There is Justin Verlander and then everyone else.
It probably shouldn't be a surprise that the San Francisco Giants and Detroit Tigers are the teams that made it to the World Series.
If the prevailing sentiment is that pitching wins championships, the Giants and Tigers had to be two of the favorites to win their respective pennants based on the strength of their pitching staffs.
San Francisco has been built around great starting pitching in recent years, while Detroit features perhaps the best pitcher on the planet right now in Justin Verlander.
But which team truly has the advantage in pitching for this series?
Verlander might be the arm that trumps all others, but he can only start two games at most (and maybe appear in three). While Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner weren't quite the dominant duo the Giants were hoping for, the depth of their rotation was able to carry them through the NLCS.
Unfortunately for San Francisco, its best starting pitchers might not be available until later in the series since the rotation had to be extended through seven games versus the St. Louis Cardinals.
Ideally, Giants manager Bruce Bochy would surely prefer to start Ryan Vogelsong or Cain in Game 1 of the World Series, but neither will likely be ready to pitch until Game 3 or 4.
Bochy could try using Vogelsong on three days' rest to start Game 2. That would allow both him and Cain to pitch twice in the series, presuming it goes the full seven games. But taking a pitcher out of his regular routine is always a risk.
Barry Zito is expected to pitch Game 1 for the Giants, according to CSN Bay Area's Andrew Baggarly. A week ago, that prospect might have terrified San Francisco fans recalling how poorly he's pitched during his six years with the team.
But Zito's performance in Game 5 of the NLCS, during which he pitched nearly eight scoreless innings, has restored the fans' belief in him. It was arguably the Giants' turning point in rallying from a 3-1 series deficit. As inexplicable as it might have seemed very recently, Zito is one of the team's best pitchers going into the World Series.
Is Zito a match for Verlander? Well, no—but who is at this point? Besides, this isn't a one-game playoff.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland doesn't have such concerns, thanks to a five-day layoff following a four-game sweep of the New York Yankees in the ALCS. While it's generally believed that the long break hurts Detroit—taking them out of their everyday routine and dulling their skills—the time off has provided the Tigers with the opportunity to set their rotation as preferred.
Having to use Verlander in Game 5 of the divisional series versus the Oakland Athletics took him out of play for a ALCS Game 1 start against the Yankees. Fortunately, the Tigers were able to win the first two games of the series with Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez starting.
Leyland probably wasn't worried about that anyway. If the Tigers couldn't beat the Yankees with a pitcher other than Verlander, they wouldn't be able to win the series. As it is, Detroit's starting pitching was outstanding in the ALCS, compiling an 0.66 ERA in four games.
But the ideal scenario for a team is always to begin a playoff series with its best starter, in effect setting him up to be available in multiple games if necessary. The Tigers will start Verlander in Game 1, followed by Fister, Sanchez and then Max Scherzer in Game 4.
The pitching matchup isn't a total win for the Tigers, however. Their bullpen has been a major concern throughout the postseason, with closer Jose Valverde posting a 27.00 ERA and setup man Joaquin Benoit accumulating a 4.91 mark.
Phil Coke appears to have settled the issue at closer, pitching 5.2 scoreless innings in the ALCS and earning two saves. But Detroit's recipe for success involves its starters pitching deep into the game, allowing Leyland to mix and match his relievers for the best matchup.
Compare that to the Giants, whose bullpen has been excellent throughout the playoffs.
Sergio Romo has been a shutdown closer, allowing one run in seven appearances. Santiago Casilla has allowed one earned run in nine games. Left-handers Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez have been even more impressive, not allowing a single run between them.
Bochy has no problem going to his bullpen if one of his starting pitchers falters. The Giants relievers have taken over in later innings throughout the playoffs, keeping the team in each ballgame and providing a chance to rally. That gives San Francisco a competitive advantage and edge in confidence late in a game.
Because of that, the Tigers don't hold the large advantage in pitching over the Giants that seems apparent at first glance.
If these games come down to which bullpen pitches better, San Francisco looks like the likely winner. But if the Tigers establish themselves early by taking a lead and shutting down the opposing lineup for seven or eight innings, as they did against the Yankees, Detroit should prevail.
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