By Andrew Perna
Something has to give. The Giants have won six consecutive elimination games and the Tigers haven't lost since Oct. 10. Detroit is looking for their first World Series title since 1984, while San Francisco is hoping to bookend a 2011 season in which they missed the playoffs with a pair of championships.
Over the course of the regular season, the Giants and Tigers were quite similar. San Francisco won six more games, but the clubs were close in batting average (.268 for the Tigers, .269 for the Giants), runs per game (4.5, 4.4) and ERA (3.75, 3.68).
In October, the Tigers have hit much better. They have a batting line -- .271/.317/.399 -- considerably better than that of the Giants -- .234/.301/.369. San Francisco has scored more often, 4.4 runs to 4.0 runs, thanks to timely hitting. They have also clubbed 10 home runs to just eight for Detroit. The Giants have drawn more walks, but the Tigers (slow-footed during the regular season) have stolen more bases.
The Tigers have more star power in their lineup, headlined by Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, but the Giants are deeper than they look. Hunter Pence and Buster Posey have struggled, hitting .188 and .178 respectively in the postseason, but if they get hot and Marco Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval continue raking, they'll have no problem winning an 8-6 game over the Detroit.
With that said, if Jim Leyland's starting rotation continues to pitch as they did in the ALCS, the Giants won't have a shot at a second World Series title in three years. In nine games, Detroit has a 1.74 ERA and 86 strikeouts in fewer than 83 innings. They held the Yankees to just six runs in their four-game sweep. That's six runs over more than 36 innings to a club that averaged five runs per game in the regular season. They have allowed just 17 runs in the postseason.
Opposing hitters have a line of .176/.248/.275 against Justin Verlander and Co.
Verlander, who will start Game 1 against Barry Zito, has allowed just two runs in more than 24 innings. He is 3-0 with a 0.74 ERA and 25 strikeouts in the playoffs. You expect great things from Verlander, but the rest of the rotation has been nearly as effective. Anibal Sanchez (1.35 ERA), Doug Fister (1.35 ERA) and Max Scherzer (0.82) have each made two sterling starts. Of the 17 runs the Tigers have surrendered in the postseason, the rotation has allowed just seven despite throwing 75% of the team's innings.
How Leyland manages his bullpen, which has had their numbers skewed by Jose Valverde (seven runs in three appearances), will be a key to Detroit's success. If he's lucky, the starters will take the baseball and not return it until the seventh or eighth inning. Chances are Verlander won't give the baseball back under the game is over. If that happens, the Tigers will have a happy clubhouse.
If the Giants want to increase their chances of succeeding, they'll have to find a way to get to Detroit's starters early to ensure hacks at a few different relievers. San Francisco has refused to die this postseason, ensuring comfortability in late-game situations and with their backs against the wall. However, simple math indicates that Valverde should improve towards the mean, while guys like Phil Coke have been effective out of the bullpen.
San Francisco has had to score more to advance than their World Series opponent. Here is their scoring breakdown by inning:
First: 4, 7.69%
Second: 8, 15.38%
Third: 7, 13.46%
Fourth: 12, 23.07%
Fifth: 8, 15.38%
Sixth: 1, 1.92%
Seventh: 4, 7.69%
Eighth: 5, 9.61%
Ninth: 3, 5.76%
As you can see, a bulk of their scoring has come in the first five innings. There are two ways you can take this: (a) it's a positive that they've attacked starters and chased them early or (b) they have gotten to bullpens, but haven't had success against specialist relievers employed by the Reds and Cardinals. In my opinion, if they make opposing starters throw a ton of pitches early in the Fall Classic they'll be more than halfway to celebrating another title.
When the Giants won the World Series in 2010, they did so with a red-hot pitching staff, but Bruce Bochy's club has been far from unhittable this October. Instead of getting even better as Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain did two years ago and the Tigers have this month, San Francisco has simply maintained a solid pitching line. They had the seventh-lowest ERA (3.68) with the twelfth-most strikeouts during the regular season. Of the eight teams that appeared in more than a single postseason game, the Giants have second-highest ERA (3.36) despite shaving nearly half a run off of their regular season number.
The Year of the No-Hitter hasn’t bitten in the playoffs yet, but the mound is still where games are won as the trend away from power hitting continues (just ask the Yankees). That has to scare the Giants at least a little bit, even if they possess a staff capable of stringing together several spectacular performances.
It's hard to imagine Cain getting knocked around and Ryan Vogelsong has allowed just three runs in 19 innings (three starts), but the Giants needed seven games to advance and they don't have the luxury of setting up their rotation as the Tigers have done. There is also the tantalizing presence of Barry Zito and Tim Lincecum.
Zito, who led the team to a 5-0 victory in a must-win Game 5 against St. Louis, has resurrected his career a bit. San Francisco has won his last 13 starts, dating back to Aug. 7, but just two years ago he was left off the team's roster for all three rounds of the postseason.
Because the Giants punched their ticket to the World Series on Monday night, they only announced who they will start after Zito just 24 hours before the first pitch. Lincecum won't get a start. The NL Cy Young winner in 2008 and '09, he struggled extensively this season -- going 10-15 with a 5.18 ERA and his lowest strikeout total since his rookie year in 2007.
In 2010, he led the Giants with a 2.43 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 37 innings. This fall, he has made one start and three relief appearances to the tune of a 3.46 ERA and 12 Ks in 13 innings. While he may not get an official start, there is a chance he could turn in a few innings if one of his teammates struggles early.
Prediction: Tigers in Six
When it boils down to it, too many stars will have to align for the Giants to edge the Tigers over a seven-game series. Verlander will pitch at least twice, which almost ensures two wins for Detroit at this point – that's how dominant he's been. Cabrera and Fielder are a tough tandem to face and they'll make a mark of their own against a San Francisco pitching staff that will have to be better in order to keep runs to a minimum.
I'm not discounting the Cain Effect, especially since he won't be going up against Verlander head-to-head. However, Verlander knows his compadres are also capable of shutting down an offense. Cain will have to cross his fingers that Vogelsong maintains his form, Zito doesn't revert to his usual San Francisco self.
The Tigers are simply riding a wave that the Giants know all too well. They traversed it just two years ago and it resulted in the game's highest reward.
Detroit Tigers, San Francisco Giants