Giants' resolve will top Tigers' thump in Series
SAN FRANCISCO -- Some part of me wanted to do a little Detroit leaning when it came time to make a World Series prediction.
The Tigers' rotation has been untouchable this October, and it benefits from the rest that came with sweeping the Yankees in an incredibly convincing American League Championship Series. Justin Verlander is lined up on regular rest for Games 1 and 5, while the Giants seemingly exhausted their arms in toppling the reigning World Series champion Cardinals in seven games.
So, sure, no shortage of folks -- my MLB.com colleague Richard Justice included -- will see the Tigers as the team to beat in the Fall Classic.
I get it.
But I'll be darned if I'm going to fall for it.
The Giants have proven themselves as the club that can't be killed. They are "cockroaches," as general manager Brian Sabean calls them. Against a Cardinals team with a similar reputation, the Giants fell behind three games to one, only to rally with three straight wins in three straight elimination games for the second consecutive postseason round. Only the 1985 Royals have completed a similar feat, and, for the Royals, that feat netted a World Series win.
Pick against the Giants now? After all that?
It might have been easy to count them out when Brian Wilson got hurt. Or when Melky Cabrera got suspended. Or when the Dodgers sent a blank check to the Red Sox and asked them to send back any veterans on bloated contracts they felt like unloading. Or when the Reds and Cards had them by the throat.
By now, though, you ought to be convinced that this is a special Giants squad, greater than the sum of its parts and firm in its fortitude.
"Everyone counted us out four or five times this year already," right-hander Ryan Vogelsong said. "I think the perseverance through the whole season is where we draw the confidence that it's not over until the last out is made."
It took seven games for the Giants to get the Cards down to their final out, and this puts them in a precarious position, from a starting pitching standpoint. Matt Cain won't start until Game 4 in Detroit. With Vogelsong and Cain having been burned in Games 6 and 7 of the NLCS, Bruce Bochy's choices for his Game 1 starter in the World Series came down to Barry Zito, Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner. Zito got the nod based on his stellar start in St. Louis on Friday, but he was shaky in Cincinnati the week prior. Bumgarner follows in Game 2, and his 11.20 ERA this postseason doesn't inspire a great deal of confidence. Vogelsong will get the nod in Game 3.
The Tigers, on the other hand, have their starters aligned exactly as intended: Verlander, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer. It's a fearsome foursome, indeed, one that netted a 0.66 ERA in the ALCS that stands as the second-lowest ever in a best-of-seven set.
But the three previous squads who came off a seven-game LCS and faced a club coming off a sweep went on to win the World Series, and the Giants have a good chance to become the fourth.
I like their chances not only because of the resounding resolve they've shown thus far on this stage, but because they have the ability to outlast and outplay the Tigers in two areas that quite often swing a short series -- in relief, and on defense.
Giants relievers posted a 1.93 ERA in the NLCS. They don't have a go-to closer, nor do they need one. They present matchup headaches for the opposition because they have three lefties -- Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez and Jose Mijares -- that can be trusted in high-leverage spots and could limit the productivity of the Tigers' right-left, three-four punch in Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.
Right-handers Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla are also both capable of closing out games, and the underrated Bochy has made this closer-by-committee situation work for his club (something very few managers can say), because he's shown a propensity for pushing the right buttons at the right moments.
The Tigers, meanwhile, saw their bullpen betray them in the Division Series round, surviving in spite of Jose Valverde's meltdown. That situation is still unsettled, and Jim Leyland has to decide whether to ride the hotter hand in Phil Coke or put his faith back in Papa Grande. In general, the Tigers' bullpen looked shaky down the stretch this season, and that carried into October, where it has amassed a 3.92 ERA in 20 2/3 innings.
Detroit's bullpen and defensive issues didn't become much of a factor in the ALCS because the Tigers' starters ate up so many innings against an inept Yankee offense that struggled to put the ball in play. Even with Buster Posey struggling at the plate, the Giants' offense came alive in a big way in the three-game surge against the Cards, and those Tigers gloves will be tested by a Giants team that posted the fourth-lowest strikeout rate (17.7 percent) and the sixth-highest ground ball rate (46.5 percent) in the Majors this season.
The Giants' stellar defensive effort against the Cards was a big reason they swung the series in their direction. All around the diamond, there were diving stops, leaping grabs, balls chased down in the gaps, killing one would-be rally after another.
"Critical," Bochy said. "Our defense played a critical role in our success trying to come back."
It could prove critical again.
I'm not going to make as big a deal about the Tigers' long layoff as some might. This isn't the same team or the same circumstances as in 2006, when weather prevented the Tigers from getting much work in between the ALCS sweep of the A's and the World Series loss to the Cardinals.
But I do think there is something to the history of homefield advantage in this round, particularly in as tough a place to play as AT&T Park. The place was rocking the last couple nights, and the "10th man" factor becomes a big one if the Giants are able to take an early lead.
Teams with the homefield advantage have won 21 of the last 26 World Series, and each of the last nine World Series Game 7s.
That's a pretty good precedent for the club that can't be killed, and I like the Giants' chances of locking up their second World Series crown in three years.
Giants in six.