Another Orange October
Published: Thursday, October 25, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 25, 2012 11:10
I don’t care that 20 out of 25 ESPN baseball experts picked the Detroit Tigers to defeat the San Francisco Giants, because in the MLB playoffs, more than most other sports, it’s about who’s hot. And the Giants are scorching.
In their final three games against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Giants outscored their opponents 20-1. The Giants’ second baseman, Marco Scutaro, earned an NLCS-record 14 hits in the series, batting .500 over seven games despite a sore knee.
The Tigers, though, have a weapon that both the Reds and Cardinals lacked: a true ace. Justin Verlander, the reigning American League Cy Young winner, is slated to face the Giants in games 1 and 5. The Tigers’ four starting pitchers have a combined ERA of 1.02 this postseason and have been turning batters into statues with their blazing fastballs.
But anyone who tuned into July’s All-Star Game recalls the Giants having a field day off of the Tigers’ ace, winning themselves World Series home-field advantage in the process. Verlander can be beat.
The Giants have an undeniable advantage on the defensive side, and all season Detroit has relied on a remarkably high strikeout rate (9.6 per 9 innings) to make up for their shoddy fielding. The Giants rarely whiff: San Francisco finished the regular season with the fourth fewest strikeouts in all of baseball.
Besides starting pitching, the Tigers’ biggest edge is their offensive power: they hit 163 home runs this season, compared to the Giants’ league low of 103. They also have Miguel Cabrera, the league’s the first triple-crown winner since 1967.
But the Tigers offense won’t matter if they can’t hold onto their leads. Their bullpen has struggled this postseason, and their All-Star closer, Jose Valverde, has a whopping playoff ERA of 27.00. The Giants, in contrast, have an array of trustworthy relievers against both right and left-handed batters. And despite the early-season loss of All-Star Brian Wilson, the Giants may have improved at the closer position with Sergio Romo.
The Giants’ odd pitching order for the series may be their biggest weakness. Since Matt Cain started two days ago, the Tigers won’t see him until game four. If Barry Zito and Madison Bumgarner can open the series with two solid games, the Giants will be in a good position, as Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain are much surer bets to deliver in games 3 and 4, respectively.
This band of misfits is every bit as entertaining and resilient as the crew that shocked the world two years ago: the Giants have won an MLB-record six elimination games this postseason. Although the Tigers are their toughest opponents yet, the magic will continue.
Max Minowitz is a senior political science major and associate reporter for The Santa Clara.