Justin Verlander, widely regarded as the best pitcher in baseball, will be on the mound pitching at AT&T Park for just the second time in his career. Opposing Verlander will be Barry Zito, who will be taking on the Tigers for the 17th time in his career.
Verlander has been absolutely dominant throughout the postseason while Zito was masterful in his last start in the National League Championship Series.
Let’s take a look at the biggest matchups of Game 1 between the Tigers and Giants.
Barry Zito is coming off one of his best pitching performances of his career, tossing 7.2 scoreless innings in Game 5 of the NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Batting fourth against him in Game 1 of the World Series will be one of the strongest and most feared hitters in baseball, Prince Fielder. Fielder had a very good regular season, his first in Detroit, but hasn’t been able to produce that much during the postseason, batting .211 with only three RBI in nine games.
When the two clash on Wednesday, Zito will have the upper hand. In 18 career duels, Fielder is just 3-for-18 against Zito with five strikeouts.
In the postseason, Fielder's only hits off lefties have come on fastballs. If you’ve ever watched Zito pitch, you know he’s going to be delivering that curveball all day long, especially when Fielder steps up to the plate.
Justin Verlander comes into the World Series red-hot, winning all three of his starts with a 0.74 ERA in 24.1 innings pitched. Last season’s MVP and Cy Young award winner has also struck out 25 batters while walking just two.
Batting second against Verlander will be the NLCS MVP, Marco Scutaro. After Scutaro was brutalized by a Matt Holliday slide early in the NLCS, he’s been completely locked in at the plate. Overall, he hit .500 during the NLCS.
In 23 career at-bats against Verlander, Scutaro only has five hits, while striking out eight times. Scutaro hasn’t struggled much in the postseason, but trying to hit fastballs in the high-90s could prove to be a challenge.
Before taking control of the Detroit Tigers in 2006, Jim Leyland was a manager in the National League—spending time with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies.
Leyland’s last season in the NL, however, was back in 1999. Does Leyland still know how to play NL baseball? Probably, but there is no denying that he lacks recent experience outside of interleague play.
Leyland will have the tough task of playing an NL game with an American League team. He has to be able to make the right moves, whether it be playing small ball or making double switches.
Taking Game 1 on the road is not going to be easy for Leyland, but it will be that much more difficult if he mismanages some aspect of the game.
Jim Leyland was faced with a tough decision in the ALCS when the Tiger’s regular closer, Jose Valverde, was struggling. To make the matter even more complicated, Phil Coke pitched very effectively in place of him. For a full briefing, take a look at the story from Jeff Seidel of USA Today.
Now, the ALCS has come and gone and Leyland has to decide who to rely on late in Game 1: Valverde or Coke?
Looking at the regular season stats, Valverde is the obvious choice. He pitched in 71 games to a 3.78 ERA with 35 saves. Coke pitched in 66 games for Leyland’s Tigers with a 4.00 ERA. Valverde had a lower SO/BB rate compared to Coke, but Coke also allowed around four more hits per nine innings.
Looking at who’s been better in the postseason, though, is a more relevant question. Valverde has had a couple of rough outings and has a 27.00 ERA while Coke has yet to allow a run in 7.1 innings of work.
One of the biggest debates going into Wednesday’s Game 1 is if the Tigers will come in cold.
The Tigers will have had five days off before first pitch on Wednesday, practically a vacation considering they usually have one day off every couple of weeks during the regular season. Detroit had even more time off when they played the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2006 World Series, and they ended up losing that series in five games.
In the other dugout will be the hometown Giants, who had to fight off the Cardinals in three straight games in order to even play in the World Series. They’ve fought off elimination on several occasions now, and it doesn’t seem like they’re going to cool down anytime soon.
They haven’t had many off days during the postseason and the one day between the conclusion of the NLCS and the World Series could work in their favor.
Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
Miguel Cabrera hasn’t been very consistent throughout the playoffs, and now’s the time to make a statement and prove that he’s the best hitter in the game. Up to this point, Cabrera boasts a .278 overall with just one home run and five RBI in the 2012 postseason.
Cabrera has only had limited success off Barry Zito in his career (2-for-8 with two walks), so look to see how he does against him in the early innings. If he’s driving the ball into the gaps, the Tigers are in good shape
Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
Buster Posey has struggled mightily during the playoffs, and now's the time for the likely NL MVP to step up. In 45 postseason at-bats, he has just eight hits, with his last extra-base hit coming on Oct. 11 in the NLDS.
Posey needs to get going, and quick. The San Francisco Giants can’t afford to have him start the World Series off poorly if they’re going to take down the Tigers. If Posey can muster some offense against Justin Verlander, it could be just the confidence boost he needs.