The Rangers have a powerful offense that will bring the Giants Gauntlet to its knees, or so they say. Cliff Lee will shut down the Giants anemic offense, the pundits say. Josh Hamilton will conquer the Giants pitchers, as will Nelson Cruz. The Giants have no chance if you believe the hype (and Vegas betting line).
Let's touch on those beliefs.
Ranger's Awesome Offense
Do you believe a lineup of 9 Bengie Molina's is a great offense? Does a .719 OPS scare you? That's Molina's OPS since he joined the Giants. Didn't think so.
Here is the Rangers' road numbers: .265/.324/.391/.716. Yeah, not so world beating afterall, huh? And that was against all their opponents, against the AL average pitchers overall, not the MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL LEADING rotation that the Giants sport right now. So it would be logical that they should not even hit that.
And remember, the Giants overall pitching numbers are diminished by Wellemeyer's stats while he was keeping Bumgarner's spot warm and, well, Barry Zito's good but not great stats. Here are some of the Ranger's key road numbers:
Francoeur: .270/.328/.405/.733 (includes time with Mets)
Cantu: .271/.313/.417/.729 (includes time with Marlins)
Kinsler: .257/.322/.388/.710 (most overrated player since Hank Blalock)
Molina: .267/.313/.395/.708 (only time with Rangers)
That is the thing people don't realize, the Rangers aren't as good as their overall numbers look because their homepark is one of the most hitter's oriented parks in the majors, except for Colorado. Their record on the road is 39-42 and they averaged 4.41 runs scored on the road. With the DH too: assuming roughly equal contributions, that drops their offense to around 4 runs scored on average when they are playing in SF, which they will be doing for 2 to 4 games. And it goes down even more if they don't have Vlad in their lineup, which Washington, the Ranger's manager, said will be in 1 of the 2 games in SF to start.
And remember, good scoring teams and bad, the Giants have kept opposing teams to 3 runs or less in 29 out of their last 36 games. However, I will note the cloud in the coffee: the Phillies did score 4 runs or more in 3 out of the 6 games we played, so the Giants were only 3-3 in keeping the Phillies from scoring more than 3 runs.
Cliff Lee is, wait for it: Legendary
And he has been in the playoffs. Still, the Giants have not been daunted or wowed by every great pitcher this season. Many pitchers yielded to the Giants offense.
Halladay had a great start to his Phillies career and the Giants were the first team to score more than 2 runs on him as a Philly when they scored 5 runs. And the Giants were the only team to do that in his first 9 starts, one of two teams in his first 13 starts. In all, only 5 teams scored 5 runs or more off Halladay in the 2010 season, out of 33 starts, and the Giants were one of them.
And, of course, Halladay again after he no-hit the high octane offense that the Reds had in the playoffs, nobody gave the Giants a chance (negative hits?) and still gave up 4 runs to the Giants, and the Giants won again. Heck, as @JeffFletcherAOL tweeted, "The #Phillies had averaged 6.0 runs per game over their 9 games before the #NLCS, 5.4 over 19G; 5.5 over 34 G." From what I calculated, the Phillies only averaged 3.3 runs per game against the Giants.
In addition, Ubaldo Jimenez had his great run with the Rockies earlier this season, but then the Giants scored 7 runs off of him, when he was 14-1 at that time. Then there was Lincecum outdueling Roy Oswalt three straight times when he was at Houston. Still, the offense had to score enough off Oswalt to enable Lincecum to win.
The Giants have been challenged by great pitchers all season long, and while they didn't always get the upper hand on all of them and win, it wasn't like they lost every time either, and in fact, beat a fair number of great pitchers along the way, even when it looked like he would shut down the Giants offense. They have risen to the challenge enough times to get us to the World Series. They were the little engine who could.
And while Lee has been dominating in the playoffs, and very good during the season, he was not great every time he pitched during the season, so it is not likely that he will continue this forever. His DOM%, in fact, is roughly that of Lincecum or Cain this season. They were equals during the season (Lee had 64% DOM during the season, 60% on the road; both Lincecum and Cain were in the 60's too). He was not perfect and, in fact, in his last 7 starts of the 2010 season, he only had 2 DOM starts. At some point, his adrenaline will run out and he'll return to his normal goodness, not this greatness.
Josh Hamilton is Da Man
And he has been in the playoffs. But before we anoint him the next Barry Bonds of 2002, I would note that the Barry Bonds of 2002 was not enough, that Giants team did not win the World Series on the back of his amazing playoff performance. The rest of the lineup was his kryptonite and they could not score enough, the Angel's pitching shut down the Giants TEAM offense the rest of the way.
And as I have been saying for years now, the best hitters can be neutralized by the best pitchers. And the Giants have four pitchers who are capable of being the best pitchers around. And they were and have been since September began. And as I've been noting, Hamilton could hit 3 homers in a game and they would still lose 4-3 if the Giants pitchers shut down the rest of the Ranger's offense. Because it takes a team to score a lot of runs, and the best pitchers can shut down a team. And, as noted, the Giants have four of the best around.
Four of the Best Starting Pitchers Around
And that is the key to the Giants winning the World Series, and has been their key to winning the NLDS and NLCS to get to the World Series: having more depth in the rotation than any other team. Sure, the other team might have, say, Halladay, Oswalt, Hamels, but we have three equals in Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, and then you get to the fourth starter and Bumgarner beats anybody's fourth starter.
The Rangers are no different, and in fact, their rotation is a little easier to tackle. While Lee had a 64% DOM in 2010 and Lewis 66%, Wilson only had a 45% and Hunter a lousy 18%. Cain had 67%, Lincecum 61%, Sanchez 48% and Bumgarner 50%. And it has been even higher for the Giants since September began. The Ranger's starters were all mediocre in September except for Lewis, and during the playoffs, only Lee has been consistently dominating, both Wilson and Lewis had average performances mostly, and Hunter has been horrible, not sure why they don't start Holland or someone else.
Starter's Matchups For Each Game
Since the teams have not faced each other much in their history, and not at all in 2010, there are no data on how pitchers have done on the road except maybe very old data, involving players no longer here. Like the Giants having a 15-7 historic edge and have won the last 7 overall and the last 11 in SF, or that the Giants are lifetime 12-2 in SF against TX (3-0 in 2009), 3-5 in Texas.
When it all came down to it, had to have Lincecum face off with Lee in the first game, despite his relief appearance in Game 6. He didn't really pitch that much, facing only 3 batters, and it was his day to throw anyway. If no changes are made, they will also meet in Game 5 as well. Should be a battle of the titans and I think they will split the two.
That then leaves Cain to start game 2. Bochy has chosen to position Cain to pitch at home against the Phillies and Rangers and that makes a lot of sense because both parks are hitters parks, which a flyball pitcher like Cain probably shouldn't be started at, as many have said (including Jerry Oscodar has been tweeting to me :^), though I would note that a lot of those flyballs are weak popflies. I think the more important decision was not positioning Cain to pitch at home (which he does for games 2 and 6), but rather Sanchez on the road for game 3.
Sanchez, even when trying to figure things out in prior seasons, struck out batters at a near league-leading rate and he has continued to do so this season. If the hitters are striking out, they definitely aren't hitting the ball out of the park or doing damage otherwise. Plus, Sanchez led the staff in ERA in September and delivered in the last game of the season when the Giants needed it. Hopefully he is over his playoff jitters and isn't so amped up, and his performance will be more like his 2nd inning in game 6 and less like 1st and 3rd.
And this is where the Rangers made a tactical error as well, I believe, by starting Wilson in game 2 and Lewis in game 3. Lewis was much better during the season than Wilson. And while this makes sense because Wilson's road ERA is much better (2.91 vs. home 3.70) and Lewis' home ERA is much better (3.08 vs. road 4.82), this is not reflected in their PQS DOM analysis. Wilson was about equal but still worse on the road with 43% DOM (47% DOM at home) and Lewis was much worse at home (57% DOM vs. road 72% DOM). It was random luck that their ERAs turned out the way it did. And that is the pattern earlier in the playoffs, all of Lewis' starts have been at home, while Lee and Wilson has gotten almost all the road starts (Hunter got the other).
So while it is possible that Cain and Wilson will split, I think that there is a strong possibility that Cain will outpitch Wilson in both games 2 and 6, and the Giants win both. As dominating Lee has been, and he has been very extremely dominating, Cain has done his normal under the radar good work: 13.2 IP, 9 hits and 5 walks, 11 strikeouts, 0 ER.
Then there is Dirty vs. Colby Lewis in games 3 and 7. Lewis has pitched great in the playoffs, but his BABIP has been low and he has walked a ton of batters. And as I noted, he has been good but not great at home in terms of PQS, he has been more average than he was on the road, as his road number was inflated greatly by one bad disaster start. Sanchez has been his usual wild self in the playoffs, but generally has pitched well and more importantly, been managed well by Bochy, taking him out when he was losing it big time, and handing over to the bullpen. Given that factor, I would put the two of the equal, but Lewis clearly would have the edge normally.
Lastly, in game 4 we have Bumgarner vs. Hunter. Should not be close. Bumgarner has been aces for the most part and the moment he falters, Bochy would bring in the bullpen. Hunter has been pretty bad all season and even worse during the playoffs. He has been slightly better at home in terms of DOM (27% vs. 9% on road and most DIS starts on road), but that is a pretty bad DOM no matter how you slice it. The only good point is that he at least doesn't have that many DIS starts in Arlington. Should be a Giants win here.
And that is how the Giants have been winning series since September started, if one of our starters don't get you, the next one will. There will be THE crack in the other team's rotation, whether it be Blanton or now Hunter. Because the Giants Gauntlet has been pretty much non-stop since Sabean got Lincecum cracking in late August.
And if the Giants are in such good position that the Rangers feel the need to pitch Lee in Game 4 against Bumgarner, then we got Lincecum vs. Wilson (at home), Cain vs. Lewis (on the road), and Sanchez vs. Lee (on the road), but all hands will be on deck again for Game 7. That could be tight, but if the Giants are in good position, I would think they would be in better position after Lincecum takes on Wilson (Cain vs. Lewis is a toss-up). I don't see the Giants moving Lincecum up to Game 4 unless we are down 0-3.
I like the Giants chances to win the World Series. Unfortunately, in baseball, unlike football or basketball, there is a lot of randomness that is part of the game: each pitch being called ball or strike, each swing whiffing or connecting, each batted ball being converted to an out or a hit, and the string of all these leading to no-hits or batting practice. But with our rotation, the Giants have a great chance of winning, particularly if they are facing Hunter in game 4.
Our offense, too, has been just enough all season. And that is not torturous, torture is LOSING by a thin margin all season long, like we used to in the 70's and 80's, beating good teams but then playing down to the level of the bad teams and losing to them. The team has been just fine as they have been winning
I think the hitters were starting to heat up near the end of the NLCS, if we can get Torres, Sanchez, Huff, Posey, and Sandoval hitting like that plus Ross continuing to hit like he has, Burrell too, though it would be nice if he heated up too. I think they will look better in Texas, playing in an extreme hitter's park, maybe that will perk up their confidence.
Most of all, I think the Giants bullpen, which has been outstanding for a long time, will be the difference maker - again - in this series, along with the #4 starter matchup (assuming MadBum vs. Hunter).
And the reason they will be is because Bochy has been a master the past two months in knowing when to take out the starter before it gets too ugly, bringing in the bullpen, and then the bullpen shuts down the other team. And with most starters going 6-7 innings normally, the bullpen is usually well rested and able to do such things. Plus he has an "all hands on deck" strategy for the end games, where starters are expected to pitch in an inning or two. Bochy understands how important each game is and plays to win each game, then worry about the next game. And the team has been playing like this since September started, so it is pretty much old hat to most of them now.
I had been going all over with my thoughts on this. I thought maybe Ishikawa could play 1B against RHP while Huff DH's, or even Schierholtz could start and Burrell could DH. I also thought about having Sandoval DH as well, because I want his bat in there, I think he's going to hit well in the World Series.
But Burrell was released by Rays for being unable to DH. And I found out that Huff has been around his career norms as a DH, batting .278/.335/.482/.816 as DH, which is around his career numbers. Then it came to me: Sandoval has played good defense at 1B previously, why not start him at 1B while Huff DH's, something he has successfully done in the past.
By the time we get to game 5 where Lee is a LHP, we could have Rowand DH. Though if Sandoval is hitting well at that point, I would be OK with him starting 1B all three games and Huff DH. I think a big key to winning the World Series (I know, duh!) is Sandoval and/or Posey heating up and hitting like they are capable of. Both showed signs of coming out of it in the NLCS, Posey with his 4-hit game, Sandoval with his 7-pitch walk, then hits in games after that.
Bochy is a creature of habit, or really of "if it is working, don't mess with it", so it will probably be similar to the last game in Philly:
- Torres CF
- Sanchez 2B
- Huff 1B
- Posey C
- Burrell LF
- Ross RF
- Uribe 3B
- Renteria SS
Given that we are up against Lee, Bochy will probably favor defensive prowess and thus Renteria over Sandoval, plus Sandoval has been sitting vs. LHP for the most part late in the season. Pablo might get the start in Game 2 if Renteria don't hit so well in Game 1. Rowand would start in CF if Torres is still suffering effects of his injury, but so far, so good.