Pitching will rule the day
The San Francisco Giants and Detroit Tigers—both of these franchises have been in business for more than 100 years, but the two tradition-laden clubs have never met in the World Series. Detroit has won 11 American League pennants, winning the World Series four times. The Tigers last won the Series in 1984 and lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in 2006. Since 1900, the Giants have 19 pennants, appearing the World Series 18 times, winning six, the most recent coming just two years ago when they defeated the Texas Rangers in 2010.
This matchup features two of the best pitching staffs in baseball, especially when it comes to starting pitching. The two ballparks play well for pitchers as does cooler weather. So don’t expect any shootouts in this series.
Having said that, the two players expected to take their respective Most Valuable Player awards — Miguel Cabrera and Buster Posey — lead their offenses, but pitching will rule the day.
In 2006, the Tigers swept the ALCS and then had a six-day layoff, which could have played a role in the Detroit offense coming out flat against St. Louis. Manager Jim Leyland tried to keep his troops sharp and their timing down by playing a couple of intrasquad games on Sunday and Monday. If the Detroit hitters come out slow this fall, at least the Tigers’ pitchers are well-rested. Ace Justin Verlander is set to pitch Game 1 followed by Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer.
San Francisco has no time to rest having finished off three pressure-packed games. That could work in the Giants’ favor in terms of keeping the hitters locked in. But the starting pitching doesn’t line up exactly how Bruce Bochy would like. Having to use Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain in Games 3 and 4 is not optimal, but Barry Zito and Tim Lincecum should be up to the task. Having Cain available for just one game is not what the Giants had in mind.
The Detroit bullpen has struggled of late, and the Tigers’ defense could let the pitchers down. San Francisco loves close, low-scoring games, and these games should play out just like Giants manager Bochy relishes.
Prediction: San Francisco in 7
There are 16 players on the Tigers and Giants World Series rosters who have played for winning teams in a previous World Series. Can you name the only player in this year’s Classic to have played for two World Series champs? (Answer below)
San Francisco Giants
During the regular season, the Giants relied on Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey to carry the offense. However, in the postseason it’s been table-setters Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro who have established the tone. The Cardinals held Posey and fifth-place hitter Hunter Pence in check, but the damage was done at the top. Lest you think that Scutaro has been some kind of postseason wonder, think again. After the Giants acquired him in July, he hit .362 in 61 games, sparking the most potent offense in the league during the second half. Brandon Belt, Gregor Blanco and Brandon Crawford were solid at the bottom of the order in the NLCS.
The Giants’ rotation matches up well with any team in baseball. It starts with Matt Cain — a strong Cy Young candidate — and Ryan Vogelsong. Cain pitched the Giants into the World Series with 5.2 scoreless innings in Game 7 of the NLCS. Vogelsong allowed fewer than one baserunner per inning in his three starts with a 1.42 ERA. Former Cy Young winners Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito earned starts after struggling at times during the season.
Even though the Giants lost eccentric and effective closer Brian Wilson to injury very early in the season, San Francisco has a collection of relievers that manager Bruce Bochy mixes and matches to gain advantages. Sergio Romo gets most of the save opportunities, but Santiago Casilla is called on to get tough outs from the right side. Detroit first baseman Prince Fielder will see lots of lefties Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez. The four combined for 12.2 scoreless innings against St. Louis.
The Giants have Gold Glove caliber defense all over the field. Crawford and Scutaro are smooth up the middle, while Posey behind the plate and Belt at first base are stellar. These guys will not beat themselves and will take pressure off the pitching staff. Third baseman Sandoval is the only sub-par defender on the field.
Path to the World Series
The Giants added Scutaro just prior to the trade deadline. Their NL West rival Los Angeles Dodgers added Josh Beckett, Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez and the injured Carl Crawford. After that point, the Giants led the NL in scoring while the Dodgers finished at the bottom of the league. Once in the playoffs, San Francisco seemed to thrive with their backs to the wall. Facing elimination three times against the Reds in Cincinnati, then three more times against St. Louis, the Giants were 6-0 in those games.
The Prince Fielder-Miguel Cabrera duo provides the Tigers a 1-2 punch among the best in baseball. While Cabrera, who at least one hit in all LCS games he appeared in his career, became the first triple crown winner since 1967, this lineup is much deeper than the two sluggers in the middle. Leadoff hitter Austin Jackson leads the club with five extra-base hits in the postseason. Jhonny Peralta is batting .343 in the playoffs, and ALCS MVP Delmon Young drove in as many runs as the entire Yankees team in the series.
Justin Verlander is pitching as well right now as anytime in his career, including a 132-pitch gem in Game 3 of the ALCS. The ace has won all three of his postseason starts this year. Combined, the four starters — Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer and Doug Fister — have a 1.02 ERA and 0.87 WHIP in 62 innings against the A’s and Yankees.
Closer Jose Valverde, who was perfect in 49 save situations in 2011, has been anything but perfect in the postseason. In only 2.1 innings this postseason, Valverde has given up seven of the 16 earned runs allowed by the Tigers. Phil Coke, who saved Games 2 and 3 of the ALCS, may be called upon to close games in the World Series. Coke was effective as the closer, but that leaves Drew Smyly, who was a starter all season, as the only other lefthander. Octavio Dotel, who was so good last season during the Cardinals’ magical run, will play a pivotal role, especially against the right-handed Buster Posey and Hunter Pence.
Detroit doesn’t make too many errors, but they don’t do the pitching staff any favors by taking away base hits, especially in the infield. The Tigers’ pitchers are much more effective when they are missing bats because too many balls put in play tend to find holes.
Path to the World Series
Detroit won just 88 games — the seventh-best record in the AL — and took over first place in the AL Central from the White Sox with seven days left in the season. Although they were pushed to a fifth game by Oakland in the ALDS, the Tigers made it look pretty easy in the AL playoffs. The Yankees were a pushover in the ALCS. Detroit outscored New York 19-6 as the Tigers’ pitchers held the Yankees to a .157 batting average. Detroit held the A’s to a .194 average in the ALDS.
San Francisco reliever Javier Lopez faced two batters, giving up two hits, for the Boston Red Sox in 2007. He also faced two batters in 2010 for the Giants, retiring both.
-Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)