Tigers: 88-74 (AL Central champions; defeated As 3-2 in ALDS, defeated Yankees 4-0 in ALCS)
Giants: 94-68 (NL West champions; defeated Reds 3-2 in NLDS, defeated Cardinals 4-3 in NLCS)
Runs per game, regular season: Giants 4.43 (6th in NL), Tigers 4.48 (6th in NL)
Runs per game, postseason: Giants 4.42, Tigers 4.00
Runs allowed per game, regular season: Tigers 4.14 (5th in AL), Giants 4.01 (6th in NL)
Runs allowed per game, postseason: Giants 3.42, Tigers 1.89
Fielding percentage, regular season: Tigers .983 (9th in AL), Giants .981 (13th in NL)
Fielding percentage, postseason: Tigers .988, Giants .986.
PROJECTED GAME ONE LINEUPS
Angel Pagan, CF
Marco Scutaro, 2B
Pablo Sandoval, 3B
Buster Posey, C
Hunter Pence, RF
Brandon Belt, 1B
Gregor Blanco, LF
Brandon Crawford, SS
Barry Zito, P
Austin Jackson, CF
Andy Dirks, RF
Miguel Cabrera, 3B
Prince Fielder, 1B
Delmon Young, LF
Alex Avila, C
Jhonny Peralta, SS
Omar Infante, 2B
Justin Verlander, P
Barry Zito, LHP
Madison Bumgarner, LHP
Ryan Vogelsong, RHP
Matt Cain, RHP
Justin Verlander, RHP
Doug Fister, RHP
Anibal Sanchez, RHP
Max Scherzer, RHP
STACKING THEM UP:
After sweeping the Yankees in the American League Championship Series, the Tigers had the luxury to set their starting rotation for the World Series. It was a no-brainer to assign reigning American League MVP and Cy Young award-winner Justin Verlander in Game One. He is 3-0 in this postseason with only two runs allowed in 24 13 innings, both on solo homers. Coco Crisp took him deep to start the ALDS and Eduardo Nunez went yard in the ninth inning in his third playoff start. Verlander is a physical beast who easily exceeds over 120 pitches and throws harder as the game goes on. So theres less advantage in trying to drive up his pitch count. This is a high-whiff staff. Verlander (239) and Game 4 starter Max Scherzer (231) finished 1-2 in the majors in strikeouts, and Game 2 starter Doug Fister struck out nine consecutive batters to set an American League record on Sept. 27. Tigers starting pitchers only allowed two runs in 27 innings while sweeping the Yankees in the ALCS. While Verlander garners most of the attention, Game 3 starter Anibal Sanchez is 3-1 with a 1.98 ERA in five career starts against the Giants and that includes a 0.36 ERA in three victories at AT&T Park, where hed be lined up to pitch a Game 7.
The Giants rotation enters with momentum, after Barry Zito, Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain held the Cardinals to one run over three consecutive games to mount their second stirring comeback in a postseason series. In fact, Giants pitchers combined for three RBIs to just one for the Cardinals over those three games. But the Giants arent as well rested as the Tigers, and they cannot pitch their playoff ace, Vogelsong (2-0, 1.42 ERA in three stats), until Game 3. Zito is an unforeseen yet inspired choice to start Game 1, after his 7 23 shutout innings at Busch Stadium comprised the greatest night of his career and forced the NLCS back to San Francisco. His average fastball is 12 mph lower than Verlanders, but he sets it up with a curve, slider, changeup and cutter that keep hitters on their front foot when they are well located. When he is over-amped, though, as he was in Game 4 at Cincinnati, Zito has trouble throwing strikes. Bumgarner was pulled from the NLCS rotation after going 0-2 with an 11.25 ERA on the heels of a poor September. But because Giants manager Bruce Bochy wants to keep Tim Lincecum in a valuable swingman role in the bullpen, Bumgarner gets another shot. He tried to fix an over-rotating issue in his delivery that affected both his stamina and his ability to spot pitches. The Tigers are more prone to lefties, so that might help Zito and Bumgarner in the first two games. Although Cain has won two winner-take-all games already this postseason, hell only start once in this series. His fastball was up against the Cardinals and Vogelsong was deemed to have much more left in the tank, should the Giants and Tigers go to a Game 7.
If the Tigers have an Achilles heel it could be their bullpen. Fortunately for them, their starting pitchers usually go deep into games. Detroit's relievers have a 3.92 ERA in the postseason and its anybodys guess how manager Jim Leyland will navigate the ninth inning. Jose Valverde has been wildly inconsistent in the playoffs, having allowed seven runs in three games. With Valverde ineffective, the Tigers will likely stick with a closer by committee. Left-hander Phil Coke was very hittable in the regular season (71 hits in 54 innings), but hes been used in more leveraged situations in the playoffs. Right-hander Joaquin Benoit allowed 14 home runs a whopping amount for a relief pitcher.
The Giants bullpen allowed a total of just two runs in their six elimination victories and relievers are 2-0 with a 2.57 ERA in the postseason. Jeremy Affeldt is unscored upon in eight appearances this postseason and has a 1.53 ERA in 20 career playoff games. Javier Lopez has faced 473 batters in a Giants uniform and allowed exactly one home run. The sidearm lefty will be more of a weapon against the Tigers, especially when Prince Fielder comes up in the late innings. Sergio Romo had a rough 2010 postseason, coughing up a lead that nearly led to a damaging loss at Atlanta. But hes had an entirely different look about him this time, while serving as the primary closer in the absence of Brian Wilson.
The Tigers are used to playing in a spacious outfield, so you wouldnt think AT&T Park presents much of an issue. But theyre sticking DH Delmon Young in left field and planning to use Quintin Berry for late-inning defense. Center fielder Austin Jackson has a dangerous blend of speed and power. He hit .300 with 16 homers in the regular season and has a hit safely in eight of the Tigers nine postseason games in 2012. Right fielder and No.2 hitter Andy Dirks is a contact man who hit .322 in the regular season. Jackson and Dirks try to get pitchers in the stretch for Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, which usually spells trouble.
The Giants best outfielder is not playing in this series. Melky Cabrera was suspended Aug. 15 for a positive testosterone test, and although he is now eligible to return, the club opted against adding him to the postseason roster. Left fielder Gregor Blanco is hitting .222 this postseason, but hes also drawn six walks in 28 plate appearances to help turn the lineup over while playing sensational defense. Center fielder Angel Pagan has been a defensive asset while showing some of the spark that helped him break Willie Mays franchise record for triples in a season. Right fielder Hunter Pence has made more contributions with his fiery speeches before the game than he has in the batters box, where hes hitting .194 with eight strikeouts. Its up to him to get Buster Posey pitches to hit, and he knows it.
Cabrera and Fielder enough said. Detroit has two of the game's best hitters batting in the heart of their lineup. Cabrera became baseballs first Triple Crown winner since 1967. Fielder provides plenty of incentive to pitch to Cabrera, with his .310 average, 30 homers, and 108 RBI during the regular season. The two sluggers combined for 76 home runs in 2012, while the Giants entire roster combined for 103. The surprising key might be to avoid shortstop Jhonny Cabrera and attack Fielder, who is hitting .211 in the postseason. Peralta isn't nearly as imposing, but hes been a hot stick (.343) in the postseason.
Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval is brimming with confidence. He appears to be on every pitch while hitting .320 this postseason and one more home run will match Cody Rosss total of four from that magical postseason run in 2010. Sandoval was 10 for 25 in the Giants six elimination victories, too, so hes produced when the team most needed him. Brandon Belt, after a miserable NLDS, quietly posted a .925 OPS against the Cardinals and crushed a 98 mph fastball for a home run off Mitchell Boggs. Shortstop Brandon Crawford owns two of the clubs biggest go-ahead hits in the postseason, but its his solid defense at shortstop that has brought the most value. The star of the infield is the NLCS MVP, second baseman Marco Scutaro, who batted .500 against the Cardinals and had 14 hits to break Will Clarks franchise LCS record. Scutaro has a 10-game hitting streak in the postseason after finishing the regular season with a 20-game streak.
The Tigers have Alex Avila and Gerald Laird behind the plate. On their best days they don't possess the talent that Buster Posey has. Avila hit .295 with 19 home runs as a rookie last year, but lost 50 points off his average and finished with just nine homers in his sophomore campaign. Hes a miserable .127 hitter over the past two postseasons.
Posey, the NL batting champ and Comeback Player of the Year, has lost some of his discipline in the postseason while pitchers declined to challenge him in hitters counts. He hit just .154 with one RBI in the NLCS; four of his six RBI this postseason came on his grand slam off Mat Latos in Cincinnati. But Posey also saved the Giants with his defense several times during both playoff series, and on a staff that struggles to hold runners, he has moderate success at nabbing potential base stealers. It will be hard to imagine the Giants hoisting a World Series trophy if they do not get more production from Poseys talented bat, though.
The Tigers have subpar defense on the left side of the infield. They also routinely struggle to turn double plays and putting DH Delmon Young in left field wont help matters. Detroit's starting pitchers mitigates the defensive issues to some degree because they strikeout a lot of batters and induce a lot of fly balls. Their defensive inefficiencies might be magnified when Fister, a ground-ball pitcher, starts Game 2 and potentially Game 6.
The Giants regular-season fielding percentage masks one of the best defensive clubs in the majors. Even Scutaro, whose range is suspect, looked half his 36 years while sliding in shallow right field to make plays in the NLCS. It all starts with Crawford, who shook off a rough April and May to become the best all-around defender in the NL. Hell need to stay grounded in his first World Series. Although Sandoval is lighter on his feet than he looks, expect Joaquin Arias to enter as a defensive replacement at third base. Arias could start at third when the series shifts to Detroit, with Sandoval used as the DH. Or Hector Sanchezs switch-hitting bat could fill that spot.
Although the Tigers and Giants scored nearly the same amount of runs during the regular season, they went about it in very different ways. The Tigers offense can be explosive, with Cabrera and Fielder capable of leaving the yard at any time. When theres so much focus on the heart of the lineup, its easy to overlook the Tigers complementary players. Peralta and Young, who has eight RBIs this postseason, are just as capable of a knockout punch.
The Giants are getting more production from the top of their lineup and the lower third than they are from the middle of the order this postseason. But they dont need Posey and Pence to hit 400-foot blasts to win. They are the fist team since the 1985 Cardinals to make the playoffs despite hitting the fewest homers in the major leagues, including just 31 in 81 games at AT&T Park. But when they get the line moving, they can be hard to stop.
Jim Leyland leads all active managers with 1,676 regular-season victories and players love his honest, no-nonsense approach. The 67-year-old chain smoker from Toledo never made it past Double-A as a catcher, but hes managing in his third World Series and won a championship in 1997 with the Florida Marlins following an intense, seven-game series with the Cleveland Indians. With the Tigers idled for five days off while they waited for the NLCS to play out, Leyland brought in prospects from instructional league to scrimmage with his team. His pitchers took plenty of fielding practice, too. Back in 2006, when they had a six-day layoff before the World Series, their pitchers fielded like their shoelaces were knotted together while losing to the Cardinals in five games.
Bruce Bochy stands just behind Leyland and Dusty Baker on the active list with 1,454 career victories and is also managing in his third World Series, after pushing all the right buttons to lead the Giants to a surprising championship in 2010. He also took the San Diego Padres to the World Series in 1998, when the Yankees swept them in four games. Bochy has won six NL West titles in his 18 seasons on the bench, but it isnt just his longevity that earns him the confidence of players. His adept use of the bullpen, his artful double-switches and his straightforward, honest approach allow players to buy into accepting decisions or roles that might otherwise dent their ego.
Heres something to watch: The Tigers and Cardinals were the only teams to make the postseason with a losing road record (both 38-43 away from home). The Giants managed to skirt past the Cardinals by dominating the final two games at home, and thanks to Verlanders poor start in the All-Star Game, the Giants have home field advantage in the World Series.
On paper, Detroit is more intimidating. The postseason is usually about power, and the Tigers have so much more strikeout stuff in their rotation and more thump in their lineup. You know what they say about paper tigers, though.
PRATTS PICK: The crowd at AT&T Park will be electric and the Giants have all the momentum after clinging to their playoff lives while the Tigers took a cat nap. I wouldn't be surprised to see them stumble out of the gate even with Verlander on the hill in Game 1. I'll take the Tigers in six games, though.
BAGGS PICK: The Giants do so many little things right and they have tremendous energy at home. But so did the rollicking As, and the Tigers already ended Oakland's seemingly unstoppable surge. The Giants havent faced anyone with Justin Verlanders credentials, and as the As already learned, hes not someone you want to face in an elimination game. The Giants are a more well rounded team in many respects, and if they can make it a bullpen game, they'll have an edge. But Verlander is far and away the best player on the field and oh yeah, his teammate, Cabrera, won the Triple Crown. Did we mention you don't ever want to face Verlander in an elimination game? Tigers in five.