Two years ago Barry Zito was left off the Giants' World Series roster. Now he'll start Game 1 of the Fall Classic. (Brad Mangin/SI)
Tigers at Giants
Series: World Series, Game 1
Time: 8:00 p.m. ET
Starters: Justin Verlander (3-0, 0.74 ERA in 2012 postseason) vs. Barry Zito (1-0, 1.74 ERA)
The Giants have lost Game 1 at home in both of their series in this postseason and are likely to go 0-3 given that in this Game 1 they’ll be facing Justin Verlander, who has won each of his last seven starts and posted a 0.69 ERA along the way. That shouldn’t faze San Francisco, which seems to be employing some sort of rope-a-dope strategy in this postseason, but just for fun, let’s try to come up with some reasons why the Giants might win this game:
Barry Zito has been pitching well for more than a month now. In his last start, with the Giants facing elimination in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, Zito bounced back from a Game 2 Division Series start in which he failed to get out of the third inning and threw 7 2/3 scoreless frames to hold off the Cardinals and get the series in the hands of the Giants’ best starting pitchers, Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain. That wasn’t as big of a fluke as it seemed. Zito opened the 2012 season in Denver with a complete-game shutout of a Rockies team that still had Troy Tulowitzki (and Marco Scutaro) and didn’t yet know it was awful. In June and July combined he had three starts of seven or more scoreless innings. Most significantly, in his final five starts of the regular season, he went 5-0 with a 2.35 ERA. Add his two playoff starts to that and, even with the NLDS dud, he has gone 6-0 with a 2.20 ERA over his last seven starts.
San Francisco’s offense is hot. The Giants averaged 6.7 runs per game over the final three games of the NLCS and have scored 5.4 runs per game over their last nine games, hitting a solid .267/.328/.428 over that stretch, a team batting line comparable to the best in the National League during the regular season. Leading the charge is NLCS Most Valuable Player Marco Scutaro, who has an active 10-game hitting streak with multiple hits in six of his last seven games. Pablo Sandoval has hits in eight of his last nine games, multiple hits in five of them and extra-base hits in each of his last four games for a .378/.400/.703 line with three home runs since the start of NLDS Game 4. Brandon Belt reached base in all six games of the NLCS that he started and hit .304/.360/.565 on the series.
Verlander hasn’t been nearly as good on the road this season. Verlander’s ERA was nearly two runs higher away form Detroit during the regular season than it was at Comerica Park as he went 8-6 with a 3.57 ERA in 18 road starts. In \ his only career start at AT&T Park, he give up three runs (one unearned) in six innings, a quality start for most pitchers but a poor one by Verlander’s standards. Of course Verlander’s only road start thus far this postseason was a series-clinching shutout, and that lone San Francisco start came way back in 2008, making it about as relevant as his poor showing as a rookie in the 2006 World Series.
Delmon Young is starting in leftfield. Young is a terrible fielder to begin with, but he hasn’t played an inning in the field since Sept. 2. In what could be a low-scoring game, what are the chances that Young misplays a would-be out into a triple that helps produce a key extra run for San Francisco?
Okay, so there’s not a ton there. There’s also the question of how rusty the Tigers will be after six days off, during which they have tried to stay sharp by playing casual intrasquad games filled out by instructional league players. The most relevant stat above may just be the very first one I mentioned: the Giants have lost Game 1 in each of the last two series, but are here in the World Series nonetheless. Wednesday night’s game is a mere appetizer, but if the Giants manage to steal it, it could change the outlook of this Series significantly.
-- By Cliff Corcoran