Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Old Guard

The Giants 9-0 victory in Game 7 of the NLCS accomplished a few good things. For one, they finally stopped the Cardinals, who appeared to be like a swarm of moths come to eat away at a sweater, constantly a nuisance, refusing to go away. The Cardinals had ceased to be a charming little story of a team that kept coming back, and instead turned into the annoying bunch of David Ecstein-types who you just wished would die. They turned the Nationals into a carcass in the Division Series, and when they took a 3-1 lead over San Francisco, they seemed primed for another deep October run. But these Giants had some comeback-ability of their own. They'd already had their crucible, falling behind 0-2 to the Reds before storming back to win 3 in Cincinnati. So, what happened? They gave the Cardinals a taste of their own medicine, winning the final 3 games of the NLCS by a combined score of 20-1. They appear to be this year's version of the 2011 Cardinals, only with better pitching and a group of players that have already tasted a World Series Championship just 2 years ago. That it's them, and not the Cardinals, who I've long since grown sick of, is a good thing. That they kicked the Cardinals in the nuts the way they did is even better. The best part, perhaps, is that we won't have to be subjected to hours of stories about how the Cardinals did it without the Great Pujols or the Genius LaRussa for the next week. Instead, we'll have the image of Marco Scutaro, arms outstretched, basking in a San Francisco Monsoon as if he were Andy DuFresne just escaped from Shawshank.

On the other side, the Detroit Tigers, who did a pretty good nut-kicking job of their own, sweeping the Yankees and pretty much embarrassing them in the process. That in and of itself is good enough of a story for me.

I  haven't read much in the way of an "experts" comparison of these two teams, but from what I can gather, they seem to be pretty evenly matched. I would not expect a short series between these two teams, unless one of them has a complete meltdown, which I don't foresee. I see the starting pitching as mostly even. This seems a bit odd, considering the Giants have basically built their team around their great starters, but think about it this way: San Francisco will start Barry Zito in Game 1, and then again in Game 5. Their best pitcher, Matt Cain, won't pitch until Game 4. In between, they'll be throwing Madison Bumgarner in Game 2, and Ryan Vogelsong in Game 3. Tim Lincecum won't start at all, but is a great wildcard out of the bullpen. The Tigers open with their hammer, Justin Verlander, who's been all but unhittable this postseason. Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez, both of whom acquitted themselves quite well in the postseason, throw games 2 and 3, and the wildly underrated Max Scherzer pitches game 4. These names don't have the luster of the Giants' staff, but they're no slouches either. I give the Giants an edge in the bullpen, however, since they have guys who do nothing but get outs, and the Tigers sort of have a pu-pu platter and a closer who basically had to be taken apart and put back together on the fly in the ALCS. Should a game remain low-scoring into the late innings, and fall to relief pitchers, the Giants have an advantage.

But it's only so much of an advantage, because one thing the Tigers have that the Giants don't are blinding sluggers who can hit the ball out of any ballpark at any moment. Prince Fielder has made a career out of it, and preceding him in the lineup is some guy who won a freaking Triple Crown. Delmon Young has also been red hot, and guys like Omar Infante and Jhonny Peralta are solid veterans who get the job done more often than not. The Giants, in order to win, tend to have to peck and scrape and claw and get a few breaks to score loads of runs. Buster Posey is great, but he can't match the production level of Cabrera or Fielder, and the rest of their lineup is mosty comprised of scrappers like Hunter Pence, Marco Scutaro and old friend Angel Pagan. Pablo Sandoval is also a nice bopper, but when he's not hitting, he can drag the whole team down with him.

So, given these comparisons, one might be inclined to throw out the "Good Pitching beats Good Hitting" adage that proves itself true all too often in the Postseason. That's fair, but it's not always true. Good Pitching does beat Good Hitting, but Bad Hitting can often undercut Good Pitching. I felt somewhat inclined to pick the Giants, if only because they have the Home Field advantage and the 7th game would be in their Home Park, but I just have a feeling about this Tigers team. They were laying in the weeds all season and caught fire at the right moment. They were helped by the fact that the Yankees stopped hitting completely, but their starting pitching had a lot to do with that also. I also have a feeling that somewhere in this series, Bruce Bochy is going to make some kind of weird decision with his starting pitching that might bite him in the ass. I flipped back and forth on this for a while, but I don't see this series being short. It's going 6 at least, and probably 7 games, and ultimately I think the Tigers are going to come out on top. So, that's what I'm going with. Tigers in 7. Figure they split the first two in San Francisco, Detroit wins 2 of 3 in Detroit over the weekend, San Francisco wins Game 6, Detroit wins Game 7, probably under the circumstances of Lincecum early and Scherzer on short rest, or something to that effect. Either way, it'll be a good series to watch, and completely stress-free for the Mets fan.

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