The San Francisco Giants won their sixth consecutive elimination game this postseason to advance past the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday night. They're now locked in to host the well-rested Detroit Tigers in a first-ever World Series matchup between those two original 16 franchises in Major League Baseball.
Although it might not necessarily have the appeal to draw in casual and borderline baseball fans, it sets up to be an interesting matchup with several intriguing characters involved and plenty of storylines going in. Leading into the Wednesday night's opener, let's take a quick glimpse at some of the more intriguing storylines that people will be talking about.
The Tigers seek a World Series championship for owner Mike Ilitch: A billionaire twice over, Detroit's 83-year-old owner made his commitment to winning a championship clear when he opened his checkbook and green-lighted Prince Fielder's nine-year, $214 million contract after Victor Martinez suffered a season-ending knee injury in January. He now finds himself on the cusp of seeing his dreams come true with the Tigers only four wins away. If you saw the emotion in manager Jim Leyland, GM Dave Drombowski and Tiger players' eyes when Ilitch accepted the William Harriage trophy, you can sense how much they all appreciate his commitment, and how much it would mean to them to help him fulfill his vision.
Can Marco Scutaro remain baseball's hottest hitter?: Three months ago Marco Scutaro was scuffling right along with his Colorado Rockies teammates heading towards their worst season in franchise history. One phone call on July 28 changed that, however, and from that point on he was arguably the hottest hitter in the National League. Right now, there's no arguing he's the hottest hitter in the postseason — he just hit .500 in the NLCS while earning MVP honors — but the question now becomes whether Scutaro can sustain hitting at or near that level against Detroit's staff in the World Series?
Justin Verlander can add World Series champion and MVP to his résumé: Coming off his incredible Cy Young and MVP campaign in 2011, it would seem the only thing Justin Verlander has left to accomplish in his heavily decorated career is a World Series championship. But let's not overlook the possibility that he could add another significant accolade and shiny piece of hardware to his personal collection in the form of a World Series MVP. He'll face stiff competition from teammates Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and maybe even ALCS MVP Delmon Young, but with two starts likely and a possible third appearance necessary in Game 7, Verlander should have ample opportunity to put his stamp on the series and cement his legacy as the most dominant pitcher of his era.
How will San Francisco's rotation set up?: With the season on the line in Game 5 of the NLCS, Barry Zito tossed 7 2/3 shutout innings to get the Giants home safely and begin the process of turning the series around. Now he'll likely be asked to match up against Justin Verlander in Game 1, and may need to be just as good to keep his team from falling behind 1-0. If Zito can pull that off on Wednesday night, and should the Giants win it, he'll have gone a long way towards rehabbing his image and reputation in a matter of two games. If he can't, the Giants could find themselves scrambling right away with the rotation behind Zito clearly unsettled right now.
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Their options to start Game 2 Thursday will include Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong. Bochy called on Lincecum in Game 4 of the NLCS and was rewarded with undesirable results, leaving you to wonder how effective he can be outside of the relief role he excelled in early in the postseason. Bumgarner has yet to get on track in two postseason starts and may not even be a real consideration here. Then you have Vogelsong, who's coming off the game of his life in Game 6, but would be on three days rest and would be an unlikely starter.
How will Jim Leyland sort out his bullpen?: Despite a complete meltdown from closer Jose Valverde in Game 1 that forced manager Jim Leyland to reshuffle his bullpen on the fly, the Tigers managed to sweep the New York Yankees out of the ALCS. A new opponent brings new challenges, however, and it will be interesting to see if Leyland continues going to Phil Coke in the eighth and ninth innings, or if he'll go to a more matchup-based strategy that could include Joaquin Benoit and even Valverde pitching with the game on the line.
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The Giants refuse to die: Maybe we need to throw the rotation problems, logic and statistics out the window and just acknowledge the Giants can't lose with their backs against the wall. After overcoming the never-say-die, defending world champion Cardinals, it's safe to say the Giants have already reclaimed the former title from their 2010 run while positioning themselves to reclaim the ultimate prize as well. Six consecutive elimination game victories is truly a remarkable accomplishment, and though that has and will continue to tax them physically, it probably doesn't matter with the positive attitude and approach they bring to the ballpark every game.
That's not to say Detroit can't give them negative attitude. After all, they overcame the hard-charging Oakland Athletics and Valverde's meltdown to dismantle the Yankees. But it will not be as easy.
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