The four remaining teams in the MLB playoffs present some intriguing potential matchups for the 2012 World Series.
Among the St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants, Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees, there's not a surprise upstart to root for. All four clubs were generally expected to win their divisions or make the playoffs.
Any underdog ambitions for the postseason disappeared when the Baltimore Orioles and Oakland Athletics were eliminated during the divisional series round. (Perhaps the Washington Nationals could be included in that as well, since they were new blood for the playoffs. But they finished with the best record in the National League—not very underdog there.)
So which of the four remaining teams would make the best pairing for the World Series?
The Cardinals and Yankees would pit two classic MLB franchises against one another. The two teams have won more World Series championships than any other clubs. The Yankees have 27 championships and the Cardinals are next on the list with 11. Both have faced each other five times in the World Series, with the Cards winning three them.
The Yankees and Giants would be a clash between the east and west coast, but there's also plenty of New York history there. The teams are former crosstown rivals and clashed seven times in the World Series. The Yankees won five of those matchups.
A Cardinals-Tigers finale would be a rematch of the 2006 Fall Classic, during which the underdog Cards surprised the Tigers by winning in five games. Of course, the two teams also faced each other in the '68 World Series, with the Tigers rallying from a 3-1 series deficit to win in seven.
Each of those three would make for an enticing World Series. But how about a pairing that we've never seen before in October? A Fall Classic between the Giants and Tigers would make for the best championship matchup.
First of all, a Giants vs. Tigers series would provide a quintessential battle between strong pitching and powerful hitting. Framing the matchup as such might be somewhat inaccurate, however.
Until Ryan Vogelsong's one-run, seven-inning effort in Monday's Game 2 of the NLCS, San Francisco's starting pitching hadn't been the strength it's portrayed as. Neither has the Tigers' hitting prowess, despite the presence of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder in their lineup.
But Cabrera is hitting .286 and Detroit has averaged nearly four runs a game during the postseason, so maybe this narrative fits them better. Just remember Prince Fielder and his .200 batting average when telling that story.
Regardless of whether current numbers align with the preferred storyline, there would still be some extremely compelling pitcher vs. batter confrontations. Matt Cain vs. Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera and Fielder vs. Sergio Romo. Would Vogelsong be able to shut the Tigers down, as he did with the Cardinals and Reds?
That would go the other way, as well. What about Justin Verlander vs. Buster Posey? How would Doug Fister fare against Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence? Could a struggling Tigers bullpen keep the Giants from rallying or pouring it on in later innings?
By the way, the previous two paragraphs show the star power that we'd have in this series. The likely Most Valuable Players in the American and National Leagues would be playing each other. Both teams feature Cy Young Award candidates as well.
Bruce Bochy and Jim Leyland are also both considered among the top managers in MLB, and each skipper popular with the media, which would make for a good battle of wits and strategy. The pregame managers' press conferences would surely be a highlight before each game.
The Giants and Tigers playing each other would also present an intriguing contrast between cities.
San Francisco is generally considered one of the great, cosmopolitan cities in the United States, with notable landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge and Transamerica Pyramid.
Detroit, whether it's accurate or not, is depicted as a crumbling Rust Belt city with no iconic structures other than perhaps the Renaissance Center.
Another general stereotype of San Francisco is the portrayal of a tech-savvy, hipster population living the modern city lifestyle that's often held up as the ideal in culture and media. Detroit's populace is contrarily conveyed as blue collar, perhaps grizzled by the colder weather and harsh economic climate.
Again, neither classification is entirely accurate. But it's easy to reduce the two cities and their residents in such a manner.
Would the Tigers be perceived as an underdog in a World Series with the Giants? Detroit is six years removed from its last Fall Classic, and is likely familiar with MLB playoff fans from last year's postseason. But the Tigers haven't won it all since 1984.
Meanwhile, the Giants were in the postseason just two years ago and finished it off with an upset of the Texas Rangers for the World Series championship.
Detroit sports fans love to play the disrespect card and carry a chip on their shoulder over how their teams and region are portrayed by the national media and fandom. Call it the Midwestern Inferiority Complex.
But what if the Tigers win national favor during the World Series? They do have the look of an underdog to them. And, of course, there's no more of an underdog city than Detroit.
What a Giants-Tigers World Series might lack in tradition and history, it makes up for with plenty of intriguing storylines , subplots and star power. It's the matchup we should all be rooting for... unless you're a fan of the Cardinals or Yankees, naturally.
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