If you’ve been reading the columns lately, you’d notice a disturbing trend: my predictions have been downright awful this fall. The Eye was two of four in the Division Series, zero of two in the LCS round, and below .500 in the GANT Gridiron Challenge. All this proves that no one has a crystal ball, and as always, these picks are for entertainment purposes only. Let’s get to the Series!
San Francisco Giants vs. Texas Rangers
A few obvious things we should get out of the way: whoever wins will be a great story, as Texas had never even won a playoff series before this year, and San Francisco looked done as late as September 1. Cliff Lee has further solidified his reputation as a playoff monster, and San Francisco STILL appears to be the weakest offense in the playoffs. This postseason has been all about pitching, and I see no reason that will change in the World Series. Let’s start the detailed analysis by breaking down the offenses.
As a team the Giants have batted .231, reached base less than 30% of the time and slugged .330. Through two rounds, the Giants have hit a grand total of six home runs – four by regular-season afterthought Cody Ross! How does a team win when hitting that poorly? Well, it helps that they played two struggling offenses – Atlanta hit .175 in four games against the Giants, and the Phillies hit .214 in nine playoff games. These are SMALL samples, so it’s hard to draw big-picture conclusions, but it’s clear that Atlanta and Philly picked a bad time to slump with the bats. Of course the Giants’ pitching had a hand in those numbers, but we’ll get to that in a minute. As I look at the Giants’ lineup, I feel the same way I did Oct 1 – this is NOT a championship offense. There are no stars at all, there are at least three obvious holes, and the team is neither particularly powerful nor speedy. They are very reliant on stringing hits together to score, and that has a tendency to break down against good pitching. Furthermore, while most NL teams are at a disadvantage in AL parks, the Giants might be even worse off that most because of their utter lack of DH possibilities. They simply do not have any good-hit-no-field candidates for the job. Texas is the worst pitching staff the Giants will have faced in the postseason, so they will likely hit a bit more, but it’s not like the Rangers are a BAD staff – in short, if this becomes a slugfest the Giants are in big trouble.
Texas’ offense enters this series on a roll, having pulverized New York’s pitching and having put up by far the best offensive numbers through two rounds. In 11 games the Rangers scored almost twice as many runs as the Giants, hit 11 more homers, stole 12 more bases, and hit .281 as a team. Unlike the Giants, the Rangers have several All-Star-level hitters in Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, and Vlad Guerrero. Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus had disappointing regular seasons but have been on fire in the postseason. The Rangers boast a deep, diverse attack and it will take top pitchers to shut this group down.
On the mound, everyone knows about the Giants’ rotation, especially Tim Lincecum, but the Rangers have been quietly effective. Texas hurlers have struck out 107 batters in 98 postseason innings, while allowing only 37 walks and a 2.76 ERA. That’s some darn fine work, especially against the Bronx Bombers. You know about Lee, but Colby Lewis has been almost as effective, with a 1.75 ERA in three postseason starts. Closer Neftali Feliz has also been dominant. The weak point of Texas is their middle relief and the back of their rotation – Tommy Hunter and C.J. Wilson are good-not-great starters, and Ron Washington’s continuing fascination with Darren Oliver has cost his team some runs.
The Giants have both the frontline ace AND depth to back him up. Their rotation comfortably goes four-deep; they have an excellent bullpen well suited for late-inning matchups, and despite my pessimism, a closer who hasn’t allowed a run in nine postseason innings. They sport a 2.47 team ERA, and that number would be much better if not for shaky outings by Sergio Romo and Ramon Ramirez in the ‘pen. If San Francisco can get to Texas with a 1-1 split, their chances are decent, as they have the better pitcher on the hill in games three and four. Also, any long-relief battles will clearly favor San Francisco as well.
Key Matchup: Lincecum vs. Lee. I think this is especially true for the Giants – if Lee shuts them down in game one, he could really be in the Giants hitters’ heads for game five – AND, in a series like this, the Giants cannot afford to lose when their ace is pitching. Yes, it’s a ‘long series’, but in this particular series I have a feeling game one will be very important.
Player to watch: Jonathan Sanchez. Odds are that the Giants will get good starts from Lincecum and Cain – even if they lose the games, those starters will almost certainly keep their offense in range. Sanchez is another story – with his control issues, as we saw in the last round he can blow up early and put a real strain on a bullpen. With the clear imbalance between the offenses, the Giants need to be close to perfect on the hill. Sanchez HAS to come through – since he’s starting game three, if he leaves early he will throw the bullpen out of whack for the following two games.
The bottom line: Well, I’ve picked against the Giants for two straight rounds, why change up now? Seriously, while their pitching will always give them a chance, I think that their lack of offense will catch up to them this round – you can only depend on timely hitting for so long. I like Cain to win Game Two and Lincecum could spin a gem in one of his starts – but it won’t be enough. TEXAS IN FIVE.
Next week, some odds and ends.
Dave Glass can be reached at email@example.com.