by Richard Van Zandt, BaseballEvolution.com
October 27, 2010
The 106th Major League Baseball World
Series begins today in San Francisco, pitting the Texas Rangers, with zero
Series appearances in their first 49 years as a franchise, against the Giants,
who have not won a World Series since 1954 when they called the Polo Grounds in
New York home. Neither team was supposed to be here. Texas beat AL East
favorites Tampa Bay and New York to get here for the first time ever, while the
Giants ousted a pair of NL East teams, Atlanta and Philadelphia, to make
it for the first time since the Barry Bonds led Giants of ‘02. It shapes up to
be an epic battle pitting Cinderella versus Cinderella.
Statistically, in some ways, the contrast between
the two clubs could not be more dramatic. The Rangers were fifth in the majors
in runs scored (787) while the Giants ranked 17th (697). San
Francisco was first in baseball in team ERA (3.36) while Texas was tied for 9th
(3.93). The Rangers were 7th overall in stolen bases (123) while the
Giants were tied for last (55). San Francisco’s staff registered 17 shutouts
(t-4th) while Texas’ pitchers accounted for only 8 (t-21st).
Texas led the majors in team batting average (.276) while San Francisco tied for
15th (.257), and the Giants pitchers surrendered just 134 home runs
(t-26th fewest) while the Rangers staff allowed 162 (9th).
In other ways, however, the two teams are quite
similar. Both tied for 10th in MLB with 162 home runs hit in 2010.
The Giants relievers were 2nd in the majors in ERA (2.99) while
Texas’ bullpen was 2nd in the AL (3.38). Texas led the American
League in sacrifice bunts (53) while the Giants were 3rd in the
Senior Circuit (76), and the Giants tied for 13th in baseball with
476 extra-base hits while the Rangers were 17th with 455.
Overall though, the edge offensively definitely
goes to Texas, while the Giants clearly get the nod in pitching. But on the
oft-overlooked defensive side of the ball the scales tip squarely in the Giants
favor (Giants: 54.6 Ultimate Zone Rating, 54 Defensive Runs Saved – Rangers:
18.1 UZR, 0 DRS). This is important to note because when you play as many
one-run games as San Francisco does, you’d better be sound defensively. This
post-season, the Giants have played seven one-run contests and have gone 6-1 in
those games while making just 3 errors (with two key errors leading to the one
loss). Matched up against a team as offensively capable as Texas, San Francisco
knows well that they can ill-afford to give away runs.
The biggest key for Texas in this series will be
simply to hit and run the bases like the Texas Rangers, under manager Ron
Washington, do. And so far this post-season, they have done just that, leading in
nearly every offensive category while hitting 17 home runs, stealing 15 bases
(in 17 attempts), and scoring 59 runs in 11 games. They have beaten one Cy Young
candidate, David Price, twice in these playoffs and scored 7 runs on 17 hits in
10 innings versus another, CC Sabathia. They’ll have their hands full with
two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum (16-10, 3.43), Matt Cain (13-11, 3.14),
Jonathan Sanchez (13-9, 3.07) and the rest of the Giants' pitching staff, but
they have averaged over five runs per game so far this fall and if they can
continue to match that pace, the folks in Arlington will have a lot to celebrate
all winter long.
The Giants' pitchers, though, have shown themselves
more than capable of shutting down a high-powered offense, holding the
high-scoring Phillies to just over three runs a game in the NLCS while
preventing Ryan Howard from recording a single RBI and limiting Chase Utley to
just one RBI and a .182 batting average. They have done it with magnificent
starting pitching (a collective 2.15 ERA from their starters this October) and a
fantastic bullpen that gave them seven shutout innings in the Game 6 NLCS
clincher. They’ll have to produce similar results to bring home the first ever
baseball championship to The City by The Bay. To that end, they’ll need to keep
2010 AL batting champ Josh Hamilton from replicating his ALCS MVP performance
(.350, 4 HR, 7 RBI) and also find a way to slow down Nelson Cruz (5 HR, 8 RBI,
1.294 OPS), Ian Kinsler (3 HR, 9 RBI, 1.097 OPS), and leadoff man Elvis Andrus
(.333 BA, 17 hits leads the post-season).
But another big key for San Francisco will be for
Lincecum to neutralize the Rangers version of Mr. October, Cliff Lee (12-9,
3.18). Lee is 3-0 with a 0.75 ERA in these playoffs, and 7-0 with a 1.26 ERA in
8 career post-season starts, having taken the ball in Game 1 of the World Series
last year for Philadelphia against the Yankees. He’s been equally effective
against the Giants in his career, posting a 3-0 record and a 1.13 ERA in 3
career starts. Lincecum, 2-1 in his first post-season with a 1.93 ERA, has never
faced Texas. However, Lee went 2-0 against the Bombers in last year’s Series and
New York still won their 27th World Championship, so he is clearly no
guaranteed Series win for Texas. Texas will still need C.J. Wilson (15-8, 3.35),
Colby Lewis (12-13, 3.72), and Tommy Hunter (13-4, 3.73) to deliver championship
performances as well if Texas is to win it all.
What could end up being a key factor in this
series may have awarded to the Giants back in July when Brian McCann’s 7th
inning double in the All-Star game gave the NL a 3-1 win over the AL and handed
San Francisco the Series home field advantage. The Giants had the 4th
best team ERA in baseball at home (3.07) in 2010 and allowed just 64 long balls
(t-6th fewest in MLB). Spacious
Willie Mays Field at AT&T Park will help San Francisco’s pitching
staff to nullify the Rangers' offensive advantage.
And while the Giants will benefit in Game’s 3-5 in
Texas not only by being able to hide a defensively challenged player such as Pat
Burrell or Pablo Sandoval in the DH role, but by also being able to add another
bat to the lineup, the Rangers will be forced in Game’s 1 and 2, and possibly 6
and 7, to either sit Vladimir Guerrero or play him in right field, therefore
weakening themselves either offensively or defensively.
They say the Rangers' offensive juggernaut will
score too much for San Francisco. They say the Giants hitters won’t score
enough. But this season, this scrappy band of Giants players have proven the
experts wrong again and again. Despite their offensive shortcomings, they have
beaten teams with better pitching than what Texas has (Atlanta led by Tim Hudson and
Derek Lowe ranked 3rd in MLB in team ERA and Philadelphia with their
triple-aces Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels placed 6th), and
their pitchers have already proven steady under fire from a top flight offense.
The Giants have been led brilliantly by manager Bruce Bochy and their collective
confidence can best be illustrated by the words of 21-year old rookie 4th
starter Madison Bumgarner (7-6, 3.00) after he surrendered a lead-off double in
the bottom of the 6th inning of Game 6 of the NLCS. Facing Ben Francisco with one out in a tie game
after a sacrifice bunt moved Raul Ibanez to third, Bumgarner told first baseman
Aubrey Huff, “I’ll strike this guy out right here and we’re gonna get outta this
thing.” Pitching in relief on just two days rest, Bumgarner then proceeded to
strike out Francisco looking and then got Jimmy Rollins to fly out to promptly
end the threat. Even Joe “The Mouth” Buck and sidekick Tim
McCarver commented during the LCS on FOX on the incredibly loose and confident
atmosphere in the Giants clubhouse.
Despite middle-of-the-pack numbers, San Francisco
has gotten timely hits all season long from guys like Huff, Burrell, rookie
catcher and clean-up hitter Buster Posey, and Juan Uribe, who won Game 4 of the
NLCS with a sac fly and sent San Francisco to the World Series with his 8th
inning homer in Game 6. And don’t forget about the Giants secret weapon, Cody
Ross, who won the MVP of the LCS with a .350 batting average and 3 home runs
after being picked up off waivers from Florida in August, ostensibly to keep him
from going to San Diego.
Then there is the bullpen, led by Brian “Fear the
Beard” Wilson, who has notched nine scoreless innings this post-season while
racking up five saves in six chances, and lefty Javier Lopez, who was vital in
the series win over Philadelphia. Lopez, acquired at the trade deadline in July,
has allowed just one hit and one run in seven appearances this October, and was used
primarily in the NLCS to mow down the heart of the Phillies order.
They said the Giants wouldn’t beat Atlanta, though
I had them
winning in five. They said the Phillies would be making their
third straight Series appearance, but I had
the Giants in 7. They say that the Rangers will be too much for
San Francisco this time as well. Well, once again, I disagree. I say the Giants
will prove them wrong one more time, winning it all for the first time since the
days of Willie Mays and Dusty Rhodes. They’ll do it in five games this time,
ending the third longest active World Series drought in baseball and forcing
those nice folks in Arlington to wait at least one more year till they can
celebrate all winter long.
Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Richard resides in San Francisco, California and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.