The Glass Eye: World Series Preview
It had to end sometime. St. Louis’ magical winning streak in must-win games was beyond impressive (7-0 dating back to the final game of the 2011 season), but baseball teams cannot sustain such streaks for long – the game is too variable, too competitive for that. I was, therefore, not that surprised when the Cardinals lost Game 7 Monday night – I was, however, VERY surprised that the game was essentially over after three innings, and that the Cardinals’ vaunted offense was unable to mount any threat at all.
I think it’s important, though, that we recognize the Cardinal-like resiliency of the Giants, who have now overcome 2-0 and 3-1 deficits in these playoffs to make the World Series. San Francisco is 6-0 in must-win games this postseason, including 4-0 on the road in those situations. The Giants have done this while getting a lot of mediocre starting pitching (with the notable exception of Ryan Vogelsong) and while relying on an offense that is very inconsistent.
The Giants are set to face a very rested Detroit Tiger team, but the Giants do get home-field advantage thanks to the NL winning the All-Star Game. As I’ve said many times, ANYTHING is possible in a short baseball series, seven games is NOTHING in baseball terms… but let’s break down the matchup and see who has the advantage.
The Giants generally start Gregor Blanco in LF (thanks to Melky Cabrera’s substance-abuse suspension), Angel Pagan in CF, and Hunter Pence in RF. The Tigers start Austin Jackson in CF, but after that it gets complex – Andy Dirks starts in LF against righties but tends to play RF against lefties, while Quentin Berry and rookie Avisail Garcia platoon in the other outfield slot. The best of this whole group by far is Jackson, who has become a very good player on the verge of becoming a star (he hit .300 with good power and defense). Dirks hit very well this season in limited duty (.322 with power), but Berry is not a good hitter and while Garcia has potential, he skipped AAA and isn’t really ready to start in the majors. I expect Delmon Young to play the outfield in the non-DH games, probably taking Berry’s spot – he has a big-game reputation but overall he’s a below-average hitter and a poor defender.
Pence has hit very poorly for the Giants since being traded, but his pedigree (career .285 hitter with 20-25 HR power) shows he’s a very good hitter. Pagan is a tremendous defender who showed quite a bit of gap power this season (38 doubles, 15 triples). Blanco will take a walk, but has NO power at all.
Overall I think this is a draw – both teams have strong centerfielders, good hitters in right (Pence and Dirks) and weak links in left.
Detroit has a surefire hall-of-famer in Miguel Cabrera at third, a great hitter at first in Prince Fielder, and below-average hitters in the middle with Peralta and Infante (although both hit better in the past than they did in 2012). The Giants have a good-not-great hitter at third with Pablo Sandoval, Marco Scutaro has CRUSHED the ball since being acquired to man second base – but their production at short and first (Crawford and Belt) is below-average. Belt has some pop but is prone to long slumps, and Crawford is an above-average defender but is unlikely to ever be more than adequate with the bat. Offensively it’s no contest, Detroit is much better, but the Giants’ edge defensively narrows the gap slightly.
Detroit’s Alex Avila appeared to be headed for stardom after 2011, but he did not hit well at all in 2012 and has shared time in the postseason with Gerald Laird, who is above-average for a backup catcher. The Giants have Buster Posey, the likely NL MVP – he hit .336 with 39 doubles and 24 home runs, and plays good defense. Occasionally he will play first and Hector Sanchez will catch, and Sanchez is generally comparable to Laird. This is one of the Giants’ big edges in this series, to win Posey must play like the MVP candidate he is.
San Francisco won the 2010 World Series largely on the strength of their rotation, and 80% of that rotation is still intact – Tim Lincecum has won two Cy Youngs, Matt Cain has six straight 32+ start, 200+ inning, sub-4.00 ERA seasons, and Madison Bumgarner has had three solid years. Add in Barry Zito as a dependable (if overrated) innings-eater, and the Giants’ rotation ought to be a strength, right? Well, Lincecum had a HORRIBLE season, was banished to the bullpen for the postseason and was awful in his only LCS start; Bumgarner was skipped in the LCS due to ineffectiveness, and until his Game 7 start Cain was average at best. Were it not for Ryan Vogelsong’s heroic efforts (two wins, 14 innings, only two runs allowed) the Giants would not be in the World Series. Their rotation has to be considered a huge question mark at this point, with only Vogelsong and Cain as dependable.
The Tigers, on the other hand, won two series almost entirely on the backs of their starting pitchers. Their starters have a combined 1.02 ERA this postseason, and they COMPLETELY dominated the powerful Yankees in the ALCS. They have depth, but they also have the best pitcher in the game – Justin Verlander. Verlander has made it look easy for most of this postseason – 24 innings, only 10 hits and five walks allowed, against 25 strikeouts. He’s the rare pitcher that actually DOES get stronger as the game goes on, and with their ALCS sweep Detroit gets to send him out in Game 1 to set the tone. Detroit’s other starters are a mix of craftiness (Doug Fister), steadiness (Anibal Sanchez) and talented inconsistency (Max Scherzer). It seems likely that Detroit will pitch somewhat worse in this series – after all, that 1.02 ERA is not sustainable long-term – but they still are very, very good and the Giants have HUGE questions in their rotation. BIG advantage for Detroit here.
This is the Tigers’ biggest weakness – their closer Jose Valverde blew up twice already in the postseason and has been more or less benched, and the rest of their relief corps has a long history of inconsistency. The Giants, on the other hand, have a very deep and effective bullpen – with at least five pitchers Bruce Bochy has been able to count on to put out fires. That bullpen is the primary reason San Francisco is still alive, and they will have to remain stout if San Francisco is going to pull the upset.
The Giants have to be considered underdogs – they do not have a deep offense, and their rotation has not been up to par. I consider Game 1 vital for the Giants – to win the series, they are going to have to solve Verlander at least once – and they have a better shot of doing so on their home turf. If they can somehow beat him, they give themselves a shot at a long series. However, I don’t think they have the bats to match up, and I think this is Verlander’s postseason to shine. San Francisco will pull out a game or two, but in the end I think it’s DETROIT IN SIX.
Dave Glass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.