The Fall Classic is finally here! That special stage that made names like Ruth and Mays go from legendary to immortal. Men such as Gibson and Carter, who despite falling short of Hall of Fame status, will forever live on due to their World Series heroics. Every kid once stood in his backyard imagining hitting the game winning home run to win, not just any game, but the World Series.
The significance of a World Series moment and how much it means to every baseball player could not be better summed up than this lasting response by Cal Ripken Jr. Cal put together one of the most respected careers in history. He’s eternalized in Cooperstown for helping to revolutionize a once slap hitting, only defensive position before him (with the exception of Ernie Banks). Baseball is the most numbers crazed game of all. You are Hall of Fame worthy based on your individual statistics (anyone who knows me, knows I hammer this point home constantly). However, when asked what was the best moment of your career upon retiring, Cal didn’t say accumulating 431 home runs. Cal didn’t discuss his 1,695 RBI. He didn’t even bring up his 3,184 hits. Nope, Cal didn’t wax poetic on any of his Gold Gloves or 2 MVPs. Cal Ripken simply stated, “catching the last out to win the World Series.” Cal’s only ring, or even appearance in the Fall Classic happened in 1983, his second full season in the big leagues. For a guy who had 90% of his career take place AFTER earning a ring, for a guy who broke one of the most storied records in sports history and had been celebrated time and time again, all that didn’t matter. Cal immediately reflected on his lone World Series moment. If that doesn’t send goosebumps down your body, I’d check your pulse for a very sad sports fan death.
Alright, I’ll stop with the past. I know I’m a sports history nerd. Shut up, I still have an edge!
Major League Baseball’s WORLD SERIES!
Detroit Tigers – American League Champions
Last World Series Appearance – 2006
Last World Series Championship – 1984
San Francisco Giants – National League Champions
Last World Series Appearance – 2010
Last World Series Championship – 2010
It’s actually quite amazing these two franchises with long and rich histories have never met in the final series of the season. It could’ve happened often, especially in the early days. It never did until now. I guess I lied a bit. I promise that is my last historical reflection. Eh, no I don’t. I once held the record for the Sporcle World Series Winners challenge! I earned the right to go back in time as I see fit!
Anyway, both of these teams had roller-coaster regular seasons. Detroit underachieved, only to turn on the proverbial switch during the stretch run, on the back of their Triple Crown king. San Francisco soared to the top of the NL West, despite overcoming serious injuries and losing their biggest bat to a steroid suspension. Regardless, both squads proved it doesn’t matter how you get to the dance, it’s what you do once you’re there.
This series asks the question, do you prefer a red-hot team on a mission or a stacked roster overdosing on confidence and rest? I picked the Tigers to win the AL pennant prior to the season due to owning two of the league’s best hitters and arguably the most feared pitcher today. While those are definitely reasons Detroit proved me correct, it’s the supporting cast that has truly stepped up. The rotation used to be comically referred to as Justin Verlander and the Funky Bunch for having no secure starter after the future Hall of Famer. Well, that is no longer the case. Max Scherzer has solidified the number 2 spot and Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez complete the overall depth of the staff. What also happened this postseason that hadn’t ever before was the legendary Verlander actually showed up in October. Prior to 2012, JV never threw a playoff game with under a 5 ERA. You heard me, the no-hitter waiting to happen NEVER owned a sub 5+ playoff ERA when it mattered the most. Those days are now a distant memory. Verlander threw up a 0.74 ERA through the Divisional Series and ALCS. A beast of an ace, a stacked pitching staff, and loads of experience give Detroit reason to believe they will see a quality start every single night.
It’s what takes place after the starter leaves his brilliant performance that makes Tiger fans roll their eyes and lay in the fetal position until the last out. Jose Valverde gives off that Jose Mesa ’97 vibe (sorry Cleveland)1. He’s the main reason it took 5 games to eliminate Oakland and luckily wasn’t required against the struggling Yankees. His last appearance was the last time a Yankee had a clutch hit. You do the math. All Detroit can hope for is the Tiger bullpen holds up, mostly the closer, and doesn’t blow games. Throwing kerosene on a fire is what can lose a championship.
Detroit’s only weakness is the Giants strongest asset. San Francisco lost their bearded warrior of a closer in April. Brian Wilson, who was the stud closer that became baseball’s best marketing tool after the Giants 2010 title run, has been relegated to a dugout cheerleader. Wilson cheers on Sergio Romo, Santiago Castilla, and Jeremy Affeldt these days. While the Giants would love to have their All-Star, Wilson has not been missed or necessary throughout the 2012 playoffs. Fist pumping, dancing, and pure domination has been what the Giant bullpen has provided.
My trepidation of continuously being down on San Francisco was the lack of pop and depth on offense with the absence of Melky Cabrera. Buster Posey is an MVP caliber player, but he was missing protection. It appeared way too much to ask a catcher to have to single handedly lead an offense. Well get this folks… I was wrong!2 I know, I’m just as surprised as you. The Giants outscored St. Louis 20-1 in the last three games of the NLCS en route to coming back from a 3-1 series deficit. The Cardinals powerful lineup did nothing, as the Giants underrated bunch scored run after run. Hunter Pence erupted into a Buzz-Saw like lunatic, energizing his teammates before each game with a pre-game motivational scream fest. Not only that, but Pence hit. So did Pablo Sandoval. But it wasn’t just Pence who brought a bat to October baseball. Journeyman Marco Scutaro took home NLCS MVP honors posting a .500 batting average against the Cardinals.
The problem remains, can the Giants hitting match the Tiger big boppers? Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are scary enough alone. Alex Avilla, Omar Ifante, Jhonny Peralta, and Delmon Young have each had a major contribution as well. There is no easy out on the Detroit order. Power, scrappiness, constant contact, and long pitch counts is what to always expect from Jim Leyland’s lineup.
While the bullpen is Detroit’s only weakness, San Francisco’s is their starters. Lincecum has not been able to find his former Cy Young self all season and while Matt Cain has ace stuff, he’s no match for Verlander. Barry Zito has been able to turn back the clock, but still can’t eat up innings like he once did. The best Giant starter has been Ryan Vogelsong. Yup, I said it. SF is relying on former Pittsburgh Pirate cast off Ryan freakin’ Vogelsong! Can he keep up his stellar play against the Tigers vaunted lineup?!
Prediction: Valverde holds serve and the Tigers offense proves too much. Possibly facing Verlander three times in a series seems next to impossible to get over. Barry Bonds watched his Giants win the championship that alluded him (I thoroughly enjoyed this) once. He won’t have to again. Mike Illitch already owns four Stanley Cups thanks to the NHL’s Red Wings. He finally gets his first non hockey championship. The Detroit Tigers win the 2012 World Series in six games.