Can NLCS MVP Marco Scutaro continue his playoff magic after tying a record with 14 hits against the Cardinals? The Giants' offensive burden can't fall solely on their second baseman. Third baseman Pablo Sandoval is hitting .320 with nine RBIs in 12 postseason games. Detroit's rotation features four right-handers, and while the switch-hitting Panda hit for a higher average against left-handers during the regular season (.299 to .275), his power numbers were much better against righties (10 HRs compared with two). The Giants' terrific infield defense was a key in the Game 7 victory over St. Louis.
All talk about containing the Tigers begins with their corner infield tandem of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, who represent one of the most dangerous 3-4 hitter combos in the game. Both have been quiet in the postseason, but they can change the complexion of a game with one swing. Shortstop Jhonny Peralta endured a miserable regular season at the plate but has five multi-hit games in the postseason. Cabrera is serviceable at third base but neither he nor Peralta is known for his range.
Center fielder Angel Pagan enjoyed a great series defensively against St. Louis, but he needs to jumpstart the Giants from the leadoff spot against a stingy Tigers rotation. Right fielder Hunter Pence has just three RBIs in 12 postseason games, and his struggles were glaring in the NLCS. Gregor Blanco is batting just .222 in the playoffs, and any production he provides toward the bottom of the order is gravy.
Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson is a catalyst as the leadoff man. He hit .300 during the regular season and added 16 homers. Delmon Young hit .353 in the ALCS. and was named MVP. But the Tigers won't have benefit of a designated hitter in the Giants' home park, so watch how Young handles himself defensively. He's likely to play left field, which means he would be spared the difficulties of negotiating AT&T Park's tricky right field. You remember how that went for Texas' Vladimir Guerrero in 2010.
The Giants' incredible comeback against the Cardinals masked how much Buster Posey struggled at the plate. He's hitting .178 (8 for 45) in the postseason. Take his grand slam against the Reds out of the equation, and the Giants' cleanup man has two RBIs in 12 playoff games, so that has to change. The Tigers stole just 59 bases in the regular season — 13th out of 14 A.L. teams — so Posey doesn't figure to be challenged much by their running game.
Alex Avila and Gerald Laird platoon behind the plate for Detroit, and neither causes much fear with the bat. They combined to throw out 27 percent of attempted base stealers during the regular season, which is an impressive rate.
The rotation does not unfold favorably for the Giants to open the World Series. Barry Zito is coming off his dominant performance against St. Louis, but now he needs to hold his own matched up against Justin Verlander in Game 1. Madison Bumgarner will start Game 2, and who knows what to expect from him? Those two need to keep the Giants in the first two games, and then they should be in good shape with Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain likely slated for Games 3 and 4.
Verlander, the defending Cy Young winner, has allowed just two runs in three playoff starts (24 1/3 innings). But what jumps out about Detroit's staff in the postseason is the performance of fellow starters Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez (who was tough on the Giants while with the Marlins) and Max Scherzer behind Verlander. Detroit's rotation allowed just two earned runs in 27 1/3 innings during a four-game sweep of the Yankees in the A.L.C.S.
The Giants' bullpen is deep and dependable. Lincecum returns to the pen after a rocky start in Game 4 of the NLCS. Meanwhile, the back end has been dominant in October. Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez, Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo have pitched 24 2/3 innings in the postseason's first two rounds and allowed two earned runs (0.75 ERA), walking six and striking out 22.
The Tigers' relief corps is definitely the team's Achilles' heel. Both the A's and Yankees came back in ninth innings to knock out struggling closer Jose Valverde, and Detroit had to turn to left-hander Phil Coke in the ALCS in the late innings. It's a hodge-podge elsewhere, too: Setup man Joaquin Benoit is an adventure every time he takes the mound, and the corps is filled out with folks like journeyman Octavio Dotel, rookie Drew Smyly and ball-kisser Al Alburquerque. It's a given: Detroit needs its terrific starting staff to go deep.
Right-handed threats Joaquin Arias, Xavier Nady and Ryan Theriot haven't had many opportunities in the first two rounds as the Giants have faced righty-heavy staffs. That won't change much in the World Series. Aubrey Huff might be inspired to deliver a big pinch-hit against the Tigers, with whom he endured a disastrous year in 2009. From this group, the Giants will have to pick a DH for Games 3-4-5. Arias is the best bet.
With DH Delmon Young ticketed to play left field in the first two games (and the last two), the Tigers will have two of three talented young outfielders available — Andy Dirks, Quintin Berry or Avisail Garcia — depending on which plays right. Detroit also has left-handed Don Kelly, who had a game-winning sacrifice fly against Oakland, for key late-inning pinch-hit situations.
Bruce Bochy may not win N.L. Manager of the Year, but he deserves it. He calmly guided the Giants through a regular season fraught with setbacks, and has been even better in the postseason, understanding the urgency of postseason decision-making and thoroughly out-managing Dusty Baker and Mike Matheny in the first two rounds, particularly with pitching staff calls.
Jim Leyland is one of the best managers in the history of the game. He is not only a brilliant in-game strategist, he is remarkable at putting the right players in positions to win a key game, most recently with Coke and young phenom Garcia in the ALCS. A second World Series win would cap a brilliant career and cinch a spot in Cooperstown that is already fairly well locked down.
Where do you start with a Giants team that has six straight victories facing elimination? The Giants have tremendous momentum on the heels of their comebacks in the first two rounds, they have home-field advantage, they have confidence and emotion and perhaps even karma on their side. Plus, they have a dozen guys who won it all two years ago.
After completing a sweep of the Yankees on Oct. 18, the Tigers will have had a five-day layoff. They may have lost their postseason edge and could come out flat, and walking into the blast furnace that is AT&T Park right now could be a shock to their collective system, which is why Verlander's Game 1 start is ultra-critical. Ballparks could come into play here, too. The Tigers, might find AT&T troublesome both from a hitting and fielding standpoint. Conversely, spacious Comerica Park will be a challenge for Giants outfielders, particularly Pagan in center. Just ask Coco Crisp.