World Series Preview: Tigers or Giants?

In looking at this year’s World Series matchup, there are truly only two relevant statistics. Detroit’s four starting pitchers, Jus-tin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister, have combined to throw for 61.3 innings over the span of nine games averaging a 1.02 ERA (with none of the four individually above a 1.35 ERA). San Francisco has won seven consecutive elimination games dating back to last year (six of them coming this year). These two stats are telling of the very es-sences of these two teams this postseason. Detroit has won with dominant starting pitching, whereas San Francisco has won, somehow. The latter statement is by no means a knock on the Giants. Though it is harder to find a defining strength of the Giants, they are surely exhibiting their resiliency after climbing out of a 2-0 hole against the Reds and a 3-1 hole against the Cardinals. This is not going to be the flashiest World Series in recent memory. Though Major League Baseball has to be disappointed that neither Detroit nor San Francisco are the mega-markets sure to drive up television rat-ings, these two teams actually pack a lot of star power. Detroit has the two-headed middle of the order monster that is Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, as well as the league’s premier ace in Justin Verlander, while San Francisco has N.L. MVP frontrunner Buster Posey and a bona-fide ace in Matt Cain. Still, despite this series touting three of the game’s best hitters, it promises to be far from a slugfest. While Detroit relied on its three stars to pull a lot of the weight in the regular sea-son, they actually haven’t been the cata-lysts of Detroit’s offense this postseason. Cabrera is batting a modest .278 with 1 HR and 5 RBIs, far from the triple-crown numbers he posted during the regular sea-son, while Fielder is batting a disappointing .211 with 1 HR and 3 RBIs. While these numbers are not the abysmal failure of numbers submitted by the Yakees superstars throughout the postseason, if someone had told me that those would be Cabrera and Fielder’s postseason splits, I would have rightfully said that there was absolutely no way the Tigers were making it through to the World Series. Still, the Tigers have been able to average four runs per game, thanks to Austin Jackson, Jhonny Peralta and Delmon Young all submitting nice postseasons, aver-aging a .311 BA and driving in a combined 15 runs. If Cabrera and Fielder can manage to get hot, that could spell an early end for the Giants, but regardless, if the Tigers can manage to plate four runs a game and get the kind of starting pitching they’ve been getting, they might not need any more from Cabrera or Fielder.

How does San Francisco’s offense stack up? Well it depends which version of the Giants show up on any given day. In their seven vic-tories, they’ve averaged 6.14 runs per game, while in losses they’ve averaged a meager 1.83 runs. When the offense has come, it’s come in bunches, but they’ve been prone to going dead cold. Like the Tigers, it hasn’t necessarily been the guys you’d expect doing the heavy lifting. While Pablo Sandoval has been the middle-order threat that he was at times during the regular season, belting three HRs and driving in nine runs while hitting at a .320 clip, Buster Posey has slumped to a .178 BA and a meager .600 OPS. His middle-of-the-order compa-triot Hunter Pence has been even worse, hit-ting .188. Who’s done their share of the heavy lifting? None other than NLCS MVP, Marco Scutaro, who got red hot in the NLCS, get-ting hits in 14 of his 28 at bats after only get-ting 3 hits in 20 at bats against the Reds. His massive increase in production at the two-spot has translated into increased opportunities for Sandoval who hits in the 3-hole. The fact that Sandoval has 6 RBIs in his last five games has as much to do with Scutaro getting on base at an insanely high clip as Sandoval is finding his stroke.

Overall, the offensive side of things is prob-ably a wash. Regression tendencies suggest Scutaro cannot continue his torrid pace, but the advantage goes to the team whose middle of the order superstars start hitting. The reason why the Detroit Tigers are go-ing to win this series has everything to do with their starting pitching that has been lights out all postseason, as opposed to Giants’ pitch-ing, which like their offense, has had a case of Jekyll and Hyde. Matt Cain had turned in three wholly mediocre starts before submit-ting a gem in Game 7 of the NLCS, pitch-ing 5.2 innings of scoreless ball. Tim Lince-cum had looked strong out of the pen in his first 3 long relief appearances, before losing his only start in Game 4 of the NLCS, giv-ing up 4 earned runs in 4.2 innings. Madi-son Bumgarner, who was strong all year, has gotten roughed up in both of his starts. Barry Zito had a decent year, and has submitted one gem of a start and one subpar relief ap-pearance. The true saving grace of the staff has been Ryan Vogelsong, who’s made three strong starts, giving up only one earned run in each. The question for the Giants becomes one of trust, who can they rely on and who will actually show up in the biggest of spots. Cain seems a safe bet, as he carried the Gi-ants to the 2010 title not giving a run in the playoffs, as does Vogelsong, who’s built upon a nice year with a stellar postseason. The question becomes what the Giants will get from Lincecum, Zito and Bumgar-ner, which will ultimately determine the Giants’ fate. The Tigers don’t have these questions. Ver-lander, Scherzer, Sanchez and Fister have dem-onstrated that they can each be trusted to take the ball and go at least six innings allowing minimal damage. Aside from Jose Valverde (who’s been nothing short of a disaster in his few appearances and has seen his closer role seized by Phil Coke who has done an admira-ble job), the Tigers bullpen is every bit as solid as the Giants and has benefited from greater rest and lesser use. In a shortened season, where every game is crucial, starting pitch-ing is what wins championships and is exactly why a smart betting man has the Detroit Ti-gers. Still, in what has been nothing short of a wacky postseason where no lead is safe, don’t underestimate the ability of the Giants to pull some wins out of thin air. In accordance with everything that his already happened in these playoffs, I have this one going seven games.

Contact Peter Koehler at [email protected].