If the Chicago White Sox hadn't gone 11-17 in September and let the Tigers pass them in the AL Central, Detroit would be sitting at home wondering, again, why it underachieved. But the Tigers are making the most of their second shot at glory and, by gum if they're not finally playing the great baseball many of us thought they were capable of.
Eighty-eight victories don't look like much, and the Tigers are still full of holes on defense and in the bullpen, but they've been impressive in the postseason and deserve this as much as any team that made the tournament. Hopefully for the sake of 83-year-old owner Mike Illitch, who paid for all this, they'll win their first World Series since the great '84 team of Sparky Anderson, Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, Kirk Gibson, Jack Morris and Willie Hernandez.
The San Francisco Giants weren't supposed to be here, either. Several times, they were counted out. When closer Brian Wilson got hurt. When slugger Melky Cabrera got busted for a positive drug test. When the Dodgers traded for Adrian Gonzalez. When the Reds went up 2-0 in the NLDS. When the Cardinals went up 3-1 in the NLCS. The Giants will probably be counted out at least one more time in the World Series, too.
They aren't quite the pitching juggernaut they were in 2010 when they previously advanced to the Fall Classic. Former ace Tim Lincecum is on the roster but not to be trusted with a start in Games 1-4. Barry Zito is on the roster and, though his leash might be short, it's long enough for him to start Game 1. Cabrera isn't in the lineup and they've been winning without big offensive contributions from Buster Posey and Hunter Pence. Will the patterns hold for the Series? If they do, hang on to your Kung Fu Panda caps, Lincecum hair and Sergio Romo Beards.
Schedule (all times ET)
Game 1: Wednesday — AT&T Park, 8 p.m.
Game 2: Thursday — AT&T Park, 8 p.m.
Game 3: Saturday — Comerica Park, 8 p.m.
Game 4: Sunday — Comerica Park, 8 p.m.
Game 5*: Tuesday — Comerica Park, 8 p.m.
Game 6*: Wednesday, Oct.31 — AT&T Park, 8 p.m.
Game 7*: Thursday, Nov. 1 — AT&T Park, 8 p.m.
(* If necessary)
Fox brought us the NLCS and it's back for the Series, with Tim McCarver and Joe Buck continuing their 17th postseason together. Erin Andrews continues her divergence from NCAA football and teams with Ken Rosenthal's bow tie in the dugouts. One person they should add but won't: NFL referee Mike Pereira for the video review stuff. Sure, baseball's not his game, but he's better at explaining stuff like that than McCarver.
They met as recently as 2011 in interleague play, with the Giants taking two of three at Comerica Park, including a 15-3 whooping July 2. Zito posted six shutout innings to get the victory and Max Scherzer allowed nine runs — six earned — in two innings. But, to give you an idea of how dubiously relevant this is, Miguel Tejada hit a grand slam for the Giants. Miguel Tejada was on the Giants last year? Detroit's lineup also featured Magglio Ordoñez (since retired) and Victor Martinez (since injured for the season — which opened up the signing of Prince Fielder). These are two different teams.
The Tigers created an advantage, at least in theory, because of the layoff since the end of the ALCS sweep against the Yankees. It has allowed manager Jim Leyland to set his rotation with Justin Verlander in Game 1, followed by Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Scherzer. All are right-handers. Verlander would pitch in Game 5 if necessary and, you have to figure, he'll be available for brief duty in Game 7.
The Giants open the Series with two home games, but are forced to use left-handers Zito and Madison Bumgarner out of the chute at AT&T Park. Ryan Vogelsong, pitching like an ace recently, won't go until Game 3. Matt Cain goes in Game 4. Lincecum struggled in his start during the NLCS and is back in the bullpen, but is standing by if needed. Don't be surprised if he starts Game 5 or 6 if Zito reverts to Bad Barry and/or Bumgarner remains lost.
Both rosters remain as they were during the previous round. San Francisco will use 12 pitchers and 13 position players. The Giants have four extra men traveling with the squad — catcher Eli Whiteside, outfielder Francisco Peguero, right-hander Clay Hensley and right-hander Jean Machi — in case of injury. Bruce Bochy has not named a DH for the games in Detroit, but the first option appears inserting Joaquin Arias at third base, with Pablo Sandoval sliding to DH.
The Tigers have the same 11 pitchers and 14 position players from the previous round. Their biggest lineup change happens in Games 1 and 2, with Delmon Young moving from DH to left field. Quintin Berry often starts in left field.
What the Giants need to do to win
Keep Austin Jackson, Jhonny Peralta and Delmon Young off base: Jackson is an up-and-coming star, but when he gets on base it means Miguel Cabrera (and/or Prince Fielder) will bat in the first inning with at least one runner aboard. This is how you fall behind quickly. Later in the lineup, Jhonny Peralta and Young both slugged over .700 against the Yankees. This shouldn't happen. These guys can be pitched to. If the Giants fail, their season will be over just as quickly as New York's.
Paging Mr. Posey, Mr. Buster Posey: Their best player hit .154 — all singles — in the NLCS. He didn't hit well in the division series round, either, but he did manage two homers and five RBIs. Hitting a couple balls out would help.
Get to Detroit's bullpen early: The Tigers still have a significant weakness in the bullpen. Closer Jose Valverde is a shambles and Phil Coke wasn't trustworthy to get out one lefty a night, much less six outs at a time, before the Yankees series. Now all of a sudden he's Sparky Lyle and Willie Hernandez wrapped into one pudgy ginger package?
What the Tigers need to do to win ...
Keep the hits coming, Motown: The Tigers collectively hit .291/.341/.462 against the Yankees, and they'll win the World Series comfortably if they do it again.
Everyone, keep pitching like this: Justin Verlander should be great in his two starts, but other Tigers are capable of dominating, too. The Giants don't have nearly the same kind of formidable lineup as the New York Yankees, who looked absolutely helpless against Tigers pitching in the ALCS. If Marco Scutaro goes something like 1 for 18 (as Robinson Cano did), and if Hunter Pence is anything like 0 for 11 with seven strikeouts (like Curtis Granderson) and if Buster Posey goes 3 for 15 (like Mark Teixeria), well, you get the idea. Parade through downtown Detroit.
Let Austin Jackson play left field and center: At least for the games in San Francisco, Young will be taking his glove to left field, giving the Tigers one of the shakiest left sides on defense in ... forever. They've managed to play around, or over, their defensive inefficiencies so far. But the Giants would be wise to hit the ball to the left side as much as they can.