2012 World Series: 10 X-Factors Who Will Decide Tigers vs. Giants
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There are few things star players can't do. They can even swing the fate of the World Series in one direction or the other.
For example, the Arizona Diamondbacks would not have won the World Series in 2001 without Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson, and the Florida Marlins probably would not have won the 2003 World Series without Josh Beckett.
However, the World Series can also be determined by players who weren't supposed to make much of a difference. David Freese in the 2011 World Series comes to mind, as do Edgar Renteria in the 2010 World Series and David Eckstein in the 2006 World Series.
So while you're keeping an eye on stars like Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Buster Posey in this year's World Series between the Detroit Tigers and the San Francisco Giants, you may want to watch out for the X-Factors as well.
If we define "X-Factors" to mean players who could either make a major difference or no difference at all, then there are five players on each team you should be looking out for in the Fall Classic.
And they are...
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
5. Tigers: Don Kelly
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Don Kelly may be the most invisible player on Detroit's roster. Such is life when you post a .523 OPS during the regular season and then play in only two of your team's first nine postseason games.
But there will be a role for Kelly to play on the Tigers in the World Series, specifically in games played at AT&T Park.
The Tigers don't have a roster particularly well-suited to National League-style baseball, but Kelly is a guy who can help make the transition a lot easier. His ability to play virtually every position on the field is going to come in handy once Jim Leyland has to start getting into tricky things like double switches and the like at San Francisco's home digs.
The Tigers could be glad to have Kelly in the field at a given moment, but it's not like he is totally useless at the plate, despite what his .523 OPS may say about him. He hit 16 home runs in limited action between 2010 and 2011, and earlier this postseason he won Game 2 of the ALDS with a walk-off sacrifice fly after Prince Fielder had been intentionally walked to bring him to the plate.
There's a good chance Kelly will find himself in a similar position to do some damage in the World Series. If he actually does damage, he'll make the Giants look like idiots and make Jim Leyland look like a genius.
There's some sort of joke to be made here, but I'll leave that to you and get on with the show.
4. Tigers: Quintin Berry
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Quintin Berry was very much an X-Factor for the Tigers during the regular season, coming out of nowhere to help shore up their outfield defense while also giving them some quality production at the plate.
Thus far in the postseason, Berry has been quiet. He's played in seven games, hitting .278 with a .705 OPS.
Berry is probably going to be even quieter in the World Series, as Leyland's decision to play Delmon Young in left field at AT&T Park is going to force Berry to sit on the bench until he's needed.
Berry will be needed eventually, though. Young is one of the worst left fielders in all of baseball, so Leyland won't be too inclined to stick with him in the late innings if the Tigers have a lead that needs protecting. Berry can count on at least being used as a defensive replacement in games played at AT&T Park.
But let's imagine for a moment that Berry finds himself coming into a game to protect a lead only to watch it disappear. In that situation, he would be in a position to help the Tigers offensively, and that's something he has the power to do.
Berry doesn't have a ton of pop in his bat, but he does have the speed to be a threat on the basepaths once he gets on. He stole 21 bases without being caught in the regular season, and he has two steals so far this postseason.
It's not hard to imagine a scenario in which Berry gets on, steals a base and then scores a crucial run. And indeed, stealing a base and scoring a run is something he can do after entering the game as a pinch-runner as well.
Berry may be used sparingly in the World Series, but he will be heard from.
3. Tigers: Avisail Garcia
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Delmon Young was the biggest thorn in the Yankees' side during the ALCS, but Avisail Garcia definitely made his presence felt as well.
All told, Garcia collected five hits and drove in three runs in the ALCS despite getting only 11 at-bats. This is largely due to the fact that he kept finding his way to the plate against left-handed pitchers. By my count, only one of his hits in the ALCS didn't come against a southpaw.
Given Garcia's track record against lefties, it's all but certain that Leyland will start him in right field against Barry Zito in Game 1. If so, Garcia will also probably start in right field in Game 2 with Madison Bumgarner set to take the hill for the Giants.
Garcia will sit against right-handed starters, but he can count on Leyland using him as a pinch-hitter in a key spot if there's a lefty pitcher coming to the mound. Garcia has made four pinch-hit appearances against lefties thus far in the postseason, and he ended up getting hits in three of them.
Garcia's bat isn't the only thing the Giants need to be worried about. He also has a gun for an arm, and he's already shown it off once in these playoffs. His throw to nail Coco Crisp at home plate in Game 2 of the ALDS was a thing of beauty.
The Tigers' young right fielder doesn't exactly have World Series MVP potential, but his team will be in good shape if he keeps doing exactly what he's been doing in this postseason.
2. Tigers: Jhonny Peralta
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Granted, we're not talking about a no-name here. Jhonny Peralta was an All-Star last year, for crying out loud.
But if the definition of an "X-Factor" is a player who can make a major difference or no difference at all, I'd say Peralta fits the bill. He's had a very good postseason to this point, but his showing in the regular season is a reminder that Peralta could become invisible at a moment's notice.
I mention Peralta as a potential X-Factor for the Tigers in no small part because of the defense he played in the ALCS against the Yankees. He may be billed as a poor defensive shortstop, but he made a handful of game-changing plays that got the Tigers out of some tough spots.
And right now, shortstop defense strikes me as being particularly important after watching Pete Kozma fall apart in key moments against the Giants in the NLCS. If the Cardinals had somebody else manning short in Games 5, 6 and 7, we may be sitting here talking about their World Series X-Factors.
But Peralta's glove isn't the only potential difference-maker he brings to the table. His bat could be a difference-maker too.
Very quietly, Peralta has compiled a .921 OPS in these playoffs, which is tops among all Tigers hitters. He was having a solid postseason at the dish even before he launched two homers in Game 4 of the ALCS.
If Peralta's bat stays hot, the Giants will not be out of the woods even after getting past Cabrera, Fielder and Young in Detroit's lineup.
If there's a dark horse to win the World Series MVP on the Tigers, it's Peralta.
1. Tigers: Jose Valverde
We come to yet another big-name Tigers player, though you'd never know it if you looked at how many appearances Jose Valverde made in the final three games of the ALCS.
That would be zero. After Valverde blew a four-run lead in Game 1, Leyland decided he was better off not using his closer at all. Fortunately, Detroit's starting pitchers were good enough to the point where Leyland was never really tempted to use Valverde again.
But Leyland can't hide Valverde forever. He may not be planning to either, as Leyland recently said that he has faith that Valverde will be ready to go in the World Series.
If he's wrong about Valverde, then Leyland will be forced to improvise with his bullpen use in the late innings all over again.
And he may not be as lucky in the World Series as he was in the ALCS. Phil Coke came to the Tigers' rescue against the Yankees' lefty-heavy lineup, but the Giants have a few more right-handers in their lineup. To boot, the ones they have are considerably more dangerous than the likes of Alex Rodriguez and Russell Martin.
If Valverde does return to form, however, the Tigers' bullpen won't be the huge liability that many are expecting it to be. We are, after all, talking about a guy who didn't blow a save in all of 2011. Though he had his ups and downs in 2012, he still managed to save 35 games with a respectable 3.78 ERA.
Somewhere inside Valverde is a shutdown reliever. If that guy emerges again, the Tigers will be in very good hands when he's in the game.
5. Giants: Joaquin Arias
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If you ask the Giants, they'll tell you that every team should have its own Joaquin Arias.
Arias is a very good defensive replacement at third base, and he can also play a little short and a little second if need be. He's not the most patient hitter at the plate, but Arias did manage to hit .270 while also giving the Giants five homers and five stolen bases in limited action.
When the World Series shifts to Comerica Park, it's a good bet that Arias will find himself starting at third base with Pablo Sandoval serving as the Giants' designated hitter. If so, Arias will get a couple chances to not just play a role in this Fall Classic, but to shine in it.
There are a number of ways he could do that. It's not unheard of for the Giants to get some killer defensive work at the hot corner from Arias, and he had a knack for coming up with big hits during the regular season. There were times when he was the difference between a win and a loss for the Giants in a given game.
If the Giants get more of the same from Arias, they'll be very happy. He may only end up affecting the outcome of one game, but one game in the World Series is equivalent in importance to about 20 regular season games.
4. Giants: Gregor Blanco
Here's a pop quiz question: Who's leading the Giants in runs scored thus far in the playoffs?
You'd think it would be Marco Scutaro, but it's actually Gregor Blanco. He's scored nine runs to Scutaro's eight despite the fact he's logged 12 fewer at-bats.
This speaks volumes about Blanco's ability to make things happen on the basepaths once he gets aboard. He's the kind of guy who will go first to third on a single, and he can also put himself in scoring position by swiping a bag.
Blanco didn't get a chance to steal a base in the NLCS, and for good reason. When Yadier Molina's behind the plate, you stay put, and for good reason.
When Alex Avila is behind the plate, on the other hand, you take off. He's no slouch defensively, but he's not of the Molina clan either.
With his ability to wreak havoc on the basepaths, Blanco could potentially make a huge impact in the World Series. Runs are going to be hard to come by against Detroit's vaunted starting rotation, so Blanco is sure to get the green light to do whatever he wants on the basepaths as part of an effort to manufacture as many runs as possible.
Blanco's presence will also be felt in left field. He covers a lot more ground than your average left fielder, and he has a strange knack for being Johnny on the spot with clutch grabs.
Especially when Matt Cain is on the mound, for some reason, so watch out for Blanco in Game 4.
3. Giants: Javier Lopez
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Javier Lopez is exactly the kind of guy you think of when you hear the phrase "left-handed specialist."
Facing lefties is all Lopez does, really. Bruce Bochy occasionally lets him do battle with right-handers, but Lopez is generally only used when the Giants have a dangerous lefty hitter they need to get out.
And this is a job Lopez is very good at, holding lefties to a .191 average and a .543 OPS in 2012.
There's one lefty in Detroit's lineup who Lopez can count on facing at least a few times in the World Series, and life will become a little too interesting if Lopez fails to get him out.
We're talking, of course, about Prince Fielder.
Fielder knows Lopez well. He's faced him 13 times in his career, collecting two hits—including a homerun—in nine at-bats and working four walks.
That's not a bad track record compared to what other lefty hitters have against Lopez. Complicating matters is the fact that Fielder hit lefties well in 2012, compiling a .289 average and an .808 OPS against southpaws.
If Lopez can get the better of his matchups against Fielder, the Giants are going to feel a lot more comfortable late in games knowing that one of Detroit's biggest offensive weapons can't hurt them.
If Lopez can't get the better of his matchups against Fielder, the series may end badly for them, not to mention much quicker than the Giants would prefer.
2. Giants: Brandon Belt
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Buster Posey hit just .154 with a mere .421 OPS against the Cardinals in the NLCS. He only had one RBI, or three fewer than he collected on one swing in Game 5 of the NLDS against the Reds.
Posey's poor showing in the NLCS had a lot to do with the way the Cardinals were pitching him. Pitches to hit were few and far between, and that's because the Cardinals had no incentive to pitch to him while Hunter Pence was protecting him in the lineup.
The Tigers will approach Posey the same way in the World Series if Posey still doesn't have any protection in the lineup. And since Pence is so unpredictable, I for one have more faith in Brandon Belt solving the Posey protection problem.
Belt's numbers to this point in the postseason are modest, as he's hitting just .222 with a .689 OPS. However, he collected four hits in the final two games of the NLCS, including a triple and a homer. He's starting to take some good cuts at the plate, which could be taken as a sign that he's about to get in one of his grooves.
The Giants can capitalize on this by moving Belt up to the No. 5 spot in the order behind Posey. If he continues to swing the bat well, Tigers pitchers will have to pitch to Posey while also having to worry about Belt himself.
If Peralta is the Tigers' dark horse candidate for the World Series MVP, then Belt has to be considered the Giants' dark horse candidate for the award.
1. Giants: Madison Bumgarner
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After he gave up six earned runs in just 3.2 innings in Game 1 of the NLCS, it looked like we weren't going to see Madison Bumgarner again in this postseason.
And to date, we haven't. Bumgarner was demoted to the bullpen soon after his shellacking in Game 1, but he never actually made an appearance. Bochy never got a good enough excuse to stack all his chips on Bumgarner.
But Bumgarner is not in Bochy's dog house. If he was, he would not have been tabbed to start Game 2 of the World Series at AT&T Park on Thursday.
Bumgarner is going to be pitching on 10 days of rest when he takes the mound on Thursday night, so the fatigue excuse isn't going to work if he struggles like he did in Game 1 of the NLCS and in Game 2 of the NLDS against the Reds.
If the extra rest has done its job, then there's a chance the Giants will get the old Bumgarner instead of the worn-out Bumgarner. The old Bumgarner had an ERA under 3.00 as late as August 20, and he could easily give the Giants seven or eight dominant innings if he has his velocity and command back.
If that's the Bumgarner the Giants get, Bochy won't hesitate to send him out there for a second start in the World Series if he gets the chance.
In a span of just a couple of weeks, Bumgarner could go from being out of favor in the Giants' rotation to being a World Series hero.
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