Is the Giants' Pitching This Red Hot, or Is Tigers Offense Just This Ice Cold?
The old graybeards say that great pitching will always beat great hitting.
The San Francisco Giants can vouch. They proved this to be true back in 2010 when they rode their arms to a victory in the World Series over the Texas Rangers and their explosive lineup.
This year, the Giants are penning the same old story, and it looks like it's once again going to have a storybook ending.
The Giants are one win away from their second championship in three years after beating the Detroit Tigers in Game 3 of the World Series at Comerica Park on Saturday night. The Giants rode 5.2 innings of shutout ball from Ryan Vogelsong and more killer relief work from Tim Lincecum to earn their second straight 2-0 victory. Gregor Blanco and Brandon Crawford both provided RBI hits in the second inning, and it was smooth sailing from there for the Giants.
The Giants now have a 3-0 lead in the series. They will put the Tigers out of their misery for good in Game 4 on Sunday night.
I usually feel a little hesitant before making such bold predictions, but not this time. Predicting that the Giants will win Game 4 feels more like an obvious statement than a bold proclamation of any kind.
The Tigers have yet to put up a good fight against any of San Francisco's pitchers, and on Sunday they'll have to face Giants ace Matt Cain. All he'll have to do to secure another title for the Giants is follow in the footsteps of Barry Zito, Madison Bumgarner and Mr. Vogelsong.
We can count on Cain to deliver because, well, Detroit's hitters just haven't been very good in the World Series, have they? It's like they've been trying to hit birdshot out of the air with pool cues.
I suppose that's the big question: Have Giants pitchers been that good, or have Detroit's hitters been that bad?
One's first impulse is to say that what we're seeing is a little of this and a little of that. Giants pitchers certainly have been good, but Tigers hitters have made life a little too easy for them. The credit and the blame must be dished out in equal portions.
On the surface, though, it certainly appears that Giants pitchers deserve more credit than Tigers hitters deserve blame. The Tigers have managed only three runs in the series, and only one of those was earned against a Giants starting pitcher. Plus, things like back-to-back shutouts in the World Series don't exactly happen by accident.
In fact, the word from ESPN Stats & Info is that the Giants are the first team to record back-to-back shutouts in the World Series since the Baltimore Orioles in 1966. We thus had to wait longer for back-to-back World Series shutouts than we did for another Triple Crown.
Two shutouts in the span of three games will lead to some ugly offensive numbers for the opposition, and that's certainly the case where the Tigers are concerned. They went into Game 3 of the series with a collective .167 average and a .481 OPS, and they only managed to collect five hits on Saturday night to drop their team average for the series down to .165.
What's worse is that all five of the hits the Tigers collected in Game 3 were singles, and none of them came with runners in scoring position.
Two of the Tigers' chances with runners in scoring position ended with double-play balls off the bats of Prince Fielder (naturally) and Quintin Berry, and Vogelsong got out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth inning by striking out Berry and getting Miguel Cabrera to pop out to shortstop.
It's fitting that two of Detroit's biggest missed chances in Game 3 came with Cabrera and Fielder at the dish. Bottling them up was high on the list of the Giants' priorities heading into the World Series, and life was surely going to be very difficult for them if they failed to get the job done.
Here we are three games later, and Cabrera and Fielder have three hits between them in 19 at-bats.
It's no wonder the Giants have a 3-0 lead in the series. The Tigers were a middle-of-the-road offensive team during the regular season, even with Cabrera and Fielder lighting things up on a regular basis. If you remove them from the equation, the Tigers are a downright poor offensive team.
This is not a lesson we're learning in the World Series, mind you. This is actually a lesson we learned back in the American League Division Series when the Tigers were doing battle with the Oakland A's.
Against the A's, Cabrera hit a modest .250 with a .668 OPS. Fielder hit .235 with a .513 OPS. Collectively, the Tigers hit .252 with a .631 OPS. Had it not been for Justin Verlander's brilliance in Games 1 and 5, the Tigers probably would not have beaten the A's given how poor their offensive output ended up being.
Some Tigers apologists will no doubt say that the troubles the Tigers are going through at the plate in the World Series extend well beyond Cabrera and Fielder. Tigers hitters may be cold, but they may not be cold just because of the pitching they're facing. The layoff the team had to endure after sweeping the Yankees in the ALCS seems to have had a dire effect on the club's bats.
As far as excuses go, this one's actually not that bad.
When we last saw the Tigers in the ALCS, they were hitting the ball quite well. Detroit hit a solid .291 with an .803 OPS against Yankees pitchers. The Tigers had five guys—Cabrera, Austin Jackson, Delmon Young, Jhonny Peralta and Avisail Garcia—who hit better than .300 with OPS's better than .900. Of the five, everyone except Garcia played a significant role in the eight-run outburst in Game 4 that killed the Yankees once and for all.
All of this feels like ancient history by now, but it's relevant because hot bats going cold in the World Series after a lengthy layoff is something that we've actually seen before. The exact same problem bit the Tigers in their last trip to the World Series in 2006.
When the Tigers went to the Fall Classic that year, they were fresh off a showing in the ALCS in which they hit .285 with an .856 OPS against the A's. They then sat around for a week waiting for the World Series to arrive, and then they proceeded to hit just .199 with a .581 OPS in five games against the Cardinals.
So if what's going on this year looks familiar to you, Tigers fans, that's because it is familiar. The Tigers have been down this road before.
All of this lends credence to the notion that the Tigers' inability to score runs in this World Series has more to do with their bats being cold than it does San Francisco's arms being hot. I'll speak for myself and say that the eye test lends credence to the notion as well, as quality at-bats have been few and far between for Tigers hitters through the first three games of the series.
Giants pitchers have certainly capitalized on the rustiness of Detroit's hitters, but it's not as if Giants hurlers came into the World Series in need of a nice rusty lineup to feed on. At the rate they were going, the Giants would have been champing at the bit to get going even if they knew they were going to be facing the 1927 Yankees in the World Series.
In the final three games of the NLCS, St. Louis hitters hit just .190 and scored only one run against Giants pitching. Zito, Vogelsong and Cain did most of the heavy lifting, combining to pitch 20.1 innings of one-run ball.
All of this was against a very good offensive team. The Cardinals finished fifth in MLB and second in the National League in runs scored, and they finished in the top five in MLB in average and on-base percentage. They went on to post an .836 OPS in the NLDS and then score 18 runs in the first four games of the NLCS.
The Giants' pitching put its foot down in the final three games of the series, treating the Cardinals' vaunted lineup like it was composed of scrawny Little Leaguers.
What do you think is going on?
If the Giants could do that to the Cardinals, it makes sense that they're being just as cruel to the Tigers. The Giants shut down a very strong offense in the NLCS, and now they're facing an offense that is pretty weak outside of two elite hitters. With those two elite hitters neutralized, the fight has been decidedly one-sided.
So whatever you do, don't call what the Giants are doing in the World Series a fluke. If you factor in the final three games of the NLCS, the Giants have allowed only four runs and pitched four shutouts in their last six games. When you're dealing with a streak like this, you can only chalk up so many zeroes to simple poor hitting.
It's 2010 all over again for the Giants. Another championship is within their reach, and they once again have great pitching to thank for getting them this far.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
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