World Series 2012: Starting Pitching Will Decide Tigers vs. Giants Fall Classic
The old adage of starting pitching being the key to winning a World Series could not be more true when looking at the Detroit Tigers and San Francisco Giants matchup starting on Wednesday night.
Pitching gets so much of the focus in a short series such as this, it almost feels like we ignore what the offenses are capable of doing. That's not it at all. Actually, as we have seen at various points throughout these playoffs, both the Tigers and Giants are more than capable of scoring a lot of runs in a short amount of time.
But if you want to find the one spot where both teams matchup comparably, at least on paper, starting pitching would be it.
I say on paper because the way the matchups actually line up gives the Tigers a clear, decisive advantage, especially early in the series.
Starting with Game 1, where you have Justin Verlander against Barry Zito, does anyone in their right mind think the Giants are going to be able to touch Verlander given how he is pitching right now? Does anyone expect Zito to match Verlander pitch-for-pitch?
Zito's Game 5 performance against St. Louis in the National League Championship Series was not some great re-invention. Give him credit for going 7 2/3 innings without giving up a run, but the Cardinals didn't try to force him to make pitches. They went up there hacking most of the time.
Then you move to Game 2, where the Tigers start the underrated Doug Fister against Madison Bumgarner.
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The Giants chose to go with Bumgarner because, as Jay Lee of MLB.com notes, pitching coach Dave Righetti found the flaw in Bumgarner's mechanics that was causing him to feel "more fatigued than usual during his recent outings."
That doesn't entirely explain the lack of velocity on his pitches, but perhaps the tweak will help him. He just looks tired, period. It doesn't necessarily look like a mechanical issue with him.
Going all the way back to September, Bumgarner has given up 26 earned runs, 47 hits, 13 walks and six home runs in his last seven starts. He is getting hit, and hit hard.
Fister has allowed just two runs with 12 hits and six walks in 13.1 innings pitched this postseason. That walk total is abnormally high for him, but the Giants are not a patient team, so if he is close to the strike zone, odds are they will swing at it.
Then the Tigers bring Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer in for Games 3 and 4. Sanchez has been the silent assassin for this team since being acquired in July. He has been terrific this postseason, allowing just eight hits in 13.1 innings.
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Scherzer is always a wild card because of his erratic tendencies, but so far this postseason he has given the Tigers exactly what they need. He is missing bats and not walking hitters. Because he goes into deep counts, it is easy to get him out of a game early. When he is on, though, he is as tough as anyone in the rotation to hit.
Ryan Vogelsong, who has been the Giants best pitcher this postseason after having an ERA over six in the final two months of the season, won't get a start until Game 3.
The Giants won't be able to roll their best pitcher, Matt Cain, out until Game 4 in Detroit. He has not looked like himself in the postseason.
Cain did throw 5 2/3 shutout innings against the Cardinals in Game 7 of the NLCS, but if you watched him, he was all over the place. The Cardinals just couldn't square anything up. He has always been a flyball pitcher, and in 23 innings this postseason he has allowed four home runs.
If you look at Cain's regular season splits, he did not fare well away from AT&T Park this year. He allowed 21 homers, 14 of them came on the road, which is where he will make his lone World Series start.
The Giants have to just get this series to a Game 7 to give Vogelsong and, presumably, Cain a chance to pitch multiple times.
The one thing the Giants have going for them that the Tigers' two previous opponents didn't is their offensive approach. The A's and Yankees feature a lot of hitters who are going to swing and miss. That plays right into the hands of a starting staff that features the likes of Verlander and Scherzer.
The Giants don't bring the same kind of power to the table that the Yankees or A's do–they are the first team since the 1987 Cardinals to finish last in baseball in home runs and make it to the World Series–but they do put the bat on the ball and force the defense to make a play.
The Tigers have two weaknesses: bullpen and defense. If the Giants can exploit at least one of those two areas in this series, they will have a strong chance of capturing their second title in three years.
As things stand right now, the Tigers have to be considered the favorites because of their decided advantage in starting pitching. When the epitaph for this World Series is written, starting pitching will be the first words anyone sees.
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