After a hiatus in 2011–I just flat forgot about it–my Sorta Annual World Series Preview is back! Two of baseball’s most storied franchises, the San Francisco Giants versus the Tigers of Detroit squaring off. Since I’m a day late already, I’ll dispense with my usual longish, yet eloquent intro and get straight to the breakdown. I know that’s what you’ve all been dying for.
Giants catcher Buster Posey is well on his way to becoming the most recognized of all men named Buster, surpassing the likes of Buster Douglas, Buster Keaton, and even Buster Brown, purveyor of fine children’s footwear. After a 2010 rookie season that saw him win both the Rookie of the Year award and a World Series ring, it was hard to see how Buster had anywhere to go but down. And he did. His 2011 campaign was cut short by a devastating knee injury, and his once bright future was in question. Giants fans were cautiously optimistic for his 2012 return, but their fear have been assuaged as Buster put up MVP type numbers in the regular season and looked as healthy as a young thoroughbred. Are thoroughbreds considered healthy? Why not? His postseason has been mediocre so offensively, but he has looked very good behind the plate and it’s only a matter of time before his bat heats up.
Alex Avila was a disappointment for the Tigers (and my fantasy team) this year, after a breakout campaign in 2011. His postseason performance has been even worse, making Avila’s contribution to the baseball world little else but this amusing profile picture.
The Tigers went back to the future this off season, paying big bucks for former fat Tiger first baseman Cecil Fielder’s slightly less fat first basemen son Prince Fielder. Big Cecil may be champ at the buffet–though it appears Prince is no slouch despite his vegetarian leanings–Prince is a better hitter than his daddy was. His power numbers this year were relatively modest (for him), but that can be somewhat expected given the change in teams and leagues and Comerica Parks spacious confines. His bat has yet to heat up in the postseason, but he is poised to strike at any time with the ferocity of a jungle cat. A jaguar or panther, perhaps. Or a Tiger if you want to be so obvious about it.
Most games the Giants will run Brandon Belt at first base. He’s a streaky hitter who can get hot and is a slick fielder. But, he is known as the Giraffe, and guess what? Tigers can eat giraffes.
What can you say about Marco Scutaro? Not flashy, not especially gifted in any particular facet of the game, just a solid major leaguer who is insanely hot right now. Hot as in, playing baseball exceptionally well at the moment. I don’t find him all that physically attractive. Since joining the Giants in late July, Scutaro hit over .360 in the regular season and is batting .500 (!!!) in the postseason, with seemingly every hit coming with runners in scoring position. Brian Sabean is a good General Manager, but this is the sort of move that makes GMs look like geniuses.
Similar to Marco Scutaro, Omar Infante was a mid-season acquisition for the Tigers when they acquired him from the floundering Marlins. Not so similarly, Infante, who started off well for the Marlins, did not do much worth nothing while in Detroit, either in the regular season or the playoffs. So….yeah I guess that’s it.
Most folks would tell you that the Tigers have a clear advantage at third base, with arguably the games best hitter Miguel Cabrera manning the hot corner. Most people would say that while Cabrera’s counterpart, Pablo Sandoval, is no slouch, he simply isn’t the same caliber hitter as Cabrera, evidenced by Cabrera’s winning the first triple crown in over 30 years. Most people would tell you that, yeah, maybe Cabrera is a little heftier than your average third baseman and isn’t the slickest third sacker around, but Pablo is no svelter and isn’t exactly lining his mantle with Gold Gloves either. Most people would say all these things. But I’ve just got this feeling that Pablo is going to go off in this series. Especially game one. Something tells me he’s going to have a huge night. Maybe hit two home runs. Heck, maybe three! I don’t know what it is. He’s just got that look in his eye. He’s already had a tremendous postseason at the plate, and I see that continuing. Call me crazy.
The Tigers’ Johnny Peralta is built more like a third baseman than a shortstop, which is probably why he’s got a little more pop than your average shortstop. Like his double-play partner Infante, he’s nothing spectacular but he can hit the ball over the fence, which is sort of a big deal in baseball.
Youngster Brandon Crawford will probably get most of the starts for the Giants. He’s come through with some timely hits lately, but the fact is he’s just not a very good hitter. Maybe he will be someday, but not now. What he is is a pretty good defensive shortstop, so even if he continues to struggle at the plate we may still see him out there. Joaquin Arias could get a start or two if Crawford really struggles, but he is not much of a hitter either. But sometimes you just gotta do like The Cars say and shake it up.
Every time I see Tigers left fielder Delmon Young he looks fatter. He came up with Tampa Bay as a hot shot prospect, and he’s developed into an OK hitter, but nothing near what people, or at least Rays fans and execs, were hoping. Now with the Tigers, he’s slowly morphing into Glen Allen Hill. Decent hitter, a little bit of pop, and about as good a defender as a cigar store Indian…with no arms. Which is why he is usually Detroit’s DH. But with potentially four games in a National League park, he’s going to be in left field. He’s a streaky hitter and is riding a good one right now after battering the Yankees pitching staff to garner ALCS MVP status, so he could cause some problems for San Francisco’s hurlers. In Detroit, the Tigers will probably start Andy Dirks, who besides having an awesome first name, had a nice little 88 game regular season, hitting .322 with eight home runs.
The Giants will start the speedy Gregor Blanco in left. He’s a good defender and adds the speed dimension on the basepaths, just don’t expect much more or you’ll be disappointed. Hey! If we combined Delmon Young and Gregor Blanco into one person, we’d almost have a complete baseball player. We could call him Delgor Yonco and he would be my friend.
Angel Pagan will play center field for the Gigantes. Pagan has been pretty great for the Giants. Making great catches out in center field–or almost like last night’s Peralta HR–or coming through with big hits. Equally as speedy as Blanco, but a little better hitter, his strengths play very well for AT&T Park, as shown by his 38 doubles and 15 triples in the regular season. Solid player and one of the best sports names ever.
In center for the Tigers, former Yankee prospect who game over in the Granderson deal, Austin Jackson had a pretty fine year. He improved by leaps and bounds on almost every offensive statistic and played a terrific center field. Personally, I think he’s poised for a breakout in the very near future.
Giants right fielder Hunter Pence has got to be the most awkward looking professional athlete in the history of professional athletes. Nothing he does looks natural, fluid, or normal. He’s grown this scraggley beard and has these crazy eyes that make him look like a meth cook who’s been cooped up in his lab in the Appalachians for too long. And yet he’s a good baseball player. After coming over from the Phillies late in the year, he has performed as hoped, but just because he doesn’t look like he has any idea what he’s doing, don’t count him out.
Right field for the Tigers will be some combination of Dirks, Quentin Berry, and Avisail Garcia. I don’t know much about any of them, nor do I care. My guess is, they aren’t that great. Yes, I’m being lazy. I’ve got stuff to do today and I’m already a game behind. Cut me some slack!
The Tigers have arguably the best starting pitcher in the Majors, in Justin Verlander. No, its not even an argument. He is the best starting pitcher in the Majors. He’s the reigning Cy Young and AL MVP, and even during starts when he’s not at his best, he’s still often better than most other #1 starters. He was so dominant in 2011 that until you look at his numbers from this year, you forget just how good he really was: 2.68 ERA, 239 strikeouts in 238 innings pitched, a WHIP of 1.06, six complete games, and an ERA+ (ERA adjusted to the players’ ballpark) of 160, which led the Majors. He’ll likely win the Cy Young for the second consecutive year. That the Giants did to him what they did to him in Game 1 is beyond enormous. Before the series started I thought to myself, “Self, if the Giants can beat Verlander at least once, particularly in Game 1, I think they’ll win the World Series.” We still have a few games to play, but you figure the Tigers basically had themselves penciled in for two wins in his two assured starts (they could start him on short rest if there is a Game 7). The Tigers’ other starters, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, and Doug Fistor, are all more than adequate big league pitchers and have all fared very well in the postseason thus far, but the Giants stand a lightyear’s better chance against any of them than they do against Verlander, which makes their Game 1 win all the more important and impressive.
The Giants’ rotation has been their stregnth for the last several years, and while they faltered a bit this year, some unlikely heroes have stepped up when it mattered. First among them, Barry Zito. The much maligned Zito had probably his best regular season as a Giant, though of course nothing worth of his $20 million price tag. But fans have come to grips for the most part to what Zito is now, a back of the rotation starter at best. Maybe Barry himself has embraced this as well. He performed well in some pretty big games, earning a postseason roster spot after being left off in 2010. He’s repaid the trust with a couple of great starts and for the first time since a certain left fielder roamed the AT&T grass, the chants of Barry! Barry! Barry! could be heard once again as he pitched a gem and drove in a run in Game 1. You’ve gotta give him credit for handling everything the way he has. It’s not easy to be a pariah for six years and still keep your head about you and come through when it counts. Kudos must also be given to Tim Lincecum. The two time Cy Yound winner had his worst year by the stretch of I-5. He’s been asked to work out of the bullpen mostly this postseason and has answered the call with grace and performance. Cain has been good all year, Vogelsong has stepped up recently after a rough second half. The question if Bumgarner. Will he bounce back?
EDGE: GIANTS (BARELY)
The Giants and Tigers are both without their usual closers. For the Giants, Brian Wilson has been out most of the year with an elbow injury. For the Tigers, Jose Valderde is out with a brain injury. As in, he’s forgotten how to pitch. Technically, he’s still on the roster and in fact “pitched” last night. But he has been atrocious and removed from the closers spot. I don’t we’ll see him much more unless its a 19 inning game or something. Detroit does have some other power arms, so we’ll see how any of them fare when they find themselves in late inning situations.
Sergio Romo has been outstanding once again for the Giants. Equally impressive is his beard, more manicured then Wilson’s but just as menacing. The Giants have also gotten good work from George Kontos, Jeremy Affeldt, among others. So long as Casilla stays out of the game when anything is on the line, they should be fine.
Both Jim Leyland and Bruce Bochy are savvy experienced skippers who have won championships. Being from the Bay Area I’m more familiar with Bochy’s in game work and he seems to have a knack for pulling the right strings at the right time. That’s a generic and cowardly way of saying I’m taking the local guy.
The Giants are the team that gets to the brink and battles back. The Tigers are the team that beat the tar out of the Yankees for a sweep. Both had to battle for most of the season, though the Giants pulled away in the second half. I’d go on but…I’m gonna be late for work
GIANTS IN SIX