World Series Preview: It’s…Rangers Inside?
With Game 1 of the World Series fast approaching, the analysts have spoken. ESPN’s so-called experts who were quick to say the Phillies would stomp the Giants into oblivion are more tentative in their predictions now. Keith Law, a man who was completely and utterly convinced the Phillies would be National League Champs, is now admitting a certain lack of confidence: “My gut says Rangers in seven, but I admit to a rare lack of conviction in that call.” The Giants have shocked enough pundits along the way to the extent to which the experts fear for their credibility betting against them, while still realizing that on paper they’re exceeding all reasonable expectations.
The Rangers don’t project the aura of a Bobby Cox-led team, or the dominance of the formerly reigning two-time NL Champion Phillies. Their starting rotation doesn’t have a cool nickname, they have one of the lowest payrolls in baseball, and before this year the Rangers had not won a single postseason series, much less a playoff game at home. And yet here they are, as the one final obstacle standing between the Giants and their first World Series crown since 1954.
The Rangers can hit, plain and simple. Their franchise has a long storied history of churning out dominant starting lineups in their hitter-friendly ballpark, and that trend has not changed in the slightest this year. The one comfort you can take from this fact though is that the Phillies could hit too. They had a lineup in which their number eight hitter had a .400 OBP. They had three guys who could be considered above-average hitters by any metric hitting in the 3-4-5 spots (not counting the games Polanco hit third). Past Utley, Howard, and Werth, there were guys like Jimmy Rollins and Raul Ibanez who could be considered dangerous too.
But now we’re on the Rangers. Their shortstop is a 21 year-old demon on the basepaths who will likely steal 40 bases off of Tim Lincecum should he get on base. In Josh Hamilton they have the man who should rightfully win the AL MVP award. In Nelson Cruz they have someone with plus power to all fields who has lit the world on fire this postseason. Vladimir Guererro decided 2010 was a great year to resurrect his career and be good again, and is now back to hitting balls in the dirt into the left field bleachers.
And of course, Bengie Molina. If the Disney writers had it their way, Molina would be the World Series MVP. He’s the overweight cuddly hack-tastic catcher whom the Giants didn’t want. He was on the 2002 Angels team that vanquished the Giants’ World Series dreams. He possesses an intimate knowledge of the opposing team’s stellar pitching staff, including Tim Lincecum’s secret split-fingered cut-knuckleball he’s been saving for Game 1. But we’ve run the Disney Gauntlet of Potential Postseason Heroics once before. We sent Bobby Cox into an early retirement, and rendered Ryan Howard motionless as he could only stare into the darkness as the Giants celebrated winning the NL Pennant on his home field.
For all the firepower the Rangers possess in their lineup, the Giants combat that with fluky voodoo fairy dust that seems to be the core of their offensive attack. The unicorn blood the Padres drank to spend five months in first place seems to have been gifted to the Giants during their postseason run. The more logical conclusion here though (all magical possibilities aside) is that weird things happen during the postseason. Guys like Cody Ross win the NLCS MVP, and bearded psychopaths like Brian Wilson get ulcer-inducing saves with no consequence.
Much has been made of the historical dominance that Cliff Lee has had this postseason. He made quick work of the stupid-good offense of the Yankees, and dispatched the Rays without so much as a second thought. As such, he’s become the darling of the mainstream media who no longer have an East Coast team to root for. To be fair he’s earned the accolades, but there’s one key factor they’re failing to acknowledge here: the aforementioned Postseason Weirdness Theory (PWT).
Remember when Roy Halladay pitched a no-hitter against the best offense in the National League? Perennial NL MVP Joey Votto couldn’t hit him. Uber-power hitter Jay Bruce couldn’t hit him. Brandon Phillips, Drew Stubbs, Scott Rolen, et al couldn’t muster so much as a single off of him. Then Halladay gave up four runs to the Giants along with two home-runs to Cody Ross.
The pundits were content to chalk up Game 1 of the NLCS as a fluke though. Roy Oswalt, Cody Ross nonwithstanding, shut down the Giants in Game 2, and all was right in the world again. Cole Hamels was up next, and he was fresh off of shutting out the Reds over 9 innings in addition to historically one of the best months by a lefty starter in the last decade. The Giants tagged him for three runs over six innings while Matt Cain gave up nothing. People, Postseason Weirdness Theory is very true, and very potent. Do not by any means doubt its power to decide the fate of the World Series.
Past Cliff Lee, the Rangers rotation carries with it the “good but not great” moniker. In C.J. Wilson, they have their own Jonathan Sanchez-type with fewer strikeouts and the same amount of control. Cole Hamels he is not though. Colby Lewis is the Rangers’ own personal reclamation project they took from Japan who is now a pretty decent pitcher. Tommy Hunter is a 280 pound behemoth of a man with mediocre stuff and a deceptively good win-loss record of 13-4.
Anchored by Brian Wilson’s ability to get magic five out saves, Sergio Romo’s impressive ability to grow a Wilson-worthy beard, and Javier Lopez’ complete and utter dominance of left-handed hitters, the Giants bullpen is damn good. They’ve had their blow-ups in the postseason (See Ankiel, Rick). But if the seven innings of scoreless baseball in Game 6 of the NLCS is any indicator, they have the ability to end a game early.
The Rangers bullpen is a bit more of an unknown commodity, with rookie Neftali Feliz closing games, old-man River Darren Oliver acting as the situational lefty, and Darren O’Day getting hitters out throwing underhand. That said, we’ve overcome the Padres’ infinite supply of slider-throwing hell beasts, as well as the Braves’ collection of sinker-throwing rookie demon lefties. To a lesser extent, we’ve gotten past the likes of Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge. Every team we’ve faced has had a bullpen a little worse than the last, with the Rangers in my opinion having the weakest one yet.
Game 1 happens tomorrow. In case you still can’t believe that this is happening, this should help reassure you. This is most certainly a reality. The Giants are in the World Series against another AL West team looking to smash our dreams into a million pieces. It’s going to be difficult, and it’s going to emotionally ruin you. Let’s just hope in the end it’ll be worth it.
Some World Series related links from the Giants blogosphere in the meantime: