SAN FRANCISCO -- No Giants series -- even the World Series -- truly starts until they're staggering, semi-comatose and on the brink of extinction.

That's the storyline of the 2012 playoffs, and why would the World Series unfold any other way, starting with Game 1 on Wednesday.

It sets up precisely: Detroit's Justin Verlander, baseball's ace of aces, is pitching Wednesday; and the Giants won't throw their ace, Matt Cain, until Game 4.

So the Giants theoretically could fall behind quickly and decisively in this series, as they fell behind 2-0 against Cincinnati in the NLDS and as they fell behind 3-1 to St. Louis in the NLCS.

Six victories in six elimination games later, the 2012 Giants know no other playoff path.

"We don't want to go down 3-1 again, but we know what kind of determination it's going to take to win," catcher Buster Posey said Tuesday.

"We know we're facing a really, really good team, and it's going to be a battle from the first pitch tomorrow."

The Giants squeezed past Cincinnati by gutting out extra innings on the road in Game 3 and then blitzing the Reds after the momentum turned.

The Giants knocked over St. Louis by using a miracle game from Barry Zito on the road in Game 5 as a slingshot into a dominant final sprint.

Here's how and why they could do something similar over the next week or so to win their second World Series in three years ...

  • Verlander is likely to beat Zito in Games 1 and 5, but the Giants won't get depressed if that happens.

    Verlander can win only half of the games necessary to clinch this series, and after him, Detroit's rotation is much less certain.

    The Giants know their most reliable starters, Ryan Vogelsong and Cain, are coming in Games 3 and 4, so there will be no panic if they drop some early games.

  • Tigers' closer Jose Valverde imploded spectacularly in the playoffs against the A's and Yankees, and manager Jim Leyland said he has no certain plan for who will finish games.

    That leaves Detroit vulnerable even in Verlander games, if his pitch-count runs too high.

  • Detroit has played solid defense in the playoffs, but during the regular season there were issues; of course, the Giants just got through exposing the Cardinals' fielding flaws.

    Jhonny Peralta and Miguel Cabrera could be problems at shortstop and third base, respectively.

    Also, the Tigers' pitchers (including Verlander) put on one of the worst displays of fielding in playoff history in 2006.

    Yes, the Giants are experts at chopping slow bouncers back to the mound with runners on, as they showed against St. Louis.

    The Giants, meanwhile, are playing their best defense of the season.

  • The Tigers have two incredible hitters -- A.L. Triple Crown winner Cabrera and Prince Fielder -- but they're also very dependent on them.

    And Giants manager Bruce Bochy almost always finds ways to limit opportunities for the opponents' best weapons by aggressively using his bullpen.

    He'll have Tim Lincecum as a super-reliever for this series, and you can bet he'll pit Lincecum vs. Cabrera at least once in a key spot.

  • The designated hitter won't be used in games at AT&T Park, which means Delmon Young will probably have to play left field in Games 1, 2 and 6 and 7 if necessary.

    In 2010, the Giants got the full benefit of Rangers D.H. Vladimir Guerrero kicking balls around in right field in Game 1 -- and the embarrassment seemed to affect Guerrero at the plate, too.

    Young won't be that bad, but he's still a natural D.H. who must play the field in several of the games. There will also be those automatic outs in the ninth spot in the order, whereas the Giants got RBIs from their pitchers each of the last three games.

  • If the Giants can just survive past Game 5 -- Verlander's second start -- Games 6 and 7 will be back at AT&T Park, which was a two-game thunderdome for the NLCS.

    Again, the Giants rotation isn't set up quite right, and if Madison Bumgarner can't turn things around in Game 2, things will really be off-kilter.

    But if the Giants get down 2-0 ... or even if it's 3-0, the Giants will just gather up in the dugout, scream for a bit, and come out roaring.

    It's the story of the 2012 playoffs.

    "You play with fire, it's going to burn you," reliever Jeremy Affeldt said. "I don't think we necessarily want to get behind in this series.

    "I think this team understands what it has to do to win a series when we are behind."

    If the Giants ever got ahead in a series, I'm not sure they'd know what to do. They'll fall behind in this one, because it's who they are.

    Then they will rally back. And ... prediction: Giants in 7 games.

    Read Tim Kawakami's Talking Points blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/kawakami. Contact him at tkawakami@mercurynews.com.

    Pep talks have become postseason ritual.

    Page A1

    Tigers, Giants look to keep momentum.

    Page A1

    Rotation is set; Lincecum in bullpen.

    Page 3
    Nine Venezuelans on teams' rosters.

    Page 4

    Tigers ace poised to pitch opener.

    Page 4

    A look back at the Giants' season.

    Page 5