Instead, it’s just the two best teams.
It’s the Texas Rangers, the team with the best hitting, against the San Francisco Giants, the team with the best pitching. One hasn’t won the World Series for 56 years. The other has never been to the World Series.
Instead of watching two teams whose fans expected to be here, we’ll be watching two teams whose fans still can’t believe they actually are here. Those fans, like the players, will be pumped up and ready to go come Wednesday.
For all those East Coasters who were in bed by the time these teams were throwing out the first pitch during the regular season, let’s take a position-by-position look at the Giants and the Rangers to see what we can expect from this series.
When the Giants traded Molina to Texas back in July, they may have lost their title as the Fattest Team in Baseball. Juan Uribe and Pablo Sandoval just weren’t sure if they could carry the load without the veteran backstop.
But Brian Sabean knew that to win in the Big Leagues, you have to prioritize talent. That talent came in the way of Buster Gerald Dempsey Posey. The 23-year-old catching phenom made Molina expendable.
After a monster rookie season, Posey hit .375 against the Braves in the NLDS. He slowed down some in the NLCS, but this Rookie of the Year candidate has proven that he can perform on the big stage.
Despite only hitting five home runs during the regular season, Molina hit some huge homers for the Rangers in the playoffs, including a key three-run bomb in the ALCS. But Buster Posey isn’t just good for a rookie. This guy is already one of the best catchers in the league (you’ve probably heard the Joe Mauer comparisons) and on his way to becoming one of the best players, period.
This is probably the weakest spot for Texas, but Moreland really stepped it up against the Yankees, leading the team with a .389 average and three RBI in the ALCS. His natural position is right field, but since being inserted at first base, he has played solid defense. Ron Washington has the option of going with right-hander Jorge Cantu against southpaws Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner, but unless Moreland completely falters, he’ll stick with the rookie.
While the Rangers struggled all year to find a solution at first base, the Giants found more consistency there than in any other position on the field. Hitting in the heart of the Giants’ lineup, Huff had a comeback year. His .386 OBP was a career-high and he led the team in home runs (26) and RBI (86). Offense wasn’t easy to come by for the Giants in 2010, but from start to finish, Huff was the most reliable source.
Sanchez had shoulder surgery in January and missed the first 39 games of the season, but once healthy, he came out of the gate hot. In his first 18 games, the three-time all-star hit .379. He couldn’t keep the average up all year, but finished batting .297 and playing a very good second base, making four errors in 108 starts.
Kinsler also missed time, about two months of the season, with a left groin strain. Without him, the Rangers hit worse and win at a lower rate. Simply put, Kinsler is a key to Texas’ success.
He’s a very solid hitter and especially kills lefties, off of whom he hit .376 in 2010. Against the Rays in the ALCS, he went 8-for-18 with three home runs and six RBI. He’s much better known for his hitting, but with arguably the best range of any AL second baseman, he’s underrated defensively.
Sanchez is a good hitter, but he has never again come close to batting .344 as he did when he won the NL Batting Title with Pittsburgh in 2006. Kinsler has hit consistently well over his career, has far more power, and gets on base more than Sanchez.
Third Base: Michael Young vs. Juan Uribe/Pablo Sandoval
This is one of the bigger question marks of the series for the G-Men. The hot corner has been The Panda’s world for the last two years, but after he struggled mightily all season long, Bruce Bochy had to make a change.
With lefties Cliff Lee and C.J. Wilson set to start the first two games, all indications are that Bochy is going to go with the same setup he had for NLCS Game 6. That means Edgar Renteria at shortstop and Uribe at third.
Uribe won’t be winning any Gold Gloves, but for a guy his size he moves pretty well. He’s not going to get on base a lot, but is a threat to knock the ball out of the park at any time. During the regular season he had 24 home runs, and in the final game of the NLCS, he hit the knockout punch Giants fans will never forget.
Michael Young has spent 10 years in the majors, all with the Rangers. He’s had 200 hits five times, won a batting title, and appeared in six All-Star Games, once winning the game’s MVP award.
After winning the Gold Glove at shortstop in 2008, the Rangers told the veteran to move to third base to make room for Elvis Andrus. He obliged, returning to the All-Star Game again last season.
This year he became the franchise’s all-time leader in hits, on the way to his first postseason appearance. He had a good ALCS, going 9-for-27 with three doubles and four RBI. In a lot of ways, Young is to the Rangers what Derek Jeter is to the Yankees.
Shortstop: Elvis Andrus vs. Edgar Renteria/Juan Uribe
It looks like Juan Uribe will play third, at least to begin the series, and that means Renteria gets the nod at short.
Of course, Renteria was the World Series hero for the Marlins in 1997, driving in the game-winning run in the 11th inning of Game 7. Times have changed a bit for Renteria. The two-time Gold Glove winner doesn’t have the same range he had as a 20-year-old, but he’s still a decent fielder.
After appearing in only 72 games this season for the Giants, he was just 1-for-16 in the NLCS. But San Francisco has gotten this far by relying on production from unlikely sources, and he’s a career .304 hitter in the World Series. Expect Bochy to look to the veteran to fill the hole at short.
If Josh Hamilton is the best position player in this series, Elvis Andrus is the most exciting. The 22-year-old finished second in last year’s Rookie of the Year balloting and played well enough in the first half this season to earn a spot on the All Star Team.
He slowed down in the second half, hitting only .247, but he’s hitting .333 in the postseason. This leadoff man is the team’s spark plug, and he has a chance to steal anytime he is on base—he also has a chance to get caught as he did 15 of 47 times during the regular season. However, in these playoffs he has stolen seven bases and only been caught once.
But as far as Andrus’ game goes, the offense is secondary. There is no doubt this guy is going to win a ton of Gold Gloves before his career comes to an end. He’s one of the smoothest fielders you will ever see and has the range to make plays that most shortstops wouldn’t even consider trying. Case in point, earlier this season he made a ridiculous play in the hole on a Torii Hunter ground ball. Hunter, the 13-year veteran, said it was the best play that anyone has every made on him.
Things get a little tricky when looking at the outfield because, between the two teams, there will almost certainly be some mixing and matching between outfield and DH.
We can be sure that MVP candidate Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz will start every game for the Rangers (assuming both stay healthy). Hamilton says his ribs are just about fully recovered after missing most of September. Upon returning from injury, he struggled in the ALDS. But he looked to be at full health in the Championship Series against the Yankees, going 7-for-20 with four home runs, seven RBI, and eight walks—five were intentional.
As dangerous as Hamilton is, Nelson Cruz can be just as deadly. Despite missing 51 games this season, the 30-year old hit .318 with 22 homers and 78 RBI. He didn’t skip a beat in his first postseason, going 15-for-40 with five home runs and eight RBI. Cruz had to leave ALCS Game 5 with a hamstring injury, but seems to be healthy now. And as long as he’s healthy, he can hit.
Ron Washington has also confirmed that Vlad Guerrero will play right field in Game 1 in San Francisco. Guerrero, who only started 16 games in the outfield this season, is definitely a better hitter than any other option the Rangers might have.
During the regular season he hit .300 with 29 home runs and a team-leading 115 RBI. How he does defensively may determine if Washington decides to start him in Game 2, which the skipper says is a possibility. That pretty much means if Vladdy isn’t a liability defensively, we’ll see him in Game 2 as well.
When the series switches to Texas, Guerrero will move to the DH spot. Jeff Francoeur and Julio Borbon have both seen time in the outfield, but David Murphy has been the most productive of the three. When Guerrero moves to DH, Murphy will probably take his spot in the outfield.
For the Giants, Andres Torres injured his hip while beating out a bunt single in the ninth inning of NLCS Game 6 on Saturday night. All indications are that he will be back in center field and leading off for the Giants on Wednesday, which you can bet Bruce Bochy will be happy to see. After batting only .125 (2-for-16) in the Division Series against Atlanta, Torres hit .350 (7-for-20) in the NLCS.
Then there’s Cody Ross. By now, you know everything about Ross. The Marlins didn’t want him, so San Francisco took him. He hasn’t just been the star for the Giants; he’s probably been the star of the entire playoffs. He’s a good, scrappy player who got hot at the right time and is playing out of his mind. In this postseason he’s hitting .324 with four home runs, eight RBI, and some clutch hitting. It will be interesting to see if the three-day layoff will have any cooling effect on Ross.
Pat Burrell is another castoff who has found a home in The Bay. He hasn’t played particularly well in the postseason, but has completely resurrected his career in San Francisco. With 18 home runs in 96 regular season games, Burrell is always a threat to leave the park. He’s not much defensively—when the Giants have a lead late in the game Bochy, will replace him in the field with Nate Schierholtz.
It’s hard to beat the Rangers’ outfield, especially when Guerrero is in right.
DH: Vladimir Guerrero vs. Pat Burrell/Pablo Sandoval
After he plays at least one game in right field in San Francisco, Guerrero will certainly move to DH. What Bruce Bochy will decide to do isn’t quite as clear, but the indications are that he plans to play Burrell at DH against lefties Cliff Lee and C.J. Wilson (although Wilson probably won’t end up pitching at home). He will likely call on the switch-hitting Sandoval to face the right-handers, Colby Lewis and Tommy Hunter.
You may have heard that pitching wins in postseason baseball. In Texas, Nolan Ryan changed the culture, putting an emphasis on pitching and bringing in Cliff Lee. In San Francisco, Brian Sabean has not only compiled one of the youngest, but also the best pitching staff in all of baseball.
For the second series in a row, Tim Lincecum is the second-best pitcher. Wow. He’s a 26-year-old, two-time Cy Young Award winner. In his playoff debut he had one of the greatest pitching performances in postseason history.
Still, the Rangers have Cliff Lee. When you’re 7-0 with a 1.26 ERA, three complete games, 67 strikeouts, and seven walks in 64 1/3 postseason innings, I’m not going to be the guy that bets against you. What we’re witnessing Lee do in these playoffs can only be compared to Orel Hershiser’s legendary run in the 1988 postseason.
After Lee, the Rangers starters, C.J Wilson, Colby Lewis, and Tommy Hunter, are good. None had a regular season ERA above 3.73. And Colby Lewis’ journey from the Hiroshima Carp back to the Big Leagues is just as good as any feel-good story the Giants throw at you.
But as a starting staff there is no matching the Giants, who have the best four in the majors. No question Lincecum is the best of the group, and at 3.43, he had the highest regular season ERA. I didn’t like Bochy pushing Sanchez ahead of Cain in the NLCS. Naturally, I like the move to switch them back. Looking into the future, the scariest thing about this staff is that the 21-year-old Bumgarner is only going to get better.
Bullpen: Neftali Feliz, Derek Holland, Darren Oliver, Darren O’Day, Alexi Ogando, Michael Kirkman, Clay Rapada vs. Brian Wilson, Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez, Ramon Ramirez, Guillermo Mota
These are two loaded bullpens. During the regular season the Rangers’ relief core managed an ERA of just 3.38. That’s pretty remarkable.
But on the other end the Giants’ led the majors with an incredible 2.99 ERA from the bullpen. San Francisco was led by Brian Wilson’ 48 saves and 1.81 ERA. He has kept it going in the playoffs, throwing nine innings without allowing an earned run.
In 2009, Rangers fans got a sample of what Neftali Feliz brings to the table. With a chance to be the full-time closer in 2010, the 22-year-old didn’t disappoint. He turned a lot of heads in his rookie campaign, saving 40 games with a 2.73 ERA. Unlike Wilson, Feliz struggled a bit in the Division Series. Being a closer is all about dealing with pressure, so it will be interesting to see if that World Series pressure gets to the young reliever.
The Rangers relied heavily on their bullpen during the season and, at times, during the playoffs. Ron Washington considered moving Derek Holland to the starting rotation, but decided to keep him in the ‘pen. He has thrown some important innings and will definitely be called on if any of the starters struggle early. Darren Oliver is the elder statesman of the bunch, whom Washington likes to go to in tough situations.
Brian Wilson gets a lot of attention for his beard, but Sergio Romo is no stranger to facial hair, either. He’s got a solid beard himself and, with a 2.18 ERA, has proved effective for Bruce Bochy all year. Bochy has also learned to count on Santiago Casilla and lefty Javier Lopez, who allowed one hit in five postseason innings.
Bench: Matt Treanor, Jorge Cantu, Andres Blanco, David Murphy, Jeff Francoeur, Julio Borbon vs. Aaron Rowand, Nate Schierholtz, Edgar Renteria, Pablo Sandoval, Mike Fontenot, Travis Ishikawa, Eli Whiteside
Obviously, the makeup of the benches will depend on the adjustments that each manager makes throughout the series. The Giants definitely have the advantage in experience with the likes of Aaron Rowand and Edgar Renteria. And assuming Sandoval will be on the bench for at least a couple games, he is a dangerous bat as far as power potential is concerned.
The Rangers also have talent coming off the bench. David Murphy is certainly capable of starting and most likely will. But when Vlad Guerrero plays right field in San Francisco, Murphy will be a valuable left-handed pinch-hitting weapon for Washington. The same goes for Jeff Francoeur and Jorge Cantu, who have both started in their careers.
It’s going to be a close, fun series. In the end, I think the Texas offense will be able to squeak out just enough against the Giants’ excellent pitching. In a series this tight, predictions don’t mean much. But what the hell. Rangers in seven…I told you I’m not betting against Cliff Lee.
You can read more from Nathaniel Edelstein and others at www.sittingandwatching.com