Tigers at Giants
Series: World Series Game 2, Giants lead 1-0
Time: 8:00 PM ET
Starters: Doug Fister (10-10, 3.45 ERA) vs. Madison Bumgarner (16-11, 3.37 ERA)
It didn't take long for the 2012 World Series to veer away from its expected script. On Wednesday night, Justin Verlander looked less like the calm and collected ace who had dominated in his three previous postseason start and more like the overamped thrower who was tattooed in this year's All-Star Game. Barry Zito was the one demonstrating Cy Young-caliber form, capturing lightning in a bottle for his second straight start and keeping the Tiger hitters off-balance. Pablo Sandoval turned into a world-beating slugger, joining elite company with just the fifth three-homer game in World Series history, and the Giants won going away, 8-3.
That off-script victory looms large. Home teams have a 62-45 record in Game 1 of the World Series, and 16 of the last 17 who have won that game have gone on to win the series, dating back to 1987. The 1992 Braves are the only ones not to do so.
The victory gives Giants manager Bruce Bochy breathing room when it comes to his eyebrow-raising choice for a Game 2 starter. The 23-year-old Bumgarner put up a strong season overall, throwing a career-high 208 1/3 innings, ranking ninth in the league in strikeouts (191), and fifth in strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.9). Even so, he struggled mightily down the stretch; after throwing a season-high 123 pitches on Aug. 20, he was hit for a 5.89 ERA over his final seven regular season starts — just one of them quality starts — while averaging just 5 2/3 innings per start. He was scorched for a .354 BABIP during that stretch and exacerbated his troubles by walking 4.2 per nine, compared to 1.7 per nine over his first 25 starts. His troubles carried over into the postseason, as he was hit for a total of 10 runs and three homers in eight innings over one start in each of the first two rounds. He hasn't pitched since Oct. 14, Game 1 of the NLCS, but between the extra rest and some mechanical fixes to restore his velocity, the Giants believe he's ready to go.
Bumgarner throws a four-seam fastball that averages 91.7 mph, supplementing that with a slider, a curve and a changeup that he throws almost exclusively to righties. The fastball, slider and curve all produce swings and misses on more than 10 percent of his pitches to lefties, the heater about twice as often as it does against righties; the breaking stuff gets his swings and misses against the latter. Thanks to that, he's got a significant platoon split that's been fairly steady over the course of his career. This year, he held lefties to .208/.247/.333 with just four homers in 180 PA, while righties hit .241/.294/.401 with 19 homers in 669 PA. He took great advantage of AT&T Park this season, pitching to a 2.38 ERA there while yielding just five of his 23 home runs (0.4 per nine), compared to a 4.40 ERA and 1.6 homers per nine on the road.
As noted during the ALCS, while Prince Fielder, Alex Avila and Andy Dirks are the Tigers' only lefty regulars, the team hit just .253/.329/.395 as a team against lefties during the regular season and went 27-26 in games they started. They've managed a meager .258/.311/.335 against southpaws in the postseason, though they've won three out of five, mainly by waiting out Oakland's Tommy Milone and New York's Andy Pettitte in earlier postseason rounds. Fielder hit just .289/.363/.445 with six homers in 248 PA against southpaws, while Avila was so dominated by them (.176/.304/.235 in 103 PA) that Detroit manager Jim Leyland has limited him to just four postseason plate appearances against same; as he did in the first two rounds, Leyland may opt for righty Gerald Laird (.254/.322/.391 career against lefties, but just .204/.275/347 in 109 PA this year).
One of the odd choices in Game 1 was Bochy's decision to use Tim Lincecum for 2 1/3 innings of relief. The righty was dominant out of the bullpen, as he was during his three other postseason relief appearances, and he certainly gave the Tiger hitters a different look when contrasted to Zito. Even so, burning him to protect a five- or seven-run lead felt like a misuse of resources, particularly when the Giants might need a long man to take the baton from Bumgarner. On the other hand, Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo both had the night off and Jeremy Affeldt threw just one-third of an inning, so all could be called upon for longer stints on Thursday if necessary.
Bumgarner's opposite number is Fister, who has largely pitched well in his two postseason starts, allowing two runs in 13 1/3 innings while striking out 13, though he did manage to work around four walks in holding the Yankees scoreless in Game 1 of the ALCS. During the regular season, despite missing seven weeks due to a recurrent intercostal strain, the 28-year-old righty continued the breakthrough he showed upon arriving in Detroit in mid-2011, setting career highs in strikeout rate (7.6 per nine) and groundball rate (53 percent) while maintaining outstanding control (3.7 strikeout-to-walk ratio). Fister works primarily with a sinker that averages 89.5 mph, a cutter, a curve and a changeup, with the latter reserved almost exclusively for lefties. He showed a sizable enough platoon split (.220/.297/.314 versus righties, compared to .270/.300/.434 against lefties) that opposing managers stacked their lineups with lefties; 57.5 percent of his plate appearances came against the latter.
It didn't seem to matter on Wednesday night, but as a team, the Giants hit just .268/.332/.386 against righties (and .249/.311/.409 in the postseason), compared to .272/.318/.419 against lefties. In terms of OPS, their two top lefty hitters against righties — the traded Nate Schierholtz and the suspended Melky Cabrera — aren't even on the roster. The switch-hitting Sandoval (.275/.344/.465) was the only San Francisco lefty with an OPS above .800 against righties, though fellow switch-hitter Angel Pagan (.296/.351/.448) was only one point shy, and Brandon Belt (.290/.380/.406) did have a strong on-base percentage. Among the righties, Marco Scutaro (.309/.353/.415) and Buster Posey (.292/.382/.440) were the only Giant hitters to make a strong showing.
That said, the Giants have now steamrolled their opponents by a combined score of 28-4 over their last four games — their four most important games of the year, of course — all against righty starters. Their capacity to surprise us shouldn't surprise us anymore.