The Continuum’s 2012 World Series Preview

It’s the 108th World Series! If this were the Super Bowl, we’d give it a cool Roman numeral name, like World Series CVIII, but that’s not how it works, so it’s just called the “2012 World Series”.

On paper, it could be either a treat or a blow-out. The Tigers could maul the Giants like they mauled the Yankees, taking advantage of their superior pitching and their more powerful hitters.

But, on the other hand, the Giants will be fresher and have more momentum, having only just recently finished their series against the Cardinals. This might not seem like much, but consider that in history, there have been three times where a team that swept their LCS faced a team that went the distance in an LCS in the World Series. All three times, the team that had to go the distance won. In addition, San Francisco has the more settled bullpen, and they will have home-field advantage, primarily because various Giants (most notably the now-exiled Melky Cabrera) beat up on Detroit über-ace Justin Verlander in the All-Star Game.

So how will it turn out? Check out my analysis after the jump:

Starting Pitching: If the Giants’ starters were all at their peak, this would likely be one of the greatest pitching matchups in recent World Series history. However, they aren’t. Tim Lincecum had the worst year of his career, Madison Bumgarner had lots of trouble down the stretch and during the earlier rounds of the postseason and Barry Zito had a pretty good year and did great in his NLCS start, but he still isn’t getting any younger. Really, the only two pitchers the Bruce Bochy can probably be completely confident in are Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong, neither of whom will be able to pitch until Game 3, unless he decides to have Vogelsong start Game 2 on short rest.

By contrast, the Tigers are at full strength: Verlander will start Game 1, then Doug Fister, then Anibal Sanchez, and then Max Scherzer will go in Game 4, at which point Verlander will go Game 5 (but be ready for relief in Game 7) then Fister in a Game 6 with Scherzer or perhaps Sanchez pitching a potential Game 7.

Yes, the rotation is so good that Verlander will probably only start two games and nobody is thinking that Jim Leyland is crazy (yet).

Advantage: Tigers.

Relievers: One of the few things that went wrong for the Tigers in their series against the Yankees was Jose Valverde. In fact, Valverde has been trouble all October. In the three games and 2.1 innings he has pitched, he has given up 7 earned runs for a horrible-even-for-the-small-sample-size 27.00 ERA. Phil Coke has been far better out of the bullpen, and was the Tigers’ de-facto closer after Valverde’s game one meltdown against the Yankees. What the Tigers do with their bullpen is one of the biggest questions heading into this series.

There are no such concerns for San Francisco. Although Brian Wilson will remain injured on the bench, his fellow bearded wonder Sergio Romo has held down the fort quite nicely, and Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt and the rest of the SF bullpen have proven entirely capable.

Advantage: Giants.

Hitting: Neither of these teams lack notable hitters, in fact, both the NL (Buster Posey) and AL (Miguel Cabrera) batting champions will be in the series, the first time since 1954 that this has happened. In 1954, by the way, those batting champions were New York’s Willie Mays and Cleveland’s Bobby Avila. Miguel Cabrera is the first triple-crown winner to play in the World Series since… the last triple-crown winner, Carl Yastrzemski, in 1967.

Oh, and Prince Fielder is there too.

But who has the advantage? This is somewhat tough to tell, since both teams play in pitcher’s parks, but I’d have to give the edge to the Tigers.

For one thing, they have far more home-run power: the Tigers hit 163 homers this season, while the Giants hit only 103. For another, their hitters have better protection: Miguel Cabrera is protected by the fact that Prince Fielder is right behind him. By contrast, the Giants’ best hitter, Buster Posey (who hasn’t done much this postseason at the plate, although the hits he has had have been crucial), has Hunter Pence behind him. Pence is no slouch, but he had an off-year at the plate, with career lows in batting average, on-base-percentage and slugging.

Advantage: Tigers.

Fielding: This is one of the hardest areas to determine, because it generally doesn’t have many simple statistics, instead there are more abstract concepts like zone ratings and range factors. But there is one major thing to keep in mind: the National League rules. While the game is in San Francisco, the Tigers will have to have Delmon Young play in the field, and he has rarely played in the field this season, primarily acting as a DH. In addition, AT&T Park has some infamous quirks, from it’s “triples alley” to the wall in right field that causes weird bounces that can make the Green Monster look tame. The Giants know how to play it… the Tigers don’t. By contrast, Comerica Park, while spacious, doesn’t have nearly as many quirks.

Advantage: Slightly to the Giants

Managing: Jim Leyland is one of the last of the old guard, the type of managers that once walked the Earth with a cigar nearby and undying loyalty to his players. These are some of his greatest strengths, but they can also be his greatest weaknesses. He stuck with Valverde too long during his postseason meltdowns this year,

Bruce Bochy also stands by his players, of course, but is less likely to let it get in the way of doing what’s needed to be done. Leyland probably wouldn’t have sent Lincecum to the bullpen, for example.

For that reason:

Advantage: Slightly to Giants.

Overall: When you look at the above, you see that the Giants have the advantage in three of the five categories. However, not all categories are made equal. In the end, good starting pitching and good hitting can make other aspects irrelevant, and the Tigers have the advantage there. Therefore, I see the Tigers grabbing an early lead with a Game 1 lead followed by perhaps a brief stumble due to the rust before the Tigers buckle down and win the series in six games. Miguel Cabrera wins MVP, because, well, if he gets hot, he’s one of the best ballplayers anywhere at anytime.

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