Monday November 1st, 2010

Cliff Corcoran breaks down each day's game throughout the postseason.

Series: World Series, Game 5, Giants lead 3-1 Time: 7:30 p.m. EST TV: Fox Starters: Tim Lincecum (2010 postseason: 3-1, 2.79 ERA; 2010 regular season: 16-10, 3.43 ERA) vs. Cliff Lee (3-1, 2.51 ERA; 12-9, 3.18 ERA)

That pitching matchup largely speaks for itself, so let's begin with the historical context for Monday's Game 5. You'll hear and see this many times, but it's worth repeating: The Giants have not won a world championship since moving to San Francisco more than a half century ago (1958). Their last title came 56 years ago, in 1954, when they still played in New York. That is the third-longest active title drought in the majors. Since moving to San Francisco, the Giants have been in the World Series three times. They never held a lead in games in the 1962 or 1989 Series, the latter of which was a sweep at the hands of the cross-Bay A's. Only in the 2002 Series did the Giants get within one win of ending that drought. San Francisco took a 3-2 lead into Game 6 of that Series and led 5-0 in the bottom of the seventh but was outscored 10-1 over the remainder of the Series as the Angels came back to win the title.

Though long-suffering Giants fans would surely cringe at the following, their lead in this Series is far more secure. To begin with, just six teams in World Series history have blown a 3-1 lead in games, the most recent coming a quarter of a century ago, when the 1985 Cardinals got within three outs of the title in Game 6, only to choke it away in the wake of an egregiously blown call at first base by umpire Don Denkinger, then implode in Game 7. The last team to blow a 3-1 lead in the World Series while playing Games 6 and 7 at home was the 1979 Orioles, who were outscored 15-2 by the "We Are Family" Pirates in the final three games. Also, for what it's worth, the last team to be shut out twice in the World Series, as the Rangers have now been, and still win that Series was the 1959 Dodgers, but those Dodgers were up 3-1 after four games, not down 3-1. Those two shutouts were the Dodgers' only losses in that Series, the second of which came in Game 5 before L.A. wrapped things up in Game 6.

No one would be terribly surprised to see Cliff Lee go out and dominate the Giants on Monday night to force this Series back to San Francisco, but at this point just about everyone who has been paying attention would be shocked if the Rangers were able to beat Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain in consecutive games to force a Game 7, particularly given how well Cain has pitched at home this posteason, allowing just one unearned run in 21 1/3 innings across three starts at AT&T Park.

Not that Lincecum has been a slouch. Note how close his postseason stats above are to those of Lee, who was considered unbeatable before he tanked his Game 1 start in this Series. Lincecum's weakest start of this postseason also came in Game 1, when he allowed four runs on eight hits in just 5 2/3 innings while striking out only three Rangers, though that was enough to beat Lee. In his three starts prior to that this postseason, Lincecum posted a 1.96 ERA while striking out 29 men against just five walks in 23 innings (an average of 7 2/3 per start), and his lone postseason road start saw him beat Roy Halladay and the Phillies in hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park. In his last nine starts in the postseason and regular season combined, Lincecum has gone 8-2 with a 2.30 ERA while striking out 84 men in 70 1/3 innings. That's who the Giants have on the mound to try to wrap up their first Bay-area title, and who the Rangers have to beat to extend their season.

Still, if anyone is going to beat Lincecum, Lee is the man to do it. Sure, he tanked in Game 1, but that was clearly more the exception than the rule. In his postseason career prior to Game 1, Lee had gone 7-0 in eight starts, all team wins, with a 1.26 ERA and 67 strikeouts against seven walks in 64 1/3 innings. Included in those eight starts were three complete games, a postseason-record-tying five 10-strikeout games, and half of the eight 10-strikeout/no-walk games in postseason history.

Lee made no excuses for his performance in Game 1 (4 2/3 IP, 7 runs, albeit with a still-strong seven strikeouts against just one walk and no home runs allowed), saying only what we already knew, that his command was off and his pitches were finding too much of the plate. One is tempted to blame rust, as he had eight days off going into that start, but he had nine days off going into his dominant complete game against the Yankees in Game 1 of last year's World Series. Whatever it was, the Rangers' last hope is that Lee reverts to his old form on Monday night and that their offense, which has scored in just one of the last three games, can scratch out enough runs against Lincecum and/or the solid San Francisco bullpen to get this Series back to California.

Incidentally, Rangers reliever Alexi Ogando, who strained his left oblique in the sixth inning of Game 4, will be replaced on Texas' roster prior to Game 5. That's yet another setback for the Rangers, given how well Ogando was pitching (3 2/3 scoreless innings, 6 K's on the Series), but if Lee pitches to his reputation tonight, Ogando wouldn't have been needed, anyway. The roster change is thus only a concern for the Rangers if this Series reaches Game 6, or if Lee and Lincecum cancel each other out and and the this game goes extra innings. Given how the two bullpens have performed thus far in this Series, the Giants already held the advantage in such a situation, despite Texas having last licks. The Rangers losing arguably their second-best reliever in Ogando only tilts the balance further toward the Series-leading Giants.

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