I’ve been a Tigers fan since I was three-years old. My very first sports memory is of an idiosyncratic, borderline-neurotic, rookie pitcher named Mark “The Bird” Fidrych who set the world on fire in 1976. He kindled my baseball infatuation which was then set ablaze as an 11-year old when the Bless You Boys steamrolled their way to a 35-5 start and went on to win a world championship in what was one of the greatest years of my childhood. So admittedly, it’s going to be difficult for me to remain objective when analyzing this 2012 rendition of the World Series between my Detroit Tigers and the San Francisco Giants, but I’ll try my best.
One objective way to break down a series is to look at the various components of each team to determine who may have an advantage in each aspect and add them up. I’m going to do that here, but really, it’s a futile effort to prognosticate what will happen in a series that will undoubtedly come down to a few key moments, bad bounces, questionable umpire calls, or clutch performances that no one could possibly predict. Regardless, it’s fun to do, it so here goes:
We’re all familiar with the old adage that “good pitching always beats good hitting” and there are no better examples of it’s truth than the performances of these two staffs in their respective League Championship Series. Tigers’ pitching cut through the Yankees vaunted lineup like a hot machete through butter, limiting them to only two runs and putting up a ridiculous 0.66 ERA in the four-game sweep. On the other side, Giants’ starters were not at their best in the first four games of the NLCS with a shaky 5.73 ERA, but they righted the ship with their backs against the wall, giving up just a single run to the best offense in the National League over the last three games. But, I’ve got to give the Tigers the edge here, especially when they have the best pitcher on the planet, Justin Verlander, well-rested and ready to go as many as three games in the series if necessary.
Comparing NL offenses and AL offenses is kind of silly since the leagues play by different rules (for now), but any offense with a Triple Crown winner in Miguel Cabrera protected by the prodigious power of Prince Fielder is going to have an advantage over just about any ball club. I’m not really even sure how SF’s offense works when it’s been centered around the journeyman second baseman, Marco Scutaro, who has never shown much prowess at the plate until he finds his way to the Bay Area and suddenly he’s Rod Carew and even wins an MVP award (hmm… that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?). The 36-year old’s career .276 AVG says he can’t possibly keep hitting at his current .500 clip.
This is the one area where one team has a clear advantage over the other. The implosion of Papa Jackass (as PV astutely christened him) Jose Valverde and general ineffectiveness of Joaquin Benoit has left the back end of the Tigers’ bullpen in limbo at the worst possible time. Fortunately, Phil Coke stepped up and pitched out of his mind to fill the void in the ALCS, but I don’t have a ton of confidence in a guy with a 4.00 ERA and 1.65 WHIP this season. Jim Leyland will be leaning on Octavio Dotel and Drew Smyly to piece together the later innings as they did admirably well in the ALCS. As for the Giants? Admittedly, I don’t know a ton about the their pen besides the few games I’ve seen in the playoffs (I’ll leave that analysis to Pete), but I’m just going to give them the nod on this one.
Detroit’s defense has been the source of jokes all season long, but has been surprisingly strong in the post-season when it matters most. Shortstop Jhonny Peralta has been the centerpiece and really stepped up against the Yankees with multiple spectacular plays. Cabrera is never going to be confused with Brooks Robinson at third, but he’s been solid, all year as is the case with Prince. After a mediocre first few weeks back in a Tigers uniform, the addition of Omar Infante has really solidified the defense up the middle. I’d never call this a great defensive team, but it’s not the liability people made it out to be at the beginning of the season. Meanwhile San Fran’s D has been pretty mediocre this post-seasonwith six errors already—only St. Louis has committed more which might explain why they’re sitting at home right now. I don’t see any real advantage for either team here.
Home-Field Advantage: Don’t get me started on Bud Selig’s most absurd decision that no one in their right mind thinks is a good idea, but it is what it is. I’m sure Verlander was focused more on impressing Kate Upton (are they even going out anymore? I can’t keep up) and not on home-field advantage in the World Series when he tried to throw only 100-mph fastballs and gave up five runs in the first inning of the All-Star Game back in July. Well, Justin, as Teddy KGB said in Rounders: “you must be keecking yourself…” because if you had your priorities straight, you’d be standing on the mound in Comerica Park tomorrow night instead of at Mobile Phone Park West. But when it comes down to it, if anyone had told me before the season that he’d be facing Barry Zito in Game 1, I’d have taken it no matter where the game was being played and I definitely will now. Detroit’s job is to just win one game in SF to wrestle home-field away and they are set up perfectly to do it.
Rest vs. Momentum: Everyone wants to blame the Tigers’ pathetic 2006 World Series performance on the long layoff they had after sweeping the Oakland A’s in the ALCS, but I think the real culprit was their inexperience. Those young Tigers came out of nowhere that year, many of whom had been a part of the historically bad 119-loss team just three years earlier. They were clearly overwhelmed by the moment. But that’s a very different scenario from the battle-tested team we see today, fresh off their second ALCS in as many years. Many are also saying the Giants have the momentum now, having won their last three games, but those same people fail to mention the Tigers have won their last five. And as another old baseball adage goes, “momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher,” and I pointed out the Tigers’ advantage there. Plus, having to use their ace, Matt Cain, last night means the Giants won’t have him available until Game 3 in Detroit. I’m obviously leaning towards the Tigers here, but by definition, intangibles have to be a push.
When you add everything up, I think it’s going to be a very tight series that might even go seven games. Detroit will have to overcome a bullpen that is in flux, but as always, I side with team with the better starting pitching and the Tigers simply have too much for the Giants to handle. The streets of the Motor City will soon be packed with Tigers fans in celebration of their fifth World Series championship. I’m also confident they won’t burn any cars this time.