Matchup to Watch: Doug Fister vs Pablo Sandoval
Sandoval is an excellent bad-ball hitter, but he’s also the most aggressive hitter in baseball at chasing out of the zone, and he does most of his damage against fastballs. Fister has excellent command of both his curve and change-up, and should attack Sandoval with a steady diet of off-speed stuff out of the zone. With Posey and Pence set to see nothing but right-handers, the Giants will need Sandoval to produce, and Fister can show the human starters on the Tigers staff how to pitch the Giants best left-handed bat.
Giants X-Factor: Angel Pagan
Marco Scutaro is just too famous to be an an X-Factor after his dynamite NLCS performance, but he’s not the only under-the-radar acquisition by Brian Sabean who is a big part of why the Giants are in the World Series. Pagan was essentially discarded by the Mets over the winter, but has provided value in every area of the game for San Francisco. A switch-hitter who is better from the left side, Pagan has a chance to thrive against the sea of right-handers Detroit will throw, and his ability to get on base in front of Scutaro can allow Bochy to use the hit-and-run that proved so effective against St. Louis.
Tigers X-Factor: Jose Valverde
The Tigers former closer lost his job because he was poorly suited to retiring the waves of left-handed sluggers on the Yankees, but he’s got a long track record of excellence against right-handed batters, and the middle of the Giants line-up is very right-handed. If Leyland uses him as a situation match-up guy, he can bring him in to face Scutaro, Posey, and Pence while only forcing him to face one left-handed batter (Sandoval), and can likely be quite effective in that role. Valverde’s problems against left-handers make him an ineffective closer, but if used selectively against right-handers, he can be a weapon for Detroit.
Giants Key Reliever: Jeremy Affeldt
The Giants bullpen is low on quality right-handers in front of Sergio Romo, which will force Bruce Bochy to trust Affeldt to get some big outs against right-handed hitters. Leyland will undoubtedly intersperse Delmon Young and Jhonny Peralta between Prince Fielder, Andy Dirks, and Alex Avila, forcing any left-handed reliever to face two right-handed bats in order to get to the three lefties. Of the Giants left-handed relievers, Affeldt is the one most capable of getting Young and Peralta out, so don’t be surprised if he’s the San Francisco reliever that Bochy uses most often.
Tigers Key Reliever: Phil Coke
Coke was a revelation for the Tigers in the ninth inning against New York, but the Yankees lefty heavy line-up meant that he was often facing hitters who had no chance against his breaking ball. San Francisco doesn’t have those same kind of lefties running through their line-up, as their two best hitters from that side are both switch-hitters, meaning that Brandon Belt might be the only left-hander Coke faces the entire series. And Coke was a walking disaster against right-handed hitters this year. Of the 492 pitchers who threw at least 10 innings versus RHBs, Coke ranked 491st in batting average allowed (.381), 489th in on base percentage allowed (.446), and 482nd in slugging percentage allowed. While Coke played a vital role in their win against New York, the Giants are a wildly different match-up, and Leyland needs to rely much more heavily on his right-handers in this series. If Coke is anointed as the closer based on his ALCS performance, it could be a World Series disaster.
Giants Key Bench Player: Joaquin Arias
When the series travels to Detroit, the Giants will have to pick someone to serve as their designated hitter. The options are grim – Aubrey Huff looks finished, Ryan Theriot is on the roster for his defensive flexibility, and Hector Sanchez is the team’s backup catcher. Based on his late game defensive substitutions, it appears that the likely plan will be to have Arias take over as the starting third baseman, with Pablo Sandoval moving to Designated Hitter where his body type makes more sense. However, defensive metrics actually rate Sandoval as a pretty good defender, and it’s not clear that Arias is a significant improvement with the glove, so he’ll need to hit for the move to have positive ramifications for the Giants. Unfortunately for the Giants, Arias hit just .240/.278/.347 against right-handers this year, so this is a particularly bad match-up for him. Still, he may be the best of a bad lot, and for three games in Detroit, he’ll likely find himself in the starting line-up.
Tigers Key Bench Player: Quintin Berry
Berry’s not regularly a bench player, but with the lack of a DH in NL parks, Leyland has already committed to giving his left field spot to Delmon Young, so Berry will come off the bench for the first two (and potentially last two) games of the series. Young’s defensive issues in the outfield are well known, and Berry will almost certainly be called on to replace him late in games to provide better glovework, which could also lead to him hitting behind Prince Fielder in high leverage situations. While Berry likely won’t get too many at-bats in San Francisco, the ones he could be in line for could have huge ramifications, and the Tigers could end up needing to see their light hitting rookie to come through in a clutch situation.
Most Important Stat: Justin Verlander’s 3.80 career postseason ERA
The Tigers are going to be huge favorites in both Game 1 and 5 due to Verlander’s dominance, especially with the way he’s breezed through his last seven starts. However, baseball’s a funny game, and guys you expect do dominate in October don’t always perform as expected, even when they’re the game’s best pitcher. Verlander has been excellent this postseason, but he got hit pretty hard last year, and was lousy back in 2006 as well. Detroit should win both games he starts, but it’s not the mortal lock that you might think. Even with the Ace of all Aces on the mound, the Tigers odds in the two games he starts are probably no better than 60-65%. The Giants are a good baseball team, and shouldn’t simply be counted out of two games simply because Verlander is on the hill.
Modest Proposal: The Giants should bring back Melky Cabrera to DH.
In the first two rounds of the series, you could make a legitimate case that the Giants didn’t really need Cabrera. After all, Gregor Blanco has performed admirably in left field, and benching him for Cabrera isn’t a dramatic upgrade. However, with the sparse field of DH candidates, the gap between Cabrera and his replacement for those three games in Detroit could be massive, and the Giants are going to need all the offense they can get against the Tigers pitching staff. Even with a few months of rust after serving his suspension, Cabrera would be a vast offensive improvement over the inferior DH alternatives, and would provide a better pinch-hitting option in the games in San Francisco. The Giants may still be bitter at Cabrera for getting suspended in the first place, but nothing soothes an angry spirit like a World Series trophy, and they’re more likely to win one with him on the roster.
Prediction: Tigers in 7.