World Series Preview and Open Thread

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Attempting to predict which team will win a best-of-seven series in baseball is a fool’s errand. All the same, let’s take a look at the two teams involved, to get a sense of their strengths and weaknesses and of how they arrived at this point. Then, just for the heck of it, I’ll attempt to predict which one of them will win. I never said I wasn’t a fool. You should join me in this act of folly and drop your pick into the comments.

Game 1, W, Oct 24 (in SF): Barry Zito (SF) vs. Justin Verlander (DET)

Game 2, T, Oct 25 (in SF): Madison Bumgarner (SF) vs. Doug Fister (DET)

Game 3, S, Oct 27 (in DET): Ryan Vogelsong (SF) vs. Anibal Sanchez (DET)

Game 4, S, Oct 28 (in DET): Matt Cain (SF) vs. Max Scherzer (DET)

Game 5, M, Oct 29 (in DET)*: TBD

Game 6, W, Oct 31 (in SF)*: TBD

Game 7, T, Nov 1 (in SF)*: TBD

(*: if necessary)

THE REGULAR SEASON

The San Francisco Giants

…entered 2012 looking like a team with a lot of pitching (in 2011 they allowed the second-fewest runs in baseball), but not a lot of offense (they also scored the second-fewest). Buster Posey, San Francisco’s rising star, would be returning from an injury suffered in a collision at the plate, but it seemed likely that a rotation led by Tim Lincecum was the Giants’ best bet at finding a way into the playoffs.

They started the season playing okay, but by late May they had still fallen 7.5 games behind the Dodgers. At that point they got hot, winning 20 of their next 30 (including a perfect game by Matt Cain) and on June 28th they moved into first place for the first time all season.

On August 25th the Dodgers made a blockbuster deal, acquiring slugger Adrian Gonzalez and playoff hero Josh Beckett (along with Nick Punto and an injured Carl Crawford). Many thought L.A. would use the move as a springboard to retake the division lead. Instead, the Giants made another big push, going on a 17-6 run, pushing their lead to 11 games. They finished at 94-68, winning the National League West.

Notables:

Buster Posey: Returned from his injury in a big way, putting up a line of .336/.408/.549, with 24 home runs, an OPS+ of 172, and a bWAR of 7.2, the highest by a National League catcher since Mike Piazza in 1997. He was especially impressive in the second half (.385/.456/.646), which probably locked up the N.L. MVP Award for him.

Tim Lincecum: Between 2008 and 2011 Lincecum won two Cy Young Awards and finished in the top ten in balloting every season. In 2012 he fell apart, putting up an ERA+ of just 67 (the worst by a qualified starter in MLB since 2005). He was pulled from the rotation for the playoffs, but three successful relief appearances, was given the nod for Game 4 of the NLCS. He struggled.

Marco Scutaro: Acquired from Colorado just before the trade deadline, he put up the best numbers of his career over the season’s final two months (.362/.385/.473) and then turned it up even further in the NLCS, with a line of .500/.533/.607, including an LCS-record-tying 14 hits, on his way to the series’ MVP Award.

The Detroit Tigers

…entered 2012 as the biggest favorite of any team in baseball. With MVP and Cy Young winner Justin Verlander anchoring their rotation and Prince Fielder having joined perennial hitting stud Miguel Cabrera, Detroit was seen as head and shoulders above the rest of their division and predicted by most to win it by ten games or more.

Things did not go as planned as Detroit floundered through April, May, and June. At the season’s midpoint the Tigers were sitting on a losing record and in third place. But Detroit came out of the All-Star break hot, winning 8 of 10, including a sweep of the White Sox that moved them into first place for the first time since early May. It seemed as though they’d righted the ship and most people expected they’d now pull away. But they didn’t.

The Tigers fell back into second place almost immediately and remained there for all of August. With two weeks left in the season, they were three games behind Chicago. Only a late push (and poor play by the White Sox) moved Detroit back ahead. It didn’t go as smoothly as planned, but the Tigers finished with an 88-74 record, enough to win the American League Central.

Notables:

Miguel Cabrera: Probably the best hitter in baseball, he became the first player to win baseball’s Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 (though there’s a good case he was better at the plate in 2011) and will almost certainly win the American League’s MVP Award.

Justin Verlander: Pitcher wins are still a popular stat (for some reason) and Verlander didn’t have nearly as many as he did in 2011, but he was almost every bit as good this season. He’s the best pitcher in baseball and having him on the mound is a big advantage.

Jose Valverde: In 2011 he went 47 for 47 in save opportunities and posted an ERA+ of 185. In 2012 he blew 5 saves and his ERA+ dropped to 112, 4th worst among closers with 30 saves. He also blew a 4 run lead in the 9th inning of Game 1 of the ALCS and has not pitched since then.

THE PLAYOFFS

The Giants faced the Reds in the Divisional Series and fell behind two games to none and were facing three games in Cincinnati. Things looked grim. In Game 3 the Giants found themselves in extra innings when an error from the normally sure-handed Scott Rolen allowed Posey to score what proved to be the game-winning run. Game 4 came more easily, as they carried a lead into the 7th inning and then broke the game open to force Game 5.

They advanced to host the Cardinals in the NLCS. Starter Madison Bumgarner was battered in Game 1, but Ryan Vogelsong was on point in Game 2 and San Francisco knotted the series. Once the series moved to St. Louis, the Giants’ bats went cold. They dropped the next two games and were pushed to the brink of elimination, down three games to one. On top of that, San Francisco was forced to turn to Barry Zito, who has been no better than a replacement level pitcher the last couple years and wasn’t even on the playoff roster in 2010 when the Giants won the World Series. Lo and behold, Zito pitched 7.2 innings of shutout baseball and the series was sent back to the Golden Gate City. The Giants put up 5 runs in the first two innings of Game 6, Vogelsong was strong for the second time of the series, and it was on to Game 7 (the first in an NLCS since 2006). Once again, San Francisco put up a bunch of runs early, removing all drama, and coasted to a 9-0 victory and the National League pennant.

In their Divisional Series Detroit faced the A’s, who’d shocked baseball by beating out the Rangers and Angels to win the A.L. West. Verlander was dominant in Game 1 and a late comeback in Game 2 put the Tigers ahead two games to none. The series then shifted to Oakland, where Detroit was shutout in Game 3 and saw a two-run lead evaporate in the 9th inning of Game 4, sending the series to a decisive Game 5. Poor Oakland never had a chance, as Verlander struck out 11 while allowing just 5 base runners in a complete game shutout, sending Detroit to the ALCS.

There they would face the Yankees. Doug Fister held New York at bay and the Tigers led Game 1 by four going into to the bottom of the 9th. That’s when Valverde melted down, allowing two home runs, which tied the game. The Tigers managed to turn things around and win in extra frames though, then shut the Yankees out in Game 2, taking a two game lead back to Detroit with them. It was Verlander’s turn again at that point, and while he allowed one run and didn’t quite go the distance, it was another Tigers’ victory. Unlike the first three games, which had some tension near the end, Game 4 was a breeze after Detroit broke it open in the 4th inning with home runs by Cabrera and former Indian Jhonny Peralta. The Tigers won 8-1 and advanced to the World Series.

THE MATCH-UP

San Francisco pitching/defense vs. Detroit offense:

The Giants’ starting pitching was middle of the road this season, when you account for their home ballpark (and a couple others in the N.L. West) favoring pitchers. Matt Cain’s ERA+ of 125 was the only one in their rotation that was above average, and he was much stronger before the All-Star break than after it. Tim Lincecum is potentially a powerful weapon out of the bullpen (or to start late in the series), but he’s been so up and down. Closer Sergio Romo was great this year, but the middle relief has been fairly mediocre, putting pressure on starters to work deep into games.

The Tigers were expected to be among the strongest offensive teams in baseball, but scored a fairly average 726 runs this year. Their team BA, OBP, and SLG are all strong though and their run scoring picked up in the second half. Miguel Cabrera is their best hitter, of course, with Prince Fielder also great. Austin Jackson and Andy Dirks are also both strong hitters, while Omar Infante is the only real weakness in the lineup.

Of the projected starters, none are extreme strikeout pitchers, but Bumgarner, Cain, and Vogelsong are all a bit above average, while Zito is weak in this area. Cain and Bumgarner both have strong walk rates, while Zito’s is high. Meanwhile, the Tigers’ lineup has a somewhat below average strikeout rate and a high walk rate. Walks could be an issue for the Giants. The Giants have a strong defense in the outfield and an average defense in the infield. The Tigers don’t have a lot of speed and stole just 59 bases all season, so that should not be a major factor.

Detroit pitching/defense vs. San Francisco offense:

The Tigers’ rotation is anchored by Verlander, but the others are all very solid too, better than their counterparts in the San Francisco rotation in 2012. They were one of the strongest units in all of baseball, in fact. Detroit’s bullpen is much less sturdy. Phil Coke has been great in the playoffs so far, but Valverde, Joaquin Benoit, and Octavio Dotel, the relievers who pitched the most innings for Detroit, were all shaky this season.

The Giants offense this season was its best since Barry Bonds was still on the team. They lost one of their best hitters when Melky Cabrera was suspended for a failed drug test, but they’ve continued to do well. Posey is the star, but Brandon Belt (finally getting consistent playing time) has been good, Pablo Sandoval and Angel Pagan too. As already mentioned, Marco Scutaro has been fantastic since coming over from Colorado in July. The Giants don’t have much power, they hit just 103 home runs this season (the fewest in baseball), but they get on base and don’t have any big weaknesses in their lineup.

Max Scherzer led all MLB starters in K/9, while Verlander is also very strong in that area. Meanwhile, the Giants’ lineup had the best strikeout rate in the National League. It will be interesting to see which side wins out in that battle. The Tigers pitching is as successful as it is because they keep the ball out of play. Their defense is pretty dreadful, especially down the lines (in both the infield and outfield), and if the Giants can put the ball in play consistently, their bound to collect some base runners a better defense wouldn’t have allowed. The Giants stole twice as many bases as Detroit, another way their offense makes up for its lack of pop.

PREDICTION

I find it nearly impossible to pick against Verlander right now, and if the Giants can’t find a way to win one of those games, they have almost no margin of error in the other games. The pitching match-ups are otherwise pretty close, but the Tigers’ starters have been a lot more consistent of late. I expect one or two offensive explosions from Detroit, but that seems less likely from San Francisco. It certainly isn’t what most Indians fans want to see, but I’m going with...

DETROIT in 6.


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