Following one of the most impressive offensive performances in World Series history by Pablo Sandoval and another very good pitching performance from Barry Zito, the San Francisco Giants are riding high heading into Game 2 of the Fall Classic on Thursday night.
However, we should not be so quick to dismiss the Detroit Tigers just because they lost one game. Yes, their ace, Justin Verlander, was on the mound. Sure, the bullpen problems that plagued the team all year showed up again.
But it was all just one game. Baseball resonates with people not because it is a great game—though it truly is. It sticks with you because there is no rhyme or reason to anything. What happened yesterday has no bearing on what happens today.
With that out of the way, here are the things that we will be looking for from both the Tigers and Giants that will determine how Game 2 of the World Series plays out.
Keep the Ball in the Park
One of the biggest advantages the Tigers have in this series is on the offensive side of the ball. Top to bottom, their lineup is more efficient than the Giants because they have the catalyst at the top (Austin Jackson) and the mashers in the middle (Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder).
The Giants have a few guys who can put the ball in play, but they don't have a lot of power or speed. The two biggest, or only, power guys in the lineup are Sandoval and Buster Posey.
Well, when you give up three home runs to one of those players, it is hard to win a game. Game 2 starter Doug Fister had the second-lowest home-run rate of the four Tigers starters this series at 0.84.
Of course, Verlander was even better (0.72), and we saw what happened Wednesday night when he did not have good command of his stuff.
Baserunners Are Your Friend
Going back to the Tigers' lineup, they need to start stringing together hits. They had eight in Game 1, but didn't have a multi-hit inning until the sixth when the score was 6-0.
Left-handed pitchers have been their Kryptonite all season. They hit just .253/.329/.395 with 45 home runs against southpaws in 2012, compared to .275/.337/.434 with 118 homers against righties.
They have to face another one tonight in Madison Bumgarner, who has not looked like himself since the end of August. His velocity is noticeably down and his command is way off from where it was in the middle of the season, when he looked like one of the best pitchers in the National League.
Don't Go to the Bullpen
Fister has to be the great equalizer Thursday night. The Tigers' bullpen is shaky, at best. Jose Valverde is lost on an island, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Jim Leyland avoid him like the plague the rest of this series.
Joaquin Benoit is too fly-ball prone to trust in a high-pressure situation, having given up 14 home runs in the regular season. Phil Coke is murder against left-handed hitters but struggles against righties.
San Francisco Giants
Force the Tigers' Defense to Work
If you were to pinpoint one area for the Giants to attack in Game 1 with Verlander on the mound, it would have been the defense surrounding him.
The Tigers are one of the worst defensive teams in baseball, but when you have the most prolific strikeout pitcher on the mound, you don't usually have to worry about making plays.
Wednesday night worked perfectly for the Giants because Verlander did not have consistent command of any pitch, so the hitters were able to put the ball in play a lot.
Even though the Tigers weren't charged with any errors, you could see that defense laboring at times. No one is going to blame Miguel Cabrera for Angel Pagan's double hitting third base, but Delmon Young's throw from left field on Zito's RBI single is a GIF that keeps on giving.
As long as the Giants' hitters are able to keep applying pressure, the Tigers are going to crack. It may not be in the form of a traditional error, but it could be a ball that sneaks through the hole between shortstop and third because Peralta and Cabrera have no range, or a hit to the outfield that sneaks by Young and rolls to the wall.
Get to the Bullpen with a Lead
If the Giants have a lead after five or six innings going to the bullpen, they have a decided advantage.
Bruce Bochy gets a lot of flak for the way he handles certain players, mostly young guys, during the regular season. In the playoffs, though, he is a very good manager of the bullpen. He plays matchups and platoon splits very well.
Jeremy Affeldt is a lefty who can get out right-handed hitters. He had a .621 OPS against lefties this season and .656 versus righties.
Javier Lopez is a matchup specialist, holding left-handers to a .191/.240/.303 line. He can't do anything against righties, who hit .417/.500/.479 off of him.
Sergio Romo has been terrific as the closer despite not having a traditional power arm. His average fastball velocity this year was 87.7 mph (per Fangraphs). He makes up for it with very good command and a devastating slider.
Plus, there is the added weapon of Tim Lincecum. Say what you want about his regular-season performance, which was nothing short of awful, but in these playoffs, he has been terrific out of the bullpen.
If Bumgarner struggles early in this game, you have to wonder if Bochy will be tempted to go back to Lincecum. The two-time Cy Young winner only threw 32 pitches in 2.1 hitless innings in Game 1.
Bochy has said that he can use Lincecum on back-to-back days, if necessary. With the off-day tomorrow, you have to believe that Lincecum will be called upon if something goes wrong with Bumgarner early.
If this game is close in the later innings, you have to give the Giants the edge because of their depth in the bullpen.