Sizing up the Series: Randy Wolf scouts the Giants and Rangers
Sports Illustrated reporter Ryan Hatch spoke with Randy Wolf of the Milwaukee Brewers to get his take on the World Series matchup between the San Francisco Giants and the Texas Rangers. Wolf faced the Giants twice this season, losing to them on July 6 in Milwaukee but beating them in San Francisco on Sept. 17 in a 3-0 shutout. Wolf's only start against the Rangers came in June 2009, when he pitched five shutout innings for the Dodgers in Arlington.
Biggest asset: Their pitching is a big reason why they're there. Not only their starting pitching but their bullpen, too. They have a whole bunch of arms, both lefties and righties, that throw 95-plus from a lot of different angles. And then of course they have a closer in Brian Wilson who throws a 90 mph cutter or slider and can get his fastball from 95 to 99 mph. So the good thing is when you have a pitching staff like that, it takes a lot of pressure off the offense. Not to discount what the offense can do, but they don't have to score seven or eight runs to win. They can score three or five runs to have a good chance of winning. It's going to be an interesting dynamic between [them] and the Rangers, where you have the Rangers with an incredible offense.
Secret weapon:Cody Ross being the MVP in the NLCS was surprising. When I faced him when he was with the Marlins he never hit for a super high batting average, but he was always one of the most dangerous guys in the lineup. He wasn't a big guy at all, but had power to center field and left-center. The thing with Cody, he's such a low ball hitter. He'll take the ball that's low, middle away, middle in, and he punches at it. As pitchers, we're always trained to keep the ball down. With a guy like Ross, the exact opposite is the case. You want to pitch more up in the zone, about belt-high and above, and keep it away. It makes him dangerous, because that's his sweet spot. Another guy who is always dangerous, the guy who always seems to get big hits, is Juan Uribe. He's a professional hitter as far as knowing the count, knowing the pitcher's sequences, and he's extremely good at breaking balls in the zone, especially from right-handers. He can definitely do some damage if he gets breaking balls in the zone, especially at a place like Texas's park, where the balls to right-center kind of jump. And his chest-high finish [when he swings] is awesome.
Need to avoid: They need to make the Rangers' pitchers work, that's their strength. The one thing about the Rangers' pitchers, aside from Cliff Lee, is that they don't have a lot of postseason experience, so the one thing that the Giants' hitters will benefit from is being patient and not overly aggressive. They can't swing at everything. Once they get the count in their favor, their lineup becomes a lot better.
Team's identity: Anytime a team wins the division on the last day of the year and comes into the postseason with that kind of momentum, it definitely helps them psychologically. They're believing they can win, and they're believing they can get a big hit, and you can see it in their faces. Looking in the dugout, guys like [Aubrey] Huff, [Pat] Burrell and [Freddy] Sanchez, you see the look on their faces, and when there's a runner in scoring position and there's two outs, they believe they're going to get the job done, going to get a hit, no matter if it's a bloop or a line drive. You see that confidence come through. From facing those guys and watching them build momentum, they get to a point where they can win those tight games. Bruce Bochy has said in many post-game press conferences that they've played in so many gut-wrenching games that they're used to it. Their ulcers are numb at this point; they can handle it. So when you get into those tight, 2-2, 1-1 games in the 7th inning on, they've come out on top a lot of times, and that's the case in a lot of World Series.
The thing most people don't realize: There is a great combination of personalities on this team. Huff and Burrell are the ones who joke, the ones who keep things light, but they also have the intensity to win and you can tell they want it. But another guy is Buster Posey. He came up with a lot of hype, and he's been able to come through and has performed at the big league level very quickly. He's always so calm all the time. He never gets excited, never gets too pumped up, never gets too down. To have a catcher who's kind of a quarterback of those nine innings on the field is very important, and people forget that.
I hate facing them because: I remember a game I pitched against them in Milwaukee against [Madison] Bumgarner this year. It was a really tight game. I think there was a two-out error that we made, and they just all of a sudden got a hit here, another hit there, and that just got the momentum going in their favor and they scored four runs after that. They can get going really quick.
Biggest asset: Of course it's the offense. And I'm really impressed with how Elvis Andrus has grown as a hitter. He's the kind of guy who can run really well and puts the ball in play. When he hits a ground ball, you have to hurry and throw because he gets down the line really quick. Another guy is Michael Young. He has a great resume. He kind of reminds me of Edgar Martinez, both have similar styles and are very dangerous. They don't have a ton of power, but they still hit a good amount of home runs and can drive the ball and go gap-to-gap. Josh Hamilton is just a freak. His strength is unbelievable. And Nelson Cruz, I'll tell you what, every time he gets out, it's like he's just missing balls. Every time if it's a hanging slider or fastball where the count is in his favor [he will hit it hard]. When he flies out, it's to the warning track each time, it seems like. The Rangers are known for their hitting, but they wouldn't be where they are if not for the change in mindset and philosophy of the organization about pitching. I was talking to C.J. [Wilson] when the playoffs started and I told him congratulations on having 200 innings and winning 15 games, and that it's not easy to get to 200 innings in your first season starting. And his response was, "If I didn't have 200, Nolan would have killed me." I think that's awesome that [team president Nolan Ryan] comes in and changes things. Sometimes a philosophy is bred within an organization and it's inherited. He changed the Rangers', and that's huge. He knows how important pitching is and takes pride in that staff.
Secret weapon:Colby Lewis has had a really good year, he's kind of the silent assassin. I remember when he went up against [the Yankees' A.J.] Burnett and all of the analysts said, "You have to go with Burnett." But if you go off the numbers from this year, and nothing against Burnett, but you have to look at what Lewis has done. And I know he's inexperienced, but he's done a great job this year, and he's going to give them a chance against the Giants.
Must avoid: The thing to avoid is worrying if they don't score runs right away. They're so used to coming up and crushing guys. They've done it all season and all postseason. Against the Yankees they applied pressure every inning offensively and just poured it on. I think you get used to that and when games are tight, guys might press a little more, try and do too much and start swinging outside the zone.
Team's identity: Their identity is definitely their offense. I think people associate the Rangers with their off offensive capabilities.
The thing people don't realize: The effect the other starting pitchers have had on this team. It's not just Lee. Of course, Wilson with his 15 wins, and Lewis definitely goes under the radar. They're young guys who have great arms and get overlooked. And Lee wasn't with them [until midway through the season] and they were winning their division pretty much all year, so they must have been doing something right.
I hate facing them because: Their hitters are very smart. They look at guys' sequences. Like Michael Young. He'll work both sides of the plate and wait for you to make a mistake inside. Hamilton, too. He's so strong, he doesn't even need to get all of it to hit it out of the park. Facing guys like this, you have to take an unorthodox approach and understand that they play for the situation and will do whatever it takes. You can't give them extra outs.
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