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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Giant Sized Tiger Bait

The stage is set. The San Francisco Giants rallied from a three games to one series deficit against the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series, shredding the Cards in Games, 5, 6, and 7 to win the National League Pennant for the second time in three years. Their reward? They get to host the thoroughly rested Detroit Tigers, champions of the American League via a four game sweep of the New York Yankees.

THE JOURNEY

Both teams entered the season with high expectations. The Giants had won the World Series just two years prior. The team had the same stellar pitching staff that it had since 2010. It had All-Star catcher Buster Posey back from injury. It had a lock down defense in the field. Batting…left something to be desired from a power standpoint but much more disciplined and effective compared to 2011. Besides, great pitching is what wins championships.

The Tigers were already good. With the acquisitions of All-Star Prince Fielder (.313, 30 HR, 108 RBI) to augment the threat of eventual Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera (.330, 44 HR, 139 RBI), Gerald Laird (.282, 2 HR, 11 RBI) to help replace the injured Victor Martinez behind the plate, lock down middle reliever Octavio Dotel (5-3, 3.57 ERA, 62 Ks, 58 IP), and mid-season acquisition Anibal Sanchez (9-13, 3.86 ERA, 167 Ks) from the Miami Marlins to fortify the starting rotation, the Tigers expectations soared. This season became a pennant or bust season.

The conditions of the roads traveled were very different for these two teams. The Giants engaged in a near season long slugfest with the Los Angeles Dodgers, with the Arizona Diamondbacks giving close chase, before pulling away in September. The Tigers sleepwalked through the first half of the season before igniting, much later than expected, in the second half of the season. The Tigers wrestled the division away from the upstart Chicago White Sox in the final week of the regular season. Regardless, the presence of both of these teams in the World Series would not have been a shock to anyone looking into an MLB crystal ball this past April. 

Fielder and the Tigers woke up following the Midsummer Classic. 1


TALE OF THE TAPE

Pitching

The Tigers are going to start Justin Verlander (17-8, 2.64 ERA, 239 Ks), Doug Fister (10-10, 3.45 ERA), and Sanchez, in that order in Games 1 through 3 and will continue to rotate that order through the series. No surprises…clear choice for Tigers manager Jim Leyland. The Giants have an embarrassment of riches at starting pitcher, but that actually makes Giants manager Bruce Bochy’s next moves, following Game 1, more challenging in his chess match with Leyland.

Barry Zito (15-8, 4.15 ERA) will start Game 1. Without question, the Game 3 starter would have to be Matt Cain (16-5, 2.79 ERA, 193 Ks) against Sanchez, though it has not been officially announced yet. The third start could be either Madison Bumgarner (16-11, 3.37 ERA, 191 Ks) or Ryan Vogelsong (14-9, 3.37 ERA), with a compelling case to be made for either (Bumgarner was better in the regular season; Vogelsong has been better in the playoffs). Bochy also has the option of tossing in a fourth starter in Tim Lincecum (10-15, 5.18 ERA, 190 Ks), though he may be hesitant to do so after losing 8-3 in Game 4 of the NLCS when starting the inconsistent former two-time Cy Young winner.

Advantage, Pitching: Tigers

Verlander: "Have a seat."
Get used to it, Giants Fan. 2 
Batting

The Tigers are loaded with star power as well as batting power. The Giants are very disciplined at the plate. Both can be problems for pitchers, but in different ways.

The Tigers have no easy outs among their first five hitters in the batting order (Autsin Jackson, Omar Infante, Cabrera, Fielder, and Delmon Young). The dropoff is substantial at the bottom of the order, but the fact of the matter is that every time the Tigers bat around, they pose a serious threat to score multiple runs against even the best pitching staffs.

The Giants are a team of singles hitters and players who can coax out a walk. This is a big improvement over the 2010 World Series winning team that hit a paltry .235. However the power is lacking. The Giants are a true, traditional National League team that needs to manufacture runs to win. They did so in bunches against the Cardinals. I don’t know how easily those runs will come against a Tigers pitching staff whose strength is mowing down and striking out opponents, and forcing double plays. Expect a classic cat-and-mouse game when the Giants are up to bat.   

Advantage: Tigers

Cabrera made Joba Chamberlain look more like Jabba the Hut. 3

Fielding

Both teams are good, but not spectacular with the leather. Do not expect many if any unforced, careless errors by either team. Do not expect too many web gems, either. The Tigers are very hefty at the corners with Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera. The Giants have their own heft at third base with Pablo “Panda” Sandoval.

Both teams have quality middle infielders. The Tigers may be at a slight disadvantage because the Giants style of hitting is more likely to put the ball on the ground in the infield, particularly when Verlander and Fister are pitching. This may give the Giants a chance to pick up some freebie bases on an error or two during the series.

Advantage: Giants


Intangibles

The Giants have some significant advantages in this category. First, most of the players on the 2010 World Series championship team are on this team. They have championship experience. The Tigers have not been to the World Series since losing to the Cardinals in 2006. All of the significant contributors to that Tigers team are gone, except for Verlander.

The Giants have home field advantage. In addition, they are accustomed to playing under pressure, facing elimination. Should the series come down to a sixth and seventh game, those game would be played at AT&T Park in San Francisco, where the Giants would not have to travel, be in their own time zone, and get to bat last.

Advantage: Giants

The Giants should bring back Metallica's James Hetfield for pre-game entertainment for good luck. 4
FINAL ASSESSMENT

In the end, I think Detroit has too many weapons. The team has come together, gelled, and gotten hot at the right time of year: in October. I don’t think the Giants have enough answers to Detroit’s starting pitchers. I also do not think that the Giants pitching staff, as good as they are, can hold the Tigers’ heavy bats down long enough to win many games in this series.

Advantages – Game 1: Tigers, Series: Tigers

Party Like It's 1984? From left to right: Alan Trammell, 1984 American League MVP Willie Hernandez, and Darrell Evans after the Tigers swept the Kansas City Royals, 3-0, in the 1984 ALCS. The Tigers would go on to win its last World Series over the San Diego Padres. 5

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