Five keys for Giants in World Series
It's the moment for which San Franciscans have been waiting an eternity. Since the Giants moved West before the 1958 season, they have played in three World Series and lost them all. Now the team few expected to be here has the chance to do what no San Francisco baseball team has ever done and bring home a championship.
The 2010 Giants have defied the odds to get to their World Series matchup with the Rangers and will have to do it again to claim the trophy. Here are five keys for San Francisco to win that elusive world championship:
A team that scores as few runs as the Giants (3.0 per playoff game and 4.3 per regular-season game) has little margin for error, placing the onus of delivering San Francisco's first World Series title squarely on the shoulders of starting pitchers Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner.
So far in this postseason the Giants' quartet of starters have been exceptional, throwing eight quality starts in 10 outings with a cumulative ERA of 2.15, a strikeouts-per-nine innings rate of 10.1 and an opponents' batting average of .192. They had been averaging 6 2/3 innings per start until Sanchez's two-innings-plus clunker in NLCS Game 6.
Their task of shutting down the Rangers' lineup will be similar to facing the Phillies -- Texas scored a few more runs this year, but in the World Series the Giants have home-field advantage, where spacious AT&T Park is a huge plus. San Francisco's starters have allowed just five earned runs in five starts at home this postseason.
The Game 1 starter will also start Game 5 in homer-happy Texas, while the Game 2 starter will make his next start back in San Francisco for Game 6. Thus, even though Cain has been excellent this postseason and is better rested than Lincecum, manager Bruce Bochy should give Lincecum the Game 1 start because he is more of a groundball pitcher (a 0.98 groundball-to-flyball ratio) while Cain more often lives in the air (0.57).
Reliever Javier Lopez was as important as any Giant in the NLCS. Situational specialists rarely merit series MVP candidacy, but the carnage Lopez created of Phillies left-handed sluggers Chase Utley and Ryan Howard was astounding. Lopez faced both in five of the six games in the series, with each appearance coming in the seventh or eighth inning. Utley and Howard went a combined 1-for-10 with a double and four strikeouts.
Now Bochy will undoubtedly sic Lopez on Hamilton, the Rangers' key lefty bat and ALCS MVP, in the late innings of any close World Series game. Lopez and Hamilton have faced each other four times before. In 2008, during Lopez's final year with the Red Sox (a season when he had a 9.26 ERA), Hamilton went 1-for-2 against him with a double and a walk. Last June, when Lopez was still a Pirate, Hamilton grounded out.
Lopez's season turned around after being traded from Pittsburgh to San Francisco in late July. In 27 appearances for the Giants, he has thrown 19 innings, allowing just three earned runs (1.42 ERA) and two walks while striking out 16. Lefties went just 5-for-45 against him and all five hits were singles. In five postseason innings this fall, Lopez has allowed just one hit, one walk and one run, all of which came in NLCS Game 4. He hasn't allowed a baserunner in any of his other six appearances. The work of a lefty reliever -- to neutralize a power lefty bat -- is pre-programmed and almost robotic, and so Lopez's World Series mission is simple: Seek Josh Hamilton and destroy him.
In 2002, the last time the Giants were in the World Series, they trotted out three designated hitters for the four games, and each batted ninth. Filling that spot were Tsuyoshi Shinjo, Shawon Dunston (twice) and Pedro Feliz, who went a combined 3-for-20 in the series, though Dunston did homer in his Game 6 start. None of those players had an on-base percentage as high as .300 or a slugging percentage as high as .400 during the '02 regular season.
The pickings are almost as barren this time around for the three games in Texas, in which the Rangers will likely start righty Colby Lewis, righty Tommy Hunter and lefty Lee. But it's not impossible that Texas could choose lefty Derek Holland to start in place of Hunter and Lewis and lefty C.J. Wilson could be flipped, lining up three lefty starters, for which Bochy has no good option.
With Jose Guillen injured and not even with the team for the first two rounds, Bochy's only righty option off the bench is Aaron Rowand, whose splits against lefties (.211/.292/.389) are poor. The only other reasonable hitters on the bench can't hit lefties: Travis Ishikawa, a left-handed hitter, and switch-hitter Pablo Sandoval, who is a significantly better hitter against righty pitching.
Bochy should use righty Pat Burrell as his DH against lefties, which would preserve his bat for the entire game instead of replacing him in the late innings for defensive purposes, and then use Rowand as his third outfielder. Against righty pitchers, Bochy should use Sandoval as his DH, where his bat has potential and his defense isn't a liability.
Cody Ross has become baseball's version of a hot hockey goaltender -- a one-man wrecking crew, whose single-handed contributions have a gone a long way toward propelling his team deep into the playoffs. Ross is batting .324 with a .395 OBP and .794 slugging percentage this postseason. He has hit four of the Giants' six home runs, driven in nearly a third of their runs (eight RBIs on 30 runs) and eight of his 11 hits have gone for extra bases. Not bad for a guy claimed off waivers in a post-deadline salary dump.
Rookie catcher Buster Posey has had his moments of brilliance -- most notably a 4-for-5, two-double, two-RBI NLCS Game 4 -- but the rest of the lineup's production has been lacking. In the playoffs Ross and Posey are 22-for-73 (.301) with 11 extra-base hits; the rest of the Giants are 55-for-260 (.211) with nine extra-base hits.
A good place for it to start is at the top. Leadoff hitter Andres Torres, who injured a hip flexor in the NLCS clincher but is expected to start Game 1 of the World Series, has come to life in his last three games, going 6-for-10 with two walks; he also reached on an error on a sharply-hit ball, accounting for nine times on base in his last 12 plate appearances.
The Giants could also use more from the latest incarnation of their shortstop and third baseman, Edgar Renteria and Juan Uribe, respectively. Uribe's solo homer in NLCS Game 6 provided the winning run, but on the whole this postseason the two are 7-for-46 with just that one extra-base hit. For Renteria, that's not unexpected, but Uribe was an important power threat all season, starting 141 games and hitting 24 home runs.
It's the postseason, and Bochy is managing like it. Consider his track record in the NLCS: he played mix-and-match dress-up doll with the left side of the infield, using five starting combinations of shortstop and third base in six games; he flip-flopped Cain and Sanchez in the rotation; in Game 4 he constantly tinkered with his lineup, making three double-switches; in Game 7 he pulled his starter, Sanchez, in the third inning, even though he had actually only given up two runs, because his stuff wasn't good; and later that game he used his best pitcher, Lincecum, in relief in the eighth inning -- and when Lincecum gave up two hits in three batters, Bochy yanked him quickly, rather than let him work his way through trouble.
And, of course, Bochy's has been unremorseful with the playoff roster. The team's two highest-paid players, starting pitcher Barry Zito and Rowand, have been either off the roster altogether (Zito) or relegated to primarily a reserve role (Rowand).
Expect more of the same in the World Series. Bochy has a better pitching staff than the Rangers but far less offensive talent, so he'll need to keep tinkering and hope his luck doesn't run out until he gets four more wins.