Starting tonight, for the 108th time the champions of the American League and National League will meet in the World Series. For the first time the Detroit Tigers will meet the Giants.
This looks to be a good match between two teams with plenty of talent. Each club is on a winning streak: the Tigers have won five straight, while the Giants won three straight to win the NL flag.
Let’s break down the two teams and find out who has the edge.
No team in the history of baseball has gone into the World Series with four starting pitchers going as well as the Tigers have right now. Justin Verlander is the best starting pitcher in baseball, and he tossed 23 consecutive shutout innings this post-season to put an exclamation point on that. He’s the best arm on either club, period. Max Scherzer is a stud, having finished second in the AL in K’s. He hardly lost a game after the All-Star break and he also has been dominant in the post-season. Doug Fister throws the ball much differently than JV and Max – he relies on his off -speed pitches and getting ahead in the count. He works fast and he has big game experience, having started a decisive Game Five in the opening round in 2011. Anibal Sanchez has handled himself brilliantly in his two post-season starts, allowing just two earned runs. The Tigers foursome had been fearsome – they surrendered just two earned runs and 14 hits in 27 1/3 innings in the ALCS against the New York Yankees. Pundits blamed the lackluster Yankee bats for that performance, but the Detroit starting quartet was awesome in that series. They deserve more credit, and they are all feeding off each other right now.
The Giants strength is also starting pitching, beginning with ace Matt Cain, who was lights out in Game Seven of the NLCS. Cain is sort of Verlander Light – outstanding but with not as many A+ pitches. 22-year old Madison Bumgarner is a left-hander who racks up a lot of K’s but was replaced in the Giants rotation in the NLCS because of late season struggles. Two veterans are also in the rotation: Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong. All four of those pitchers won between 14 and 16 games, but Cain and Bumgarner are the most talented. Zito relies on craftiness and his curveball, while Vogelsong pitches well at home in AT&T Park. Zito, who has one great outing and one terrible outing on his card so far this post-season, will start Game One, but he won’t scare anyone with his stuff. A wild card will be Tim “The Freak” Lincecum, who had his worst season in 2012, but has shown some signs of the talent that won him two Cy Young Awards earlier in his career. Lincecum struggled in his last start and cannot be relied upon to be as good as he once was.
The Giants #1 starter is very good and can dominate, but with the way the schedule works out he won’t be able to take the ball until Game Three. Bumgarner (who had an ERA of 5.89 in his final seven starts of the regular season and appears to have tired out as young pitchers often do late in the season), Zito, Vogelsong, and Lincecum have looked very hittable this post-season.
If we picked the better offensive player at each position among these two teams, the Giants would probably only have wins: Buster Posey at catcher, Marco Scutaro at second, and Hunter Pence in right field (maybe). At every other position, the Tigers have a decided advantage. That means that Detroit has better bats in the lineup and should put together more sustained rallies, which is what’s usually needed to scratch out runs in the post-season.
Miguel Cabrera is easily the most dangerous hitter in either lineup. The Triple Crown winner has the power to be able to go deep any time, and he goes to right field with pitches, which makes finding a weakness nearly impossible.
Posey is a very good offensive player and the cleanup hitter for the Giants. He is the biggest power threat on a Giants team that hit only 103 homers in 2012. Third baseman Pablo Sandoval and right fielder Hunter Pence are the other threats to hit for extra bases, otherwise the San Francisco offense is a singles hitting club. Marco Scutaro is getting a lot of those singles though, slapping out 11 of them in the NLCS to go along with three doubles and a homer. He’s red-hot, and Sandoval also had a good series against the Cardinals. The Giants bench is not very scary, however, with veteran Aubrye Huff and Ryan Theriot getting most of the at-bats off the pine.
Prince Fielder (a team leading .412 on-base percentage), ALCS MVP Delmon Young, and Jhonny Peralta are all swinging the bat very well, and are capable of hitting the long ball. Austin Jackson is an All-Star caliber leadoff man who can jump start a rally. The Tigers also have Andy Dirks, who hit .322 in 2012, and Avisail Garcia, who has delivered a few clutch hits in the post-season and seems unfazed by the pressure. Quintin Berry is the fastest player on either roster and gives Jim Leyland a pair of legs to insert as a pinch-runner in crucial spots.
Neither of these two teams got to where they are because they play excellent defense, though one team has the edge. Only three teams in the NL committed more errors than the Giants, who did improve after the All-Star break when Gregor Blanco and Marco Scutaro were inserted into the starting lineup at left field and second base, respectively. Blanco joins center fielder Angel Pagan and right fielder Hunter Pence in a very good defensive outfield. Scutaro and shortstop Brandon Crawford are a solid double play combination. Buster Posey is one of the best catchers in baseball, but he’s only average at controlling the running game. Manager Bruce Bochy will insert Joaquin Arias into his infield late in close games, and Arias has great range and is excellent with the leather.
The Tigers ranked last in baseball in 2012 at converting balls in play into outs. Fortunately, their tremendous starting pitching and offense have bailed them out. The best defensive player on the club is center fielder Austin Jackson, who rates among the finest flychasers in the game. His arm is only average, and in fact the Tigers outfield arms are mediocre overall, with the exception of Avisail Garcia, who has a strong arm. Jhonny Peralta played brilliantly in the field in the ALCS, which stunned many Tigers observers who saw the shortstop display poor range throughout 2012. The Peralta/Omar Infante DP combo is often clumsy and slow at turning the double play. In fact, Infante, who was acquired mid-season largely for his solid glove, made 10 errors in 30 games for Detroit, many of them routine plays. Prince Fielder is a below average defensive first baseman, and Miguel Cabrera is also below average, though he’s better than many give him credit for. Alex Avila had a poor season behind the plate, making six errors and allowing 10 passed balls. He looks like a guy who has caught too many games already in his career, and he’s only 25. Fortunately for the Tigers they have Geraild Laird, who platoons with Avila and is a very respectable defensive catcher. Laird only cut down 19% of runners trying to steal against him, however. Quintin Berry and Garcia see action in the outfield, both rookies. Berry makes up for pretty bad judgment by using his speed (he can make routine flyballs very interesting) and Garcia is a big kid who sometimes gets clumsy in the field.
The Giants infield defense is better than Detroit’s, their outfield defense is much superior, even considering potential Gold Glove center fielder Jackson is in the middle for the Tigers. Neither team is great at cutting down would-be base stealers, but the Giants are slightly better. In 2006. the Tigers pitching staff made six errors in a five-game loss in the World Series. Only Justin Verlander is back from that staff, so that shouldn’t make a difference, but it’s worth mentioning. The Giants are less likely to give the opposing team extra outs.
The Tigers bullpen is sort of in disarray, no question about it. Jose Valverde has been worse than terrible in this post-season, and setup man Joaquin Benoit has been shaky. Neither of them have pitched since Game One of the ALCS, 11 days ago. Fortunately for the Tigers their stellar starting pitching has allowed them to win without the backend of their bullpen. It’s also possible that Benoit and Valverde have both fallen out of favor with manager Jim Leyland, who has to piece together just four more wins to capture the title. He seems to be willing to use Phil Coke, a high-spirited lefty who opposing right-handers tore up all season long, to close out games. It remains to be seen whether that will come back to haunt the Tigers. Octavio Dotel and Drew Smyly have both done a nice job for the Tigers in the playoffs, while Al Alburquerque hasn’t seen much action despite having good stuff.
The Giants lost their closer (Brian Wilson) in the first week of the season, but Bruce Bochy has pieced together a solid bullpen out of Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez, and Jeremy Affeldt. Casilla is prone to giving up the long ball, and Romo has shared closing duties with him this October. Brochy can also bring Lincecum in from the bullpen, as he did against the Reds in the NLDS, or even use Vogelsong or Bumgarner in that role if either of them is bumped from the rotation. He has many more attractive options that Leyland does, with none of the worries about his closer.
Ultimately, it’s unlikely that a manager will make a big difference in this series, but it is possible considering the prevalence of low scoring games in the post-season. Bochy will hit-and-run and steal more than Leyland, but both managers will turn to the sacrifice bunt when needed to advance runners into scoring position. The Giants are better at doing that.
Bochy has a reputation for handling the pitching staff well, but so does Leyland. Both are very loyal and hard-nosed managers who have won World Series titles, Bocky just two years ago an Leyland with the Florida Marlins in 1997. There really isn’t a big advantage here either way.