Major League Baseball fans everywhere should be a bunch of happy campers today. We’ve been blessed by the Baseball Gods with a star-studded World Series match-up between the American League champion Detroit Tigers and the National League champion San Francisco Giants. There is MVP and Cy Young hardware all over the place in this series. We have the presumptive 2012 MVP winners in Miguel Cabrera and Buster Posey, seated to your left (although there are MVP arguments for other players, Mike Trout in particular). Over in that corner you have the 2011 AL MVP/Cy Young winner in Justin Verlander. Turn around and you can catch a glimpse of Barry Zito, the 2002 Cy Young winner. Just strolling in the door is Tim Lincecum, the winner of the 2008 and 2009 Cy Young awards in the National League. It’s ridiculous how many big names are in this series, and we haven’t even mentioned the perennial All-Star types like Prince Fielder and Matt Cain. Every single playoff series, except for the ALCS, has been remarkably balanced and has gone the distance this year, and with two evenly matched competitors set to take the diamond tonight, you can expect more evenly matched world-class baseball. Here’s some of what you should be keeping your eye on in the games to come.
Unstoppable force vs. Immovable object
That unstoppable force I speak of is Justin Verlander, the consensus no-doubt-about-it best pitcher in baseball. Over the last 2 seasons no pitcher has thrown more innings, struck out more batters, won more games, or generally been as awesome as Mr. Cy Young/MVP. His regular season dominance has finally stretched into October in 2012, and the results for opposing lineups have been frightening. Verlander is 3-0 this postseason and has allowed just 2 runs in 24.1 innings. The right-hander has struck out 25 batters compared to just 5 walks and has generally appeared unbeatable in each one of his starts. His fastball can touch upwards of 100 mph and his breaking pitches are all considered some of the finest in the game.
And the best news for Detroit is that due to their dominant 4-0 sweep of the Yankees, Verlander is lined up to pitch 3 times against San Francisco in the World Series. Detroit is 51-22 over the past two seasons (postseason included) in games in which Verlander starts. That’s good for a .699 win percentage, which is going to be extremely tough for the Giants to overcome. To win this World Series the Giants are either going to have to beat Justin Verlander or win every single game that he doesn’t start.
Beating Verlander even once right now appears to be a tall task, so naturally, we have Marco Scutaro, a 5’10”, 185 pound middle infielder who has a penchant for contact, to counter him. Scutaro swung-and-missed at just 17 balls during the regular season in 683 plate appearances, a ridiculous rate that was by far the best in baseball. Along with Angel Pagan at the top of the order, his job is to set the table for the Giants thunderous 3-4-5 hitters, Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey, and Hunter Pence. Pagan and Scutaro have been on base constantly this postseason and have been the real motor of the Giants’ offensive attack thus far, driving opposing pitchers nuts with their hit-and-run ability. If the Giants are going to take down a pitcher as dominant as Verlander, they are going to need the top of the lineup to continue to do such a nice job of setting the table.
Which 2012 MVP candidate will make the bigger impact?
Buster Posey and Miguel Cabrera are probably going to win the Most Valuable Player awards this offseason. Cabrera won the Triple Crown, Posey was the best hitter in baseball in the 2nd half while also playing catcher, and both of their teams won their respective divisions, making them the easy choices for the voters. Whether those choices are right or not is a debate for another day. Currently each player is on a quest to lead their team to a title. Outside of 1 or 2 big games, both Posey and Cabrera have been held in check this postseason. Posey struggled for most of the NLCS, frequently chopping yet another sinker or cut fastball into the dirt for an infield groundout.
Both Oakland and New York were able to mostly neutralize Cabrera by keeping him in the park with a barrage of pitches just off the plate. Each player has appeared to be just a little anxious at the plate so far, and if either of the two potential MVPs can step their game up it could make all the difference in the world. Cabrera seems to be the most likely to do so. He was just appearing to find his groove at the plate in Game 4 of the ALCS, drilling a monster home run to put the final nail in the coffin on the Yankees demise. Look for Giants pitchers to steer clear of Cabrera if he gets hot, instead opting to pitch at Prince Fielder, which could cause all sorts of trouble.
Can Barry Zito keep his 13 start winning streak alive against Justin Verlander and the Tigers lineup?
The Giants have announced that their Game 1 starter will be none other than Barry Zito, a man in the midst of a renaissance season. Zito’s Giants have won the last 13 games that he has started, and his Game 5 outing to pull San Francisco back from the brink may have been the finest of his career, at least in terms of importance. Zito flummoxed the 2nd highest scoring attack in the National League, despite the fact that he never threw a single pitch faster than 86 mph. His soft-tossing stuff matched up perfectly against a St. Louis lineup that feasted on fastballs all season long, but it’s worth questioning whether or not it will have the same effect on the Tigers.
Over the course of his career, Zito has done an excellent job of keeping current Tigers hitters in check. Only about half the Detroit hitters have faced Zito in his career and they’ve only been able to muster a .150 average against him. It’s an extremely small sample size, which makes the data tough to rely on, but it’s the only data we have. If Zito can keep the middle of the Detroit order in check (Cabrera, Fielder, Young), then he stands a good chance of keeping the Giants in the game. Verlander isn’t going to give up many runs or make many mistakes so the margin of error for San Francisco starter is going to be razor-thin.
Will the layoff have any effect on the Tigers?
Six years ago the Detroit Tigers faced the Oakland A’s in the ALCS and came away victorious, sweeping their challengers under the rug with a memorable Magglio Ordonez walk-off homer. In the National League that season, the St. Louis Cardinals were barely able to squeak by the New York Mets in a 7 game thriller, which sent them to the World Series. Detroit had nearly a week off between games in 2006 and it really showed on the field. The Tigers were sloppy on defense, their offense could never find a groove, and they were easily dispatched in 5 games.
Well it’s a little bit of deja vu all over again for Detroit. They swept the Yankees in embarrassing fashion this year while the Giants scratched and clawed for 7 long games to get past the Cardinals. The Tigers have stayed busy during their downtime this year by playing inter-squad games against their minor leaguers, and manager Jim Leyland says his team will be better prepared this time around.
If they are, Detroit definitely has a slight edge in the series because they were able to set up their rotation with Verlander on the mound in Game 1, setting him up to pitch Games 4 and 7 (if needed) as well. Justin Verlander is the best player on the field between the two teams, and because of him I’m picking Detroit in 6 games. The Giants have been feisty this entire postseason, but I just don’t think they will be able to respond to Verlander, so Tigers it is.