The Detroit Tigers boast a stellar starting rotation—headlined by Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer—but their bullpen is a different story.
If there's a difference between the San Francisco Giants and the Tigers—two scintillating squads—it lies in the late innings.
Detroit's relievers, as a whole, have not been bad, but two main arms have been shaky to say the least. In the postseason, Joaquin Benoit is 0-for-1 on save opportunities, with a 4.91 ERA in four appearances. Jose Valverde has been worse, giving up seven runs in 2.1 innings of work.
Winning the World Series without a viable closer is a tedious process, and it will determine the outcome of what should be a very tightly contested series.
The Giants haven't had Brian Wilson for most of the year, but they still have a collection of arms that have gotten the job done in the late innings of October. While guys like Jose Mijares and Guillermo Mota have struggled, neither must be relied upon when the game really counts. The guys that do matter—like Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo—have been spot on, boasting a 0.92 ERA in 24 combined appearances.
Every arm matters in World Series games, but not being able to go to his closer will hurt Jim Leyland. Phil Coke, with his 0.00 ERA in seven appearances, may be the de facto candidate, but he's hardly closer material. Even his appearances have been shaky at times, surrendering four hits in seven innings and walking two.
Getting to Detroit's bullpen will be the key for the Giants. Verlander and Scherzer have both been filthy in the postseason, leaving the late innings as the only possible vulnerability for Detroit in the season's first four games.
San Francisco has a reliable starting rotation as well—assuming Barry Zito, Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain pitch as they did in the NLCS' final three games. They aren't nearly as weak in a game's final innings either.
We saw how Detroit's bullpen treated them against the Oakland Athletics in the ALDS. A repeat performance is tough to predict, but the potential is there if it happened once.
Each manager will have to negotiate through each game carefully, choosing the perfect time to pull his starter and turn the game over to the bullpen. For Leyland, that could be a reluctant task.
This series promises to be excellent. Anything short of six games would be shocking.
Before it's over, expect the bullpen to play a major role in at least one outcome.