Well that sure ended quickly – the Giants pounded Justin Verlander in Game 1 and never looked back in a convincing 4-0 series sweep. I said last week that nothing would surprise me in a short series, but I have to confess that this series surprised me in several ways. Let’s look at what happened in the Series, and ponder the future of both teams as well.
While most of my predictions for the series were way off-base, I did say that I thought Game 1 was crucial for the Giants, in that they were facing Verlander, at home, and needed to beat him to win the series. Certainly Game 1 changed the course of the series – had the Tigers won behind another dominant Verlander performance, I suspect we’d have had a six or seven game series. Verlander’s performance in Game 1 was surprisingly poor – he never seemed to have his top fastball, and his curve was flat as well. Immediately I read stories questioning Verlander’s heart and/or attention to detail…give me a break! The man threw 24 of the most dominant innings you’ll ever see leading up to the World Series – he had a bad start with poor stuff, it happens to EVERY pitcher. It happened to him at an inopportune time, but let’s not read anything into it.
Of course, the player everyone will remember from that game is Pablo Sandoval, who did his best Babe Ruth impersonation by going 4-4 with three home runs. Each was impressive in its own way, but the one I’ll always remember was the first one – a chest-high 95 MPH fastball on an 0-2 count. 99.9% of MLB players would whiff if they swung at that pitch…Verlander hadn’t allowed an 0-2 homer all year, and Sandoval had only 12 homers on the season. Somehow, he crushed that pitch, and the look on Verlander’s face said it all. Sandoval’s performance reminded me of the impact Kirk Gibson’s homer had in Game 1 of the ’88 Series – both lifted underdog teams, and while I am not a big believer in momentum in baseball, certainly the Giants were a more confident group after winning that game.
There will be much written about the success of the Giants’ pitching, especially their starters, and rightly so – but to me, the bigger story is the disappearing act performed by the Detroit offense. The Tigers hit just .159 in the series, with only 20 hits and six runs in the four games. Omar Infante and Delmon Young more than held up their end – they were a combined 10-for-29, and Miguel Cabrera was only slightly below his usual standards, but the rest of the team just stopped hitting. The most notable missing link was Prince Fielder, who was 1-for-14 in the series and hit just .173 in 13 postseason games. No matter how good the Tiger pitching was – and aside from Game 1, they got good pitching in the series, allowing only eight runs in three games – no team is going to win while hitting .159. The truth is, as I’ve said so many times, ANYTHING is possible in a short series.
What can we expect in 2013 and beyond for these teams? Starting with the Tigers, while they were clearly constructed to win now, there’s a strong core here that should be intact for several seasons. Any team that boasts Fister, Verlander, Cabrera, and Fielder is off to a great start compared to the competition – those four are all 28 or 29, and at or near their peak seasons. Throw in the improvement of Max Scherzer (also 28) and the return of DH Victor Martinez and the return to health of Alex Avila, and there’s definitely reason for optimism in Detroit.
The bullpen has to be the highest priority – the main ‘pen weapons are either aging or ineffective (aside from Phil Coke), but the good news is that bullpen arms are the cheapest and easiest parts of a team to acquire. Re-signing free agent Anibal Sanchez should also be a priority, as he makes their rotation as formidable as any in the AL. The offense has some holes but in MLB today, every team has holes – the key is to get 90 wins and take your chances in the postseason, and I think the Tigers are still well-positioned.
I’ve doubted the Giants for years – in fact I picked them to finish third in the division in March – but with two World Series titles in three years, it’s time to recognize how successful their front office has been in executing their plan. Having said that, I see major issues in 2013- the offense is still simply not very good, the struggles of Tim Lincecum have to be addressed, and Barry Zito is still nothing more than an expensive innings-eater. The good news is that the bullpen should be even stronger if Brian Wilson comes back healthy, Zito’s onerous contract expires after 2013, and GM Brian Sabean has shown he will make bold in-season moves to put the team over the top. The cash-flush Dodgers are going to make a lot of moves, but the Giants should have a strong enough core to be able to compete in 2013.
The final observation from the 2012 postseason is that like most other major sports, MLB has completely devalued regular-season excellence. There’s no longer ANY advantage to winning 100+ games, because in a five or seven game series it’s a 50-50 proposition against any 85+-win team. The name of the game now is to find a way, any way, to get into the top-5 in your league, and after that anything’s possible. Both the Tigers and Giants are testament to that, and congratulations to the Giants for an amazing 2012 postseason!
Dave Glass can be reached at email@example.com.