively than whoever the Tigers run out there, but won't match their offensive numbers.
Austin Jackson is already one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball, but this year he hit .300 for the first time and put up the best power numbers in his career, swatting 16 home runs with 66 RBI. He also scored 103 times. Jackson has continued to hit here in the playoffs and batted .353 in the Tigers' ALCS sweep, adding a homer in Game 4.
Angel Pagan led the National League in triples this past season, but that hasn't translated into the postseason, where he is hitting a mere .208. Defensively, he'd probably have an edge on most center fielders, but not Jackson.
Leyland will likely employ a platoon here with rookies Avisail Garcia and Quintin Berry, as well as Dirks. The three of them have combined to hit .282 with five RBI this postseason.
Hunter Pence was acquired near the trade deadline to help the Giants' woeful lineup, but has struggled mightily this postseason, batting just .188. He has become the team's inspirational leader, though, with fiery clubhouse speeches, as his "look into each other's eyes" speech has become a rallying cry for the team.
Young has become somewhat of a postseason stud for the Tigers, as his seven playoff home runs are the most in team history. He's also the first player with four game-winning RBI in one postseason.
San Francisco skipper Bruce Bochy hasn't tipped his hat as to who he will use as his DH. Aubrey Huff seems like a logical choice, but he could also opt to go with Posey and put Hector Sanchez behind the plate.
Justin Verlander, the AL's reigning MVP and Cy Young Award winner was sensational again in the regular season, but has taken his game to yet another level this October, going 3-0 with a 0.74 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 24 1/3 innings.
It hasn't been just Verlander this postseason either. The Tigers' starters as a whole have been tremendous, as righties Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer have combined with Verlander to post an amazing 1.02 ERA in nine postseason starts.
Since the Giants went seven games against the Cardinals, Bochy won't have ace Matt Cain until Game 3. He will likely go with lefty Barry Zito in Game 1, as the Giants have won in each of his last 13 trips to the hill.
Then has some decisions to make for Game 2. He could opt to go with Ryan Vogelsong on short rest and have two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum ready to go in relief, a role he has flourished in this postseason, or he could start Madison Bumgarner, who won 16 games during the regular season, but has pitched to an 11.25 ERA in his two postseason appearances.
Then again, Bochy could just go with Lincecum, who is coming off the worst season of his pro career. The Freak lost 15 games and pitched to a 5.18 ERA and was hit hard in his only start this postseason. But, in 8 1/3 innings of relief he has surrendered just one run.
Leyland does have some concerns, specifically a bullpen that has seemingly removed Jose Valverde from the closer's role. After Valverde blew big leads against both Oakland and then New York in Game 1, Leyland opted to go with a closer by committee, but lefty Phil Coke seemed to be his go-to-guy against the Yankees.
Leyland hasn't stated if Coke will be used as his closer against the Giants, but he hasn't allowed a run in 7 1/3 innings this postseason and saved two games in the ALCS. Fellow bullpen mates Octavio Dotel, Drew Smyly and Al Alburquerque have also yet to allow a run in these playoffs
The Giants' bullpen suffered a big blow when animated closer Brian Wilson was done for the season with a right elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. But, their relief corps - specifically, Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo - have been lights out in the playoffs and have combined for a 2.63 ERA in 41 innings, with a 2-0 record.
Leyland already has a World Series title to his credit with the 1997 Marlins and is one of the best managers this game has ever seen with 1,676 wins over 21 seasons.
Bochy, meanwhile, has been manager of the Giants since the 2006 season and, like Leyland, is one of only a few active managers with at least 1,000 wins. Before leading the Giants to a World Series title in 2010, he had guided the San Diego Padres to the postseason four times.