The Detroit Tigers had three legitimate cracks at breaking through against San Francisco Giants’ starter Ryan Vogelsong in the first five innings. All three chances went by the boards and the Giants’ pitching dominance of this World Series continued, as a second straight 2-0 shutout win gave them a commanding 3-0 lead in games and a chance to lock up their second title in three years in Game 4 tonight (8 PM ET, Fox).
Detroit put two on with one out in the first and Prince Fielder came to the plate. Fielder, who has had a positively miserable postseason going all the way back to the Division Series against Oakland, promptly hit into a double play. In the third, the Tigers again had two on and one out. This time it was Quintin Berry who hit it on the ground and even the outfielder’ speed couldn’t stop him from being doubled up.
Finally in the fifth, Detroit loaded the bases with one out. Berry struck out, but Miguel Cabrera was up next. The Triple Crown winner has not swung the bat badly in this Series—his .222 average belies the fact he has three line drive outs and in a sample size this small that’s enough to be the difference in a healthy or poor batting average. But in his most important at-bat of the World Series to date, he got underneath it and popped out to short.
San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy summoned Tim Lincecum from the pen in the sixth and got 2.1 IP of quality relief work and then Sergio Romo closed the game without incident. Detroit starter Anibal Sanchez was a little shaky early, with San Fran touching him for two runs in the second, a long triple by Gregor Blanco being the key blow. But Sanchez was brilliant thereafter. He just didn’t get any help.
I was surprised that the Giants went with Vogelsong rather than Matt Cain in this game. The Game 3 starter would be on full rest for Game 7, and I’d have assumed that Cain—as the ace—would get that nod. But with the way both are pitching, it probably doesn’t matter much. And as far as the future goes, even a Monday night Game 5 seems unlikely.
Detroit sends Max Scherzer to the mound tonight and the power pitcher he’s done some very good work down the stretch. But he’s still the fourth starter in the rotation. San Francisco sends Cain to the hill. If you’re the Giants, you want to close this thing out tonight and not let Justin Verlander back on the mound Monday and a chance for Detroit get any momentum.
Game 2 of the World Series stayed scoreless until the seventh inning, when San Francisco finally got the game’s first run, and then plated an insurance run in the eighth to win 2-0, giving them the same lead in games in this series. But by the time four innings were in the books, you had the distinct impression that this was again going to be San Fran’s night.
The first moment came in the top of the second and it’s the sequence that’s gotten the most play in the game recaps. Prince Fielder was on first base with no one out. Delmon Young lined a double into the left field corner. It kicked off the portion of the wall that juts out a little further. A relay through from Gregor Blanco was overthrown, but Marco Scutaro was backing up and nailed Fielder at the plate.
There were questions surrounding third base coach Gene Lamont’s decision to send Fielder. While acknowledging the risk of making the first out of the inning at home plate and the hot-hitting Jhonny Peralta coming up next, most commentators—from Tim McCarver in the booth, to the Fox pregame crew out in left field—seemed to cut the third-base coach a break, saying the way the ball caromed likely made the play closer than it initially appeared.
I like Lamont a lot, but I think this decision was a bad one from the start. While Fielder is more athletic than his body type makes him appear, he’s still not a burner. While it was a bit of a bad break on the carom, it wasn’t a horrifically bad one—watch enough games over the course of the year and see that type of bounce happen frequently enough.
And then there’s the whole Peralta coming up, potentially with runners on second and third. When I watched the play, my first thought was “panic move.” The Giants might have gotten in the Tigers’ heads and the team trailing in the series felt the need to force things.
Lamont’s been a good manager and I assume a credible third-base coach. He’s also a blessed individual, having finished second to Bobby Valentine in last year’s Red Sox managerial sweepstakes—talk about dodging a bullet. But I think the possibility of this decision blowing up where high enough that Lamont should have kept Fielder at third.
The second instance didn’t have nearly the nuance, but it was just as revealing. Detroit had the leadoff man on the fourth and Miguel Cabrera at the plate. The Triple Crown winner uncorked a screaming line drive to third base that appeared destined for the corner. It was snared by Pablo Sandoval, who seems bound and determined to lock up series MVP honors before we’re halfway done. If it was a possible for a play to speak the words “It’s not your night” to Detroit, this one was it.
Thus, it seemed almost inevitable when San Francisco finally broke the ice in the seventh, and turned it over to Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo to close out in the final two innings. Madison Bumgarner, after struggling badly in his first two postseason starts was brilliant. So much for the concern I had in the preview of this series about the way San Fran’s pitching lined up. Now when the action resumes Saturday night in Detroit, Frisco throws Matt Cain and then Ryan Vogelsong against the back end of the Tiger rotation.
Homefield or not, Detroit’s got their hands full just trying to get the series extended to Game 5 and a second chance for Justin Verlander.
The San Francisco Giants have done this before. When they won the World Series in 2010, they took on a favored American League team that was fresh off ousting the Yankees and sending a renowned and feared ace to the mound in Game 1. Back in ’10, Frisco hit Cliff Lee hard and set themselves on the path to a decisive Series win over Texas. Now they’ve done it to Detroit and Justin Verlander, as the Giants grabbed an easy 8-3 win to open the World Series this time around.
Pablo Sandoval made history of his own, hitting three home runs in his first three at-bats. The big third baseman joins Albert Pujols, Reggie Jackson and Babe Ruth as the only players to do this in World Series play. Sandoval’s bombs might not have had the “three home runs on three swings” that Jackson delivered in a clinching game back in 1977, but for sheer quality of the at-bats, what Sandoval did was unmatched.
He took a high pitch from Verlander and somehow got on top of it to drive it out of the park. A good low sinker by Al Albuquerqe in the sixth inning was golfed into centerfield. For good measure, he laced a line drive single in his fourth at-bat, a ball that might have been his hardest hit of the night. Translation: This guy is really, really hot.
And the top of the San Fran order stayed hot. Angel Pagan delivered two hits in the leadoff spot and Marco Scutaro continued his roll, with a two-hit night. Buster Posey has been in an October slump (well, save for a rather significant grand slam that ensured the Giants would survive the Reds in the Division Series) and he got a couple hits.
Detroit manager Jim Leyland did the right thing in trying to get fallen closer Jose Valverde some work and see if he could his confidence back. It didn’t work. Valverde ended up charged with a couple more runs in what was already a 6-1 game and was the only Tiger reliever not to pitch reasonably well.
On the other side, we’ve seen what a weapon Tim Lincecum will be coming out of the pen. He got the biggest out of the night for the Giants, when Detroit had closed to 6-1 off of Barry Zito, had two on, two outs and a hot Jhonny Peralta at the plate. Later in the game, Peralta would hit a meaningless home run. In this key at-bat, Lincecum got him and the lead stayed comfortable.
So now that San Francisco has beaten Verlander, is this Series over? Or, more reasonably put, is it going to require something dramatic for Detroit to reverse its fortunes? I’m not ready to go there yet. Madison Bumgarner has really struggled in the postseason for San Fran thus far, and he’s the Game 2 starter. Doug Fister, who’s pitched very well, gets the ball for Detroit. Certainly you have to like the Tigers’ chances of tying this up.
But the importance of tonight can’t be understated for Detroit. I know they’re going home for three games after this, but the strength of the starting pitching shifts San Francisco’s direction in Games 3 & 4, when they send out Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong to face the back end of the Tiger rotation. Getting one win in those spots will be hard enough. Detroit can’t go home needing to both of San Francisco’s top two.
And whatever way you slice it, most formulas for predicting the Tigers would win the Series (including here) had Verlander beating Zito twice. If they can crawl back to even by the end of four games, that formula would be back on track for the Verlander-Zito rematch of Game 5, but it’s now a much tougher road for Leyland’s team.
The higher-ups at Fox Sports are probably weeping, with the prospect of the San Francisco Giants and Detroit Tigers matching up. The TV ratings won’t be huge, but the baseball promises to be good. These are two evenly matched teams, and TheSportsNotebook will break down each team by their ability to put runners on base, hit for power, get starting pitching and close games out in relief. We’ll also look at the 2012 World Series in a little historical context, along with seeing how the smart money in Las Vegas sees things.
ABILITY TO GET ON BASE: Marco Scutaro became a national name with his performance in the National League Championship Series for the Giants, getting 14 hits in the two-hole in the batting order. Scutaro has a .404 on-base percentage for the postseason. But don’t overlook the fact he’s been doing that ever since he came over from Colorado at the trade deadline. Scutaro’s OBP during his 61 regular season games in Frisco was a sparkling .385
Gregor Blanco and Angel Pagan are also steady, with the latter swinging a hot bat in the NLCS. And in the middle of the order, Pablo Sandoval is good at getting on base, while Buster Posey is outstanding, the reason he’s likely already won the MVP vote that took place the day after the regular season ended. Posey has been in a slump for the postseason, as has first baseman Brandon Belt. Both need to be active members of the offense in this series.
Austin Jackson sparks the offense for Detroit, scoring 103 runs during the season with an OBP of .377. He’s playing well in the playoffs and keeping the table set for Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. Since Cabrera won the Triple Crown you can probably guess he does more than just hit for power. He gets on base at a prolific rate, something that served him well in the American League playoffs. Even though he didn’t hit for as much power until the final game of the Yankee series, he was a regular part of the Detroit attack.
Fielder is in a slump in all facets of his game, as is normally productive catcher Alex Avila and left fielder Andy Dirks. They’ve been covered for by solid hitting from shortstop Jhonny Peralta and designated hitter Delmon Young, MVP of the ALCS. And rightfielder Avisail Garcia is also swinging a good bat. Between all of these players, if Detroit can get three to have a World Series, they’ll give their stars a fair chance to carry them.
POWER: Sandoval is the muscle in the San Francisco lineup and he’s stepped up in his game in the playoffs, slugging .580, after a season-long number of .447. Scutaro also drove the ball to the gaps well at the end of the regular season, although this is not a regular part of his game, and I’m not counting on seeing it over the next week. And Posey popped 24 home runs and slugged .549.
Cabrera and Fielder give Detroit a huge edge in this area in the World Series, and both Jackson and Dirks can drive the ball with authority. Peralta can be streaky, and he just happens to be on a positive streak right now, slugging .543 in the postseason and hitting the home run that broke open the final game of the ALCS. The same goes for Young.
STARTING PITCHING: If you look at the season-long numbers these teams match up pretty well, but the factors unique to this World Series give Detroit at least a small edge and potentially a decisive one. The Tigers have Justin Verlander ready to go in Games 1 & 5—and have the option of using him in Games 1, 4 & 7 if the ace wants to try short rest, though I doubt this will happen. San Francisco ace Matt Cain won on Monday night to clinch the NL pennant and won’t be available until at least Game 3 on Saturday.
San Francisco overcame not having Cain until Game 3 in the NLCS and could do the same here. But they had Ryan Vogelsong lined up for Games 2 & 6 against the Cardinals. Vogelsong pitched on Sunday night and unless he can go on short rest in Thursday’s Game 2, it means the Giants have to push him or Cain back to Game 4, which in turn means the one who goes Game 4 (presumably Vogelsong) could only take one turn on their normal four days’ rest. It’s the same problem the Yankees had against Detroit in the ALCS and by the time C.C. Sabathia took the mound in Game 4 the series was all but over.
The Giants will start Barry Zito in Wednesday’s opener, apparently still lacking confidence in Tim Lincecum and we have no idea what the plans are for him. Bruce Bochy apparently lacks confidence in Madison Bumgarner as well—the lefty who won 16 games with a 3.37 ERA in the regular season, has been rocked in the playoffs. Even though he’s on regular rest, he was passed over for Game 1 and as of now is still not officially announced for Game 2.
Detroit, on the other hand, has its rotation rolling, even after Verlander. Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer were all pitching well prior to getting some national attention during the ALCS when they collared the Yankees. In fact, the Tiger rotation had finally clicked in September and there’s no reason to think it will stop now.
RELIEF PITCHING: If Detroit has the edge with the starters, San Francisco has better relievers and a lot more of them. The Giants can run out Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez in set-up work and then close games with Sanitago Casilla and Sergio Romo. All four are pitching well. Then let’s add in the fact that Lincecum’s relief appearances in the playoffs have been solid. If Bochy wants to pitch Vogelsong on short rest in Game 2, he won’t have to ask for a lot of innings—if a starter gets this pen to the sixth inning, the relievers can match up with anyone.
By contrast, Detroit’s starters need to go at least seven, and even at that, things can be an adventure. Phil Coke took the closer’s job from Jose Valverde in midstream in the ALCS and has pitched very well in the playoffs. It gives Detroit some hope, but what does it say when you have to change the closer in the middle of playing for the pennant?
Octavio Dotel is pitching well in setup and is a veteran that can be trusted, while Joaquin Benoit’s performance is anyone’s guess on a day-to-day basis. Potential X-factors in a positive way for Jim Leyland are Drew Smyly, the young starter who has thrown 2.1 IP of shutout ball in relief this October and Al Albuquerque, has done 1.1 IP without giving up a run. We’ll see if they need to be called on more against San Francisco.
HISTORICAL CONTEXT: There’s no history between these two teams, so the context here is more in the form of irony. Verlander and Cain were the starters in the All-Star Game, won by the National League. So at least this silly idea MLB has of settling homefield advantage got to be decided by the aces of each team. Both pitchers also tossed a no-hitter this season. But that’s about it. There’s not even a good sports history between the two cities in general. The most we’ve got is a 1983 NFL playoff game between the 49ers and Lions, when Detroit lost 24-23 by missing a makeable field goal at the end. The history for these teams and these cities begins on Wednesday night.
THE VIEW FROM VEGAS: Detroit is a solid favorite, listed at (-185), meaning it requires a $185 bet to turn a hundred-dollar profit. This is the biggest series price we’ve seen in this postseason, eclipsing even the Yankees-Orioles matchup in the Division Series. If you bet San Francisco, you can get (+155), meaning your profit will be 55 percent higher than the original bet if the Giants win. This has to be about star power—Verlander, Cabrera and Fielder—that’s driving the market.
PREDICTION: When I was doing my podcast with Greg DePalma at Prime Sports Network on Monday, I picked San Francisco (even in advance of their NLCS win) and further added that I’d take St. Louis if they won. My reasons were bullpen length and the belief that Detroit’s power advantage is likely to be negated in a postseason situation dominated by good pitchers and played in pitcher-friendly parks. But upon further review, I’ve changed my mind.
I just don’t like the way the starting pitching shapes up for San Francisco. They need two starts apiece from Cain and Vogelsong, and while they can get it by using Vogelsong on short rest on Thursday, this Series is competitive enough, that every edge matters. That’s why I’m picking Detroit to win in six games. I’ll just play politician and create an escape hatch with one caveat—if it goes seven, with Cain on the mound, the Giants win.
Miguel Cabrera came to the plate in the fourth inning with one on and one out, as he faced C.C. Sabathia in a showdown of the stars in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series. It was already looking like Detroit’s day—though their lead was only 2-0, the Tigers had five this and two walks, while the Yanks’ normally reliable Mark Teixeira had committed an error. Not to mention the Yanks had gone 12-up, 12-down and that 2-zip lead looked as solid as it would in hockey.
But when Cabrera won the battle of the stars by hitting a monster home run into left field, it was all over but the shouting. A series that had been at least closely contested in each of the first three games, turned into a rout as Detroit win 8-1 and completed a four-game sweep for the American League pennant.
Delmon Young was one of seven Tigers to have a multiple-hit game and it wrapped up ALCS MVP honors for the designated hitter. With the series being dominated mostly by starting pitching and no starter getting more than one outing because of the sweep, there weren’t a ton of great candidates for the award, but Young was a logical pick. He’d also hit a key home run in Yankee Stadium, had some big RBI base hits and only reliever Phil Coke came anywhere close to impacting the series as much.
As far as yesterday’s game per se goes, there’s really not a lot to say since it was complete domination by Detroit. It reminded me of the clinching game in last June’s NBA Finals. You might recall in that series the Miami Heat led 3-1 in games, but all four had been close, compelling games. But in the finale the roof fell in for the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Heat won going away for the home fans.
What’s perhaps more surprising is that the Thunder were a young team and the Yankees are a veteran one, presumably less immune to the complete collapse. And the nature of baseball, with its emphasis on the starting pitcher, should have said that a Sabathia matchup with Max Scherzer should be a win for the Yanks—at the very least a good game. But the big fella didn’t have it, Scherzer tossed five perfect innings before coming out in the sixth, Jhonny Peralta and Austin Jackson tacked on home runs after Cabrera’s big blast and it’s time for Detroit to celebrate.
Because it’s time for Detroit to celebrate, I’m not going to participate in the speculation about what happens in New York this offseason. Yes, it’s an interesting story and important in the bigger picture of baseball in 2013. No, it’s not nearly as important as one team clinching a pennant and getting a shot at its first World Series title since 1984.
Yesterday was about the Tigers continuing their late-season push into the team a lot of people thought they were in March. Congrats to Jim Leyland and his staff, and to Justin Verlander, whose three dominating starts in the postseason over Oakland and New York are lifting him to a new level of greatness.
The late afternoon in Detroit gave way to prime-time in St. Louis yesterday in the MLB playoffs, and the Cardinals moved one win closer to creating a rematch of the 2006 World Series. St. Louis got a great performance from Adam Wainwright, while their own bats chipped away at San Francisco starter Tim Lincecum, then opened it up against the Giant bullpen en route to an 8-3 win.
You can’t blame the leadoff hitters for San Francisco. Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro had two hits apiece in the table-setting spots, but the middle of the order came up short. Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Hector Sanchez went 1-for-12 and the one hit was Sandoval’s two-run homer in the ninth inning of a game long decided.
Sanchez was the starter behind the plate last night, as Posey moved to first base and the switch cost San Francisco a run. Pagan, who played even better defensively than he did at the plate, had made started a relay that appeared to have Matt Carpenter gunned at the plate by a decent margin. But Sanchez did not make the play, the Cardinals took a 3-1 lead and the rout was slowly on.
One San Francisco player that deserves some kudos is Hunter Pence. TheSportsNotebook was quite hard on him yesterday for his failure in a couple key at-bats in Game 3. Pence apparently shared the view, telling the media he was a goat and he came out and hit an early home run.
I felt a little guilty over my panning of Pence yesterday, since I wonder if I’d have had the guts to say the same things to his face (answer: probably not). And hearing the player call himself out made me respect him for the effort, even if we can’t ignore the struggles in performance. It was good to see him succeed yesterday.
But no one succeeded like the Cardinals and Wainwright, who went seven strong innings and gave up just one run, exorcising the memory of his poor start in the decisive game of the Division Series against Washington.
Both teams send questionable starters to the mound tonight, with Barry Zito getting the ball for San Francisco, while Lance Lynn goes for St. Louis. The Cards may be up 3-1 in games, but all it takes is one win to push the series back west. San Francisco then has Ryan Vogelsong, who’s been brilliant in two postseason starts and ace Matt Cain would get the ball for a Game 7.
For St. Louis tonight, the question is how much urgency will Cardinal manager Mike Matheny show if Lynn struggles early, like he did in the series opener? With a travel day to reset the bullpen, the guess here is that Matheny doesn’t hesitate to treat it like a Game 7 .
The question for San Francisco is more intangible—we saw how the prospect of getting a series back home did nothing to motivate New York. Will the Giants feel any differently? I’m not saying that a loss means they didn’t try, but given the lack of soap opera drama around this team, the guess here is they at least come out and give tonight everything they’ve got. Right now though, I don’t know that the effort alone is going to be enough. St. Loo just seems to be feeling it.