By: Jamie Samuelsen
Prior to Game 5 of the ALDS with Oakland, there was a fair amount of debate in Detroit as to who had the upper hand. Was it the A’s who were riding emotion and a ridiculous ninth inning comeback in Game 4? Or was it the Tigers who had blown their chance to win the series the previous night, but were handing the ball to Justin Verlander for Game 5?
The answer was pretty obvious before the game and it became more obvious as things got going. Always take the better pitcher. Always. You can have your emotion and your mojo and your never-say-die attitude. But a good starting pitcher will normally put an end to all of that. Verlander did. And as a result, the Tigers are back in the World Series where they face another emotional, destiny-fueled club – the San Francisco Giants.
Five days ago, the Giants were dead. They trailed the Cardinals 3-1 and had the highly erratic Barry Zito pitching in Game 5. Three games, and a 20-1 run scoring differential later, the Giants are back in the World Series brimming with the belief that this is their year and that their resiliency will carry them to the title.
Verlander might have something to say about that. So might Doug Fister. And Max Scherzer. And Anibal Sanchez. The Giants are riding high. And like the 2006 Cardinals, they can barely breath after a dramatic seven-game win in the NLCS. The Tigers are rested and ready. But the Giants are raring to go. San Francisco will be a very chic pick given what we watched over the last five nights. But the Tigers will be the correct pick because of what we’ve watching this rotation do over the last month-plus.
The two teams are eerily similar if you look at the regular season numbers.
The Giants batted .269 as a team. The Tigers hit .268.
The Giants scored 718 runs. The Tigers had 726.
The Giants team ERA was 3.68. The Tigers was 3.75.
The Giants WHIP was 1.27. The Tigers was 1.29.
The glaring difference comes in the power numbers where the Tigers bombed 163 home runs and the Giants hit only 103 (dead last in all of baseball). The Giants play in a very pitcher-friendly park, which may explain some of that total. But so do the Tigers, and you don’t hear them making excuses for paltry home run totals (at least not since Dean Palmer and Juan Gonzalez left town).
I certainly understand the fear that the Giants bring to Tigers fans. They lost their best closer (Brian Wilson) early in the season. They lost their best hitter (Melky Cabrera) to a drug suspension in August. And they basically played all year without their best (or second best) starter (Tim Lincecum) who was ineffective from Opening Day throughout the entire season. He’s made just one start in 12 postseason games because he wasn’t deemed to be as good as the four starters ahead of him (and when one of those starters is Zito, that’s saying something).
But as well as they’re playing and as good as their pitching has been, it’s just not as good as the Tigers. Game 1 will feature Verlander against Zito. HUGE advantage for the Tigers. Game 2 will most likely be Lincecum against Fister. Again, a pretty clear advantage for the Tigers. And when the Tigers get back to Comerica Park, they’ll have to deal with Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain who have been the Giants two best pitchers in the postseason. Cain is the ace, and realistically (unless there is a weather delay), he’ll only get one start in the World Series. Again, another major advantage for the Tigers. So for the people that worried that the Tigers were clinching too soon, remember that this is one of the clear benefits. The Tigers are able to completely manage and manipulate their rotation. The Giants are left to scramble. That may very well be the difference in the Series.
It’s a classic match-up between two classic franchises. So let’s fall back on the most classic baseball idiom of all – pitching wins out. Always. Both teams have pitching. The Giants bullpen is better. But the Tigers rotation is better. And that should be enough to carry them to their first title sin 28 years.