Sunday, November 25, 2012

One Giant Dynasty


OK, talking about the World Series is super late.  So Sou me.

Since Bud Selig is done okaying the Miami Marlins fire sale trade to Toronto, maybe he could look into why so few of the World Series since he became Commissioner of Major League Baseball have gone the distance.  There have been 20 Fall Classics under his watch (over 21 years because, you know, he allowed that strike in 1994).  Only four of them have gone seven games, including last year.  On the other hand, six World Series since 1992 have been sweeps.  More alarmingly, four of them have happened since 2004, including the San Francisco Giants dismantling the Detroit Tigers a month ago.

Why does this happen?  Is it really a matter of momentum?  I said as much in framing my World Series prediction piece, yet I predicted it was going the full seven.  That’s because even though I thought the Giants would win, there is talent in Detroit, and I never thought Jim Leyland would let a second team of his do an el foldo (his 2006 Tigers team lost in five games to the St. Louis Cardinals).

So how did the Giants do it?  I thought the differences would be pitching and defense.  Turns out it wasn’t that Detroit was vastly inferior in those areas.  It’s just that San Fran was a bit better, and the Tigers were only really bad at the worst times.

Look at defense.  Both teams recorded only one error the entire series (both in Game 3).  But the turning point of the World Series could have happened all the way back at the top of the second inning of Game 2.  That’s when Delmon Young hit a ball to left.  Trying to spark the Tiger offense, third base coach Gene Lamont sent Prince Fielder home all the way from first.

Now, you all know that Fielder is the size of a beer truck.  He may not be fatter than his old (and estranged) man, Cecil, but not by much.  So let’s just say he was not reaching home scot-free.  And left fielder Gregor Blanco hit the cutoff man, second baseman Marco Scutaro, with a perfect strike, so the ensuing throw to catcher Buster Posey hit the plate a good half-second before Fielder did.  That out had to be a psychological blow to the Tigers, and you got the feeling that from that point on, they conceded that this World Series would be played on the Giants’ terms – stellar pitching, drum-tight defense, timely hitting, patient at-bats, who would blink first.

Also, the pitching statistics are misleading.  Detroit finished with a 4.11 ERA, but that is skewed by the only true rout of the series, Game 1’s 8-3 curb-stomping – and, to drill down even further, that can mostly be attributed to the performance of the Tigers’ erstwhile closer, Jose Valverde, who was busted down to the bullpen and still allowed four hits and two runs in only 1/3 inning.  (Side note: I interned for the El Paso Diablos during the 2001 season, when Valverde was the closer for the team, then the AA affiliate for the Arizona Diamondbacks.  He is the most successful prospect from to the team to make it to the bigs.  Unfortunately, that the team had losing streaks of ten and 13 games might mean something about why Valverde is considered the best man ever to make it to the bigs.)

But the Giants finished with a 1.46 ERA.  Detroit was held to a .159 batting average, lowest for a team in a World Series since the .142 sported by the Los Angeles Dodgers as they were swept by Baltimore in the ’66 Series, and went scoreless for 20 consecutive innings, starting with the back-to-back 2-0 results in Games 2 and 3.

While San Francisco was uniformly excellent from the mound, think about the moments when the team needed its pitchers to step up.  Think about Ryan Vogelsong striking out Quintin Berry and inducing a pop fly to short with the bases loaded to end a Detroit threat in the bottom of the fifth in Game 3, or Jeremy Affeldt retiring his last five batters (the first four strikeouts swinging) to re-tighten the strings of a Game 4 that could have erupted in runs and been series-changer for Detroit.

If there is a Tigers MVP, it could be that joking anti-Semite Delmon Young, the most productive hitter in the lineup whose home run in the sixth tied up Game 4.  But don’t forget Phil Coke.  Leyland asked for his services in three of the four games, more than any other arm.  Coke repaid his skip by striking out seven straight batters, a World Series record.  Under that backdrop, you have to give him some slack for giving up the game-winning, Series-clinching single to center from Scutaro in the top of the tenth inning.

Here is where you can blame the Tigers’ stars for not rising to the occasion.  Miguel Cabrera deserved to win the American League MVP award over Mike Trout because he won the Triple Crown, but he hit only .231 over the four games.  And Fielder finished the Fall Classic 1-for-14; that fateful sniping at home in Game 2, by the way, occurred when he was hit by Madison Bumgarner.

And what the heck happened to Justin Verlander?  In a Game 1 where your ace could have taken home-field advantage away from the Giants and set a tone for the Series, The Best Pitcher Today was shaken down for six hits and five runs over four innings.  His three World Series outings, this year and back in 2006: 15 innings, 12 earned runs, 18 hits, four strikeouts, and a 7.20 ERA.

Maybe they are right – title teams need great pitching but only timely hitting.  Scutaro scratched out that game-winning run in Game 4, but also remember that “fundamental baseball” won San Francisco Game 2.  Brandon Crawford scored the game-winning run grounding into a double play in the bottom of the 7th.   And Hunter Pence scored the insurance run on a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 8th.  Ángel Pagán plated on that sac fly; he got on base on a walk by Tigers pitching Drew Smyly, stole second, and advanced to third on a walk to load the bases.  This is what the Minnesota Twins want to do, but with obviously much less success.

Baseball might be too random to call the San Francisco Giants a dynasty.  But the team has done all the right things to win their second World Series ever.  The mid-season trades for Scutaro and Pence paid off handsomely.  With the awesome pitching and the comeback performance of NL MVP Buster Posey leading the team, all the organization needed to acquire were the right glue guys that would play for humble salaries.  Contrast that to the Los Angeles Dodgers, who want to be the New York Yankees but have yet to realize that they need to overspend for the right players, not boneheads like Josh Beckett and Shane Victorino, or players whose careers have fallen apart, like Carl Crawford and Adrián Gonzáles.

General Manager Brian Sabean did a masterful job striking while the iron is hot, and now his Giants are seen as a model franchise.  Don’t bet against them winning a third World Series in the next three years.

Thank you for reading this much-delayed World Series review.  And now, I will dissect the presidential election.  The 2008 presidential election.

Posted by WilliamSou at 4:52 AM

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