Billy Beane, the Oakland Athletics’ general manager whose analytical approach to fielding a team became the focus of the movie “Moneyball,” declared in the novel that, “My s— doesn’t work in the playoffs.”
On paper, the Detroit Tigers seem to possess an advantage over the San Francisco Giants in the World Series. They have the best pitcher, Justin Verlander, and hitter, Miguel Cabrera, in baseball to go along with slugger Prince Fielder and a scorching pitching rotation. After demolishing the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series, they received six days to rest while the Giants labored through a grueling seven-game series to top the St. Louis Cardinals.
Then again, anything can happen in the playoffs. Just ask the Giants. Hunter Pence hit a ball three times in one swing during Game 7, when his bat broke and reconnected with the ball. Marco Scutaro, a career .276 hitter, went 14-for-28 in the National League Championship Series.
Barry Zito, a soft-tossing 34-year-old who hasn’t pitched effectively in the last decade, found a time machine to 2002 and pitched 7 2/3 scoreless innings that saved San Francisco’s season. Then he somehow defeated Verlander in Game 1 last night.
In 2006, the Tigers entered the World Series as the superior team, but shaky pitching and horrific defense led to their demise against the Cardinals. Well, Detroit still fields a shaky defense, especially with Cabrera playing third base, and their bullpen could again be their downfall.
Relief pitching could provide the Giants with the advantage they need to capture their second championship in three years. Unheralded for his outstanding work in the bullpen, Sergio Romo is now shining as the Giants’ closer. During the season, Romo posted a 1.79 ERA, 0.85 WHIP and struck out 63 batters in 55.1 innings pitched. Veterans Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez have pitched flawlessly this postseason while Santiago Casilla has only yielded one run in the playoffs.
The Giants don’t possess the offensive firepower to regularly keep pace with the Tigers, so their starting pitcher must step up.
Matt Cain established himself as a legitimate ace this season, notching a 2.79 ERA and 1.04 WHIP. Despite his postseason struggles, Madison Bumgarner emerged as a budding star this season. In 2010, Bumgarner, then only 21 years old, pitched eight shutout innings in the World Series against the heavy-hitting Texas Rangers. Don’t let two sub-par playoff starts erase his potential as a future Cy Young award winner.
As a 35-year-old arriving from nowhere, Ryan Vogelsong’s success defies logic, but why should reason kick in now after a two-year absence? After registering a 2.71 ERA in 2011, Vogelsong earned a 3.37 ERA and 1.23 WHIP this season and has carried over that production into the postseason.
The real wild card is Tim Lincecum. The former Cy Young winner imploded in 2012, posting a disastrous 5.18 ERA and 1.47 WHIP. Two years removed from winning four postseason games, Lincecum still strikes out more than a batter per inning. If Lincecum can return on the grand stage in relief, the Giants can seize the crown again.