One of the great things about the postseason this year has been the way storylines for a series change on a dime. For the World Series, the Detroit Tigers and San Francisco Giants bring very different items to the table.
Before things get underway on Wednesday night from AT&T Park, there are a few questions that have left us wondering about the outcome of this series.
Yet you just know, based on how this postseason has gone, that Barry Zito is going to throw another gem, and the Giants will defeat Justin Verlander in Game 1, thereby changing the dynamic of the World Series.
Until that happens, here are the biggest storylines that we will be paying attention to as the Tigers and Giants battle for baseball immortality.
How Will NLCS Affect Giants' Pitching Staff?
The biggest disadvantage of having a League Championship Series go seven games is that you aren't able to set your pitching rotation the way you would like.
While the Tigers have their perfect rotation set (Verlander, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer), the Giants are going with a makeshift rotation starting with NLCS hero Barry Zito in Game 1.
After Zito, the Giants turn to Madison Bumgarner, who hasn't been right since August. The team claims it has found a correctable flaw in Bumgarner's mechanics that has hurt his command for the last two months.
Manager Bruce Bochy opted to go with Ryan Vogelsong, who has been terrific in the postseason after having an ERA over 6.00 the final two months of the season, in Game 3 and Matt Cain, the team's best starter, in Game 4.
Considering that Bumgarner and Zito are the third and fourth-best starters the Giants have—and that is probably being kind to Zito—going up against the Tigers' top two starters, this series could be over before it begins.
What Role Will The Tigers' Bullpen Play?
If Jim Leyland had his druthers, he would run all four of his starters out there for 130-140 pitches a night just to avoid having to use a bullpen that has been very spotty.
Jose Valverde has pitched in three games. His first one against Oakland went well, with two strikeouts in an inning of work.
What Will Play The Biggest Role In The Outcome Of The World Series?
Since then, Valverde has imploded, allowing seven earned runs, two home runs and seven hits covering 1.1 innings.
Leyland has used Phil Coke as his closer since Valverde's last outing, but even Coke is not the ideal candidate. He allowed right-handed hitters to post a 1.050 OPS against him this season, with both Marco Scutaro (the NLCS MVP) and Buster Posey (a front-runner for NL MVP) in the Giants lineup.
Looking a little deeper in the bullpen, Joaquin Benoit and Octavio Dotel are the primary setup guys. Benoit has not been good in the playoffs, giving up five hits in 3.2 innings pitched. He was homer prone during the regular season, allowing 14 bombs in just 71 innings.
Dotel is a matchup specialist at this point in his career; left-handed hitters had a .360 on-base percentage this season and .376 over the last three years.
If the Giants are able to get to the Tigers' starters early, there are going to be a lot of big decisions that Leyland has to make to keep a game from getting too far out of hand. His choices all have significant question marks that don't have any clear answers.
How Will The Giants' Approach Work Against Detroit?
One of the best parts of the Giants' offense is their approach at the plate. They are a team that puts the ball in play and forces the defense to make plays. That's what they did against the Cardinals, who constantly shot themselves in the foot with an error that led to a big inning.
In the regular season, the Giants had the fifth-lowest strikeout total. Even with Pablo Sandoval's free-swinging tendencies, they know how to work counts, wait on their pitch and don't often chase pitches out of the zone.
The Tigers' rotation is loaded with strikeout pitchers, as everyone knows. Justin Verlander led all of baseball in strikeouts during the regular season (239) and has racked up 25 in 24.1 innings this postseason.
Max Scherzer finished second in baseball with 231 strikeouts and had the highest strikeout rate (11.08/9 IP) in baseball. The shoulder problems that plagued him in September appear to be a thing of the past, as he has thrown 11 innings and piled up 18 strikeouts in the postseason.
Doug Fister doesn't get the credit that he deserves because Verlander and Scherzer are ahead of him, but he posted a very good strikeout rate (7.63) this season.
Unlike the first two series against Oakland and New York, the Giants are not going to help you out. Something has to give somewhere, and the Giants' best chance to win is by putting the ball in play.
The Tigers have two weaknesses: The bullpen, which we already talked about, and defense. That defense is going to look even worse at the start of this series because the Tigers have to play Delmon Young in the outfield to keep his bat in the lineup.
That leaves them with below-average, or worse, defensive players at first base (Prince Fielder), shortstop (Jhonny Peralta), third base (Miguel Cabrera), left field (Young) and right field (Andy Dirks/Avisail Garcia).
In a big park like AT&T, don't be surprised if there are a lot of balls hit to corner outfield spots that roll around for a long time.
If the Giants avoid the huge strikeout totals in this series, they can take advantage of one of the worst defensive teams in baseball.