October. Where would you be without playoff baseball? I’ll tell you where. You’d be relegated to D List month status, down there with September and August. Sure, you have Halloween, but that’s not a REAL holiday. People still have to go to work and besides, it’s so close to November it might as well be rolled into that month, which is already loaded with important days (Election Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, my birthday). No, October, without playoff baseball you’d be nothing more than the beginning of the dying off of nature; gray skies, dead leaves cluttering up my lawn, and one horrible horror movie after another.
But you DO have playoff baseball and so you rank at least in the top five of months. Top three even. There is nothing more exciting in sports than what occurs between your 1st and 31st. Legends are made, heroes are born, goats are cursed (and vice versa), dreams realized and shattered. Human drama at its peak. So thank your lucky stars, October. For without the Fall Classic and it’s preceding series’ (Serieses? Serii?) you’d be nothing more than March without the Madness.
And what an October this has been. Though my beloved Angels failed to reach the playoffs for only the second time in nine seasons, the blow was softened by the improbable run of the San Francisco Giants. The Giants are far and away my second favorite team. As long as the outcome of any of their games in no way, shape, or form hinders the Angels in any manner, I will cheer for the Giants every time. Despite growing up in the Bay Area for about 98% of my life the Giants are the one local professional sports team I could give a hoot in heck for. Sure, I’ll root for the Sharks or the Warriors if someone puts a gun to my head and lately I’ve developed a soft spot for the 49ers, if for nothing else then out of sheer sympathy for my battered friends and family who dearly love them, but really if any of those teams were to lose I wouldn’t give it much of a second thought. The Giants though, I can get into. My mom’s side of the family are all rabid Giants fans, as are most of my closest friends, and while this was the source of some awkwardness in 2002, I for one have not let that stop me from supporting the Gigantes and standing shoulder-to-shoulder with my Giant fan brethren. Plus, it’s nice to be able to root with like minded people for a change. As a Halo and Packer fan in Northern California, you can understand that it’s a pretty lonely place most of the time.
So, this postseason has been fun in a way that past years haven’t, even when they included my team. Not more fun, necessarily, just different fun. When you’re number one team is on the line the stress level increases exponentially. It makes the payoff that much better when/if they win, but it also makes each pitch seem like the world is going to end if it doesn’t go your guys’ way. It’s hard to understand this if you’re not a rapid fan, and the only way I can adequately explain it is to say that sports fans are very sick in the head. But don’t you judge us!
This “every pitch is either the end of the world or the best thing ever” mentality is taken even further with this year’s Giants team. Not only are there many demons of the past haunting the fan base (mention 1987, 1989, 1993, or 2002 to any half-way knowledgeable Giants fan and see what happens next. Just be sure to do so while covering your face and vital organs), but the 2010 Giants make things especially difficult on their follower’s innards. Though they played only about three more one-run games than your average major league team, nearly half of their 162 games (75) were decided by two runs or less and well over half were decided by three runs or less. This of course is what prompted Duane Kuiper to coin the greatest team motto in the history of sports following a May 2-1 win over the Astros: Giants baseball…torture! To top it off, six of their seven playoff wins have been by one run. Torture indeed.
Now, getting back to the different kind of fun in watching this year’s playoffs for me. I was telling my uncle the other day, even though I like the Giants and I get butterflies in the close games and really want them to win, the ulcer-inducing stress of watching my Angels do the same thing isn’t there. I’m anxious, but not manically so. It’s almost more fun this way. That said, would I trade the Giants for the Angels in this spot? Heck yes! But it has been fun.
Ok, I’ve now written 787 words before even getting to the breakdown or mentioning the opponent, the Texas Rangers. I better get going before I lose any more of you. There are people still here right? Right? Hello? Anybody? Bueller?
Catchers – We start with an intriguing one. Both Texas’ Bengie Molina (yes, the Bengie Molina of the Amazing Catching Molina Brothers) and the Giants’ Buster Posey were Giants at one point this season. Molina began the season as the Giants starting catcher, and while he had been a good Giant for the past few years, asked to do things no Molina should ever be asked to do, like bat cleanup, the writing was on the wall from day one. Posey, the future stud and catcher who should actually bat cleanup, was waiting in the wings and in May the Giants made the move calling him to the Big Show and shipping Bengie off to Texas.
Other than playing the same position for the same team briefly this year, the two are opposites in almost every way. Buster is young, Bengie is aging. Buster is sleek, Bengie has the physique of a bus driver…an overweight bus driver. Buster hit like a veteran, Bengie hit like a rookie.
I will say this for Monlina though, having watched him for many years both with the Angels and Giants, don’t sleep on him. I mean, he is big and soft like a pillow, but don’t let that fool you. He has a knack for getting timely hits and can still do a few things behind the dish. Oooh, bad choice of words. Uh, behind the plate he can still….no, that doesn’t work either. Ok, um…he is not completely terrible as a catcher. There, I think that works.
Edge – Giants
1st Base – To me Aubrey Huff is akin to what Winston Churchill once said about the Soviet Union, a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. He’s always had the talent to be an excellent major league hitter, but has been wildly inconsistent over the course of his career, ranging from outstanding (2003-2005, 2008) to mediocre (2001, 2006 & 2007) to train wreck (2009). He was quite literally pulled off the scrap heap right before spring training and the results could not have been better unless it were a baseball movie starring Kevin Costner. He made himself a legit MVP contender in leading the Giants in pretty much every batting category. He’s disappeared a little in the postseason so far, but that could change in a hurry.
The Rangers’ first sackers (Jorge Cantu and Mitch Moreland) are considerably less mysterious. They suck.
Edge – Giants
2nd Base – Both teams feature players at second base who have seen better days. For the Giants, Freddie Sanchez is four years removed from a batting title, never having since approached those kinds of numbers. For the Rangers, Ian Kinsler had a rough season as he battled injuries. When he’s healthy though, Kinsler is a five-tool threat, while Sanchez’s value is more in the scrappy, Ecksteiny category.
Edge – Rangers
3rd Base – Oh, how things can change in just one year. Last year Pablo Sandoval, the Kung Fu Panda was a fan favorite and an exciting guy to watch. Sort of a Vladimir Guerrero that had been stuffed into a trash compactor. He swung at everything (and hit .330 with 25 HR doing it), blew bubbles while fielding grounders, all with a smile on his face. This year, he still swung at everything, but hit about 70 points lower and had nine fewer home runs. But it wasn’t just the numbers. He just really looked lost at the plate, so much so that by the end of the year he was often benched in favor of, gulp, Mike Fontenot. So, now the Giants will run some amalgam of Fontenot, Juan Uribe, and Sandoval out at third, which isn’t all bad. Uribe hit 24 home runs this year, is more than solid on defense, and has a knack for the big hit. But if he’s playing third, that means someone else has to play short, like, double gulp, Edgar Renteria. Ew.
Texas will have savvy vet and consummate teammate Michael Young at the hot corner. It seems like every year people are writing off Young and every year he just keeps performing, making All-Star games and putting up very solid numbers. Not to mention he’s always mentioned in the World’s Greatest Teammate conversations, twice changing positions during his career to accommodate his team.
Shortstop – If the aforementioned Uribe is playing short for the Giants, they’ll be in good shape. If the aforementioned Renteria is playing short for the Giants, they’ll be in good shape…or would be if this game were being played three to seven years ago. Now, not so much. Elvis Andus will start for the Rangers, who is the anti-thesis of Uribe. Andrus is speedy, but has exactly zero power, while Uribe isn’t especially fleet, but can hit the long ball. Uribe is underrated on defense and has a cannon arm. Is Andrus good defensively? No, seriously I’m asking, I have no idea. Well, he’s young, skinny, and Venezuelan so I’m going to assume he is.
Edge – Giants w/Uribe, Rangers otherwise
Left Field – On most nights the Giants will start another former resident of the Island of Misfit toys in left field, Pat Burrell. Pat the Bat did well, hitting 18 home runs. He’s not much to look at in the field, and could find himself on DH duty in the Arlington, which would probably put Torres is left and Rowand in center. Not a terrible proposition, and definitely a defensive upgrade, especially if Torres’ hip is bothering him.
Texas counters with David Murphy, who was surprisingly effective, sporting an OPS only .011 less than Burrell. Also, he has to be a better outfielder than Burrell. A cardboard cutout of Kevin Mitchell might be a better outfielder than Burrell.
Edge – Wash
Center Field – Andres Torres has been a great story for the Giants. After spending over a decade in the minors, he sort of came out of nowhere to do a little bit of everything, including coming down with the leagues best case of appendicitis. But as great as his story is, it’s pretty hard to top Josh Hamilton’s. By now everyone knows about the enormous talent, but years wasted to drugs and alcohol, and then the miraculous recovery and emergence as a superstar. Quite possibly the AL MVP, he’s showed he’s more than up to the pressure of the postseason spotlight, putting up massive numbers against the Yankees including, tellingly, five intentional passes. Torres is great, but Hamilton’s a superstar.
Right Field – Now this could be interesting. First the Giants. Cody Ross. What can you say about the guy? To this point Boss Ross has had an incredible postseason run. Really, we should credit Jose Guillen for the brilliant managerial move of starting Ross during the playoffs. If Guillen hadn’t tweaked his neck, Bruce Bochy may have continued the odd infatuation with the well-traveled and enigmatic Guillen that he showed during the regular season, rarely giving Ross the start in right and we may have missed Ross’ incredible heroics altogether. Was that a run-on sentence? It felt like a run-on sentence. Anyway, way to go Jose Guillen, manager of the year! As great as Ross has been, it’s hard to imagine him keeping up this torrid pace.
The Rangers usually start budding masher and up-and-coming star Nelson Cruz in right field, and will continue to do so while at home. But at AT&T they will move Cruz to left and run their usual DH Vladimir Guerrero out there to keep his bat in the lineup. Vladdy had a bounce back year at the plate, putting up the numbers we were all so familiar with. That said, he did the vast majority of that at DH. He made 16 starts in the outfield this season, committing two errors, but right field at AT&T Park is no piece of cake. There’s a lot of ground to cover, a lot of weird angles and possible caroms, and the wind can play some mean tricks. As someone who watched a lot of Vlad over the past several seasons and saw his fielding skills diminish pretty rapidly, it’ll be very interesting to see how he does. I heard someone suggest he’d probably better in left field as it plays a little more conventional, but Vlad has played a grand total of seven innings in left his entire career. Should be interesting.
Edge – Rangers (though it could get crazy with former Angels in the outfield)
Starting Pitching – Pitching is obviously where the Giants’ greatest strength lies, especially now that Zito is positioned where he can no longer do any great damage—the bench. But the Rangers stack up shockingly well. Check out this comparison of regular season numbers:
#1s: Lincecum – IP – 212.1, ERA – 3.43, K/9 – 9.79, WHIP – 1.27
Lee – IP – 212.1, ERA – 3.18, K/9 – 7.84, WHIP – 1.00
#2s: Cain – IP – 223.1, ERA – 3.14, K/9 – 7.13, WHIP – 1.08
Wilson – IP – 204, ERA – 3.35, K/9 – 7.50, WHIP – 1.25
#3s: Sanchez – IP – 193.1, ERA – 3.07, K/9 – 9.54, WHIP – 1.23
Lewis – IP – 201.2, ERA – 3.72, K/9 – 8.78, WHIP – 1.19
#4s: Bumgarner – IP – 111.1, ERA – 3.00, K/9 – 6.97, WHIP – 1.30
Hunter – IP – 128, ERA – 3.73, K/9 – 4.78, WHIP – 1.24
Looking at these numbers, the Giants do have an edge, but it’s not as great as you (or at least I) had thought, is it? These are Lee’s combined numbers from both Seattle and Texas, and he pitched significantly worse while in Texas…until the playoffs began wherein he has been nigh unhittable. By the same token, Matt Cain has yet to yield an earned run in the postseason and Lincecum has been every bit his dominant self. Colby Lewis has been great so far, while C.J. Wilson has been just OK, and Tommy Hunter horrible. Despite his Game 6 melt down in Philly, Sanchez has escaped with unbattered numbers and as long as he can avoid picking fights for no apparent reason with people he beans and gets his command back, he should be fine. Bumgarner was cruising in Game 4 of the NLCS until the fifth and then turned in two crucial Houdini-esque innings in Game 6.
So what does it all mean? It means the Giants do have the advantage, but don’t be too surprised if a Ranger hurler not named Lee turns in a pretty good start or two.
Edge – Giants
Bullpen –Both teams sport impressive bullpens. The Giants were second in all the majors in bullpen ERA and the Rangers were sixth. However, both teams have been let down in the playoffs by those that carried them in the regular season. Sergio Romo (Little Fidel, as my dad calls him) and Santiago Casilla have seemingly perfected the gopher pitch and grizzled Darren Oliver has been horrendous. Both teams have outstanding closers who have a flair for the dramatic (read, they like to walk people) but are usually able to K their way out of trouble. For the Giants, lefty Javier Lopez is murder on left-handed batters, totally shutting down the Phillies Utley-Howard duo, and will be key against Josh Hamilton.
Edge – Giants
Bench – The Rangers bench consists of some combination of Jeff Francouer, Jorge Cantu, Julio Borbon, Mitch Moreland, and Matt Treanor. Francouer and Cantu could go deep and Borbon is a cracker jack pinch runner I’m sure, but really they aren’t much to speak of. So I will now stop speaking of them.
The Giants do have some guys that can make some noise off the bench. Aaron Rowand has been a starter most of his career, plays a very solid CF and may even get a couple starts in this series. Let me clear about this, Renteria is no longer a good player. But…he has oodles of post season experience and does come up with the occasional key hit. Travis Ishikawa and Nate Schierholtz, besides being the teammates with the most difficult to spell last names in the league, are both excellent late inning defensive replacements and both performed very well as pinch hitters this year, each batting .310 or better in that role. Schierholtz is also pretty speedy and has a perpetual five o’clock shadow. Never count out a man with a perpetual five o’clock shadow. Remember Don Johnson? He was a winner. And let’s not forget that the Panda will be lurking. You never know.
Edge – Giants
DH – Perhaps if you combined Sandoval, Burrell, Rowand, and any other Giant who might see time at DH you may get a hitter equal to the talents of Vlad the Impaler. But probably not.
Edge – Rangers
Manager – A couple months ago many a Giants fan was calling for Bruce Bochy to get the axe. I’m looking at you JG. Now, after seemingly pulling all the right levers and pushing all the right buttons in the postseason he’s hailed as a genius. While his head is freakishly large, I’m not sure it houses an extra sized brain. Not undersized either though. There are basically three jobs a manager has: #1. Putting together the best possible lineup for each game. #2. In-game strategy. #3. Keeping the players happy (or at least not at each other’s throats) for an entire season. Some managers are great at one of these, some at two, few all three. I think Bochy is excellent at #3, I think he’s pretty good at #1 (that Guillen injury definitely helped in this category), and he’s probably weakest at #2. Not bad, but not nearly as strong as the other two. But much like his players, I think he’s stepped up his game in the postseason. Virtually every move he’s made has worked out well. Look, a manager is only going to be as smart as players play, but it does take a good manager to know when to put them into opportunities for them to do that.
I haven’t seen enough of Ron Washington’s managing to be able to intelligently comment on if he’s a good manager or not. His team is in the World Series so he must be doing something right, right? Oh, and according to Rob Neyer he didn’t use his bullpen well in the ALCS, so…yeah. Hey, you know how when the Rangers won the pennant they doused Josh Hamilton with ginger ale, do think if they win the series they’ll douse Washington with coke……..a-cola? Wait, what did I just say? That came outta nowhere, I swear!
Edge – Giants
Mojo – Obviously being from the Bay Area means I’ve seen a whole lot more Giants games than Rangers games and am far more familiar with them. And while they say familiarity breeds contempt, they (whoever “they” are) couldn’t be more wrong when it comes to this Giants team. The more you watch ‘em the more you love ‘em. By all the accounts the Rangers are a great group of guys too, and in fact I was just telling my sister that I wish I hated them more (not least because they are AL West rivals to the Angels), but they just have a lot of players I really like (including four ex-Angels). How can you not like guys like Vlad, Hamilton, and Michael Young. Plus Nolan Ryan runs the show! Nolan Ryan! Plus they’ve got that whole weird antler thing going. Never underestimate the power of a weird rallying device (i.e., the Rally Monkey). I’m sure they had there share of unbelievable comebacks, feel good stories, and unexpected successes. But I just can’t imagine any of that has been any more amazing than what he Giants have accomplished this year. They have raw talent than the Rangers, certainly on the offensive side, but it’s not always all about the collection of talent. The Giants are the perfect example of the team concept. It was almost literally a different hero every day. Game Six of the NLCS is the perfect example. After Sanchez couldn’t make it through three innings the five relievers stepped up and didn’t allow another run, securing a victory out of what looked like a sure loss in the early going. It exemplified their whole season. I’ve been avoiding saying it to a lot of my Giants fan friends, but this team reminds me a lot of the 2002 Angels, only with better starting pitching. That team may have been a little more talented offensively, but it didn’t have anyone that hit over 30 home runs and included guys like Brad Fuller, Shawn Wooten, Adam Kennedy, and (sorry friends) Scott Spezio all in key rolls. None of them were too much better, if at all, then your average major leaguer, but they came through when it counted. Just like these 2010 Giants. Plus they have maybe the greatest rally song ever (see below).
Edge – Giants
All of this to say that the Giants are going to take this thing in seven games. Why seven? Because this is Giants baseball and it’s……………………………….really, really hard on the stomach.
Pick – Giants in 7