By David Heck
After 162 games eliminated 20 teams and the playoffs weeded out eight more, we’re left with just two teams standing: the Detroit Tigers and the San Francisco Giants. But the ways in which both teams got to this point are very different.
The Giants cruised into the playoffs, winning their division by eight games – second only to the Reds’ nine-game edge over the Cardinals. But once they made it to the postseason, the 2010 World Series champs had plenty of obstacles to clear. The Giants went down 2-0 to the Reds, winning three straight games on the road to stave off elimination and move on. Against the Cardinals, they did it again. After falling into a 3-1 deficit, they limited St. Louis to just one run over the final three contests and knocked out the defending champs.
For the Tigers, the story was almost flipped. Detroit didn’t clinch a playoff spot until the penultimate day of the regular season, and while it did go to five games with the Oakland, the team couldn’t have had a much easier time in the ALCS. The Tigers swept Yankees out of the playoffs with barely any trouble, scoring 19 runs to the Bombers’ six in four games.
With the Tigers having almost a week off before the start of the World Series, they get to throw out Justin Verlander in Game 1, while the Giants are forced to open with No. 4 starter Barry Zito. The Giants just used staff ace Matt Cain in Game 7 of the NLCS, meaning he won’t make an appearance until in the World Series until Game 4.
Those factors give the Tigers an advantage in what would otherwise be a very even matchup of pitching staffs. Their combined accolades and achievements speak for themselves: four Cy Young Awards, an MVP Award, two no-hitters and a perfect game. Both teams are carrying two pitchers who struck out over 190 batters this year – Verlander and Max Scherzer for Detroit, Cain and Madison Bumgarner for San Francisco. The Giants finished the year with a 3.68 team ERA; the Tigers weren’t far behind with a 3.75 mark. And while the Detroit starters have been better in the playoffs (1.02 ERA compared to 3.88), San Francisco has enjoyed a stronger bullpen (2.57 ERA compared to 3.92) thanks largely to the struggles of Tigers “closer” Jose Valverde.
The distinctions are much easier to make when one turns to the teams’ lineups. The Tigers undoubtedly have the two best hitters in the series: Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and 275-pound slugger Prince Fielder. The two combined for monstrous numbers this year, totaling 74 home runs, 73 doubles and even one triple (hit by Fielder, in case you were wondering). Cabrera led the Majors with a .999 OPS, while Fielder checked in at seventh with a .940 mark.
The Giants have an elite hitter of their own in Buster Posey – .336 average, 24 home runs, .957 OPS – but they lack that No. 2 guy. As hot as Marco Scutaro has been, he’s probably going to go back to being Marco Scutaro.
The Giants do, however, have a bit more depth than the Tigers. Aside from Detroit’s top two sluggers and leadoff man Austin Jackson, the lineup is full of slap hitters, platoon players and free-swingers (looking at you, Delmon Young). San Francisco has some free-swingers as well – Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence in particular – but those players have nonetheless found considerable success with their approaches. Pence owns a career .814 OPS, while Sandoval is even better at .844. Brandon Belt also gives length to the lineup, providing a lefty bat that can get on base and provide some pop.
So who wins a matchup of such closely matched teams? Well, the Tigers have the best pitcher, the best hitter and the pitching alignment that they want. But the Giants have more depth in their lineup and rotation, as well a bullpen that can actually be relied upon to close out games.
Cain beats Verlander in Game 7. Posey wins the MVP.