Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Ten reasons to watch the 2012 World Series
By David Schoenfield
How closer Sergio Romo, right, and the Giants staff deal with Miguel Cabrera could be a Series key.
It has been a long season. Remember when the Oakland A's and Seattle Mariners began in Japan way back in March? OK, you probably don't. But you've made it this far. Don't quit now. We have at least four more games left and hopefully seven. Here's why I'm watching what should be an exciting World Series between two of the game's storied franchises -- and even though this is the San Francisco Giants' 19th World Series trip and the Detroit Tigers' 11th, they've never met before.
1. Miguel Cabrera. The best hitter on the planet on the game's biggest stage: Yeah, that's a pretty good place to start. I can’t wait to see how the Giants attack him. He has been kept under wraps for the most part this postseason, hitting .278 with one home run in nine games, so he has to be careful not to press if the Giants don’t give him much to hit. But I have the feeling Cabrera may show us why he won the Triple Crown.
2. Justin Verlander. He might not win the AL Cy Young Award this season, but Verlander is the game’s best starting pitcher with the game’s most dominating stuff. After mediocre results in his first two postseasons in 2006 (his rookie season) and 2011, he has been lights-out so far, with three wins in three starts. No starting pitcher has ever won five games in a single postseason, but because he’ll start Game 1, he could have the opportunity to start twice. One thing to watch: The A’s led the league in strikeouts; the Yankees were clearly in an offensive slump of historic proportions. The Giants are a contact team against whom the strikeouts won’t come quite so easily. That means more balls in play and more pressure on the Detroit's suspect defense. We’ll see how Verlander responds to this tougher assignment.
3. Jim Leyland's and Bruce Bochy’s place in history. It’s amazing to realize that when Leyland won the World Series with the Marlins in 1997 he was only 52 years old. Wasn’t he kind of portrayed as the slightly cranky baseball lifer even then? He's now 67 and trying to win another title. He and Bochy are two of the best managers of the past quarter-century and both are going for their second championship. Neither has managed in the major media markets of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles or Boston, although Leyland has certainly received more media attention through the years than Bochy. The winner of this series may have something bigger at stake than media attention, however: a place in the Hall of Fame. Not every manager with two titles is in (Cito Gaston, Tom Kelly to name two), but Leyland is 15th on the all-time win list and Bochy is 23rd. This Series could cement their legacy.
4. Marco Scutaro. One of the best things about the postseason is how a player like Scutaro -- a good player, although certainly more role player than star -- can become the most important guy for a team for a couple weeks. It doesn’t have to be a team’s No. 3 or 4 hitter who does all the damage, and Scutaro enters on a roll after knocking out 14 hits in the National League Championship Series. The Giants had an obvious parallel two years ago in Cody Ross, another late-season acquisition who came up big in October. Admire Scutaro for his old-school approach at the plate: He puts the ball in play with his superior contact skills, a trait lost amid this generation’s incessant desire for power.
5. Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner. They may not all get a World Series start -- Bumgarner’s velocity and stuff have been down in recent starts -- but this trio has the chance to make its mark with a second World Series title. Think how difficult that is: Not even the Greg Maddux-Tom Glavine-John Smoltz trio was able to do that. Lincecum, of course, didn’t have a good season, but that doesn’t matter now. All the Giants need from him is one -- or maybe two -- good starts.
6. Intentional walks and sacrifice bunts. Remember last year’s World Series when Ron Washington and Tony La Russa went crazy with ill-advised free passes and odd bunts? It was a second-guesser’s dream. I don’t expect to see the same slew of erratic decisions from Leyland and Bochy, but the World Series can turn even the most level-headed of managers into chemists with a room full of potions. In the National League Championship Series, we saw how Mike Matheny’s free pass to No. 8 hitter Brandon Crawford in Game 6 led to a big inning. Last year, Washington’s intentional walk to Albert Pujols in Game 6 was a key decision in the Rangers’ eventual defeat. In a tight series, managerial decisions can be a decisive factor.
7. Prince Fielder. Many in the industry were not pleased when the Tigers coughed up $214 million to sign Fielder. Hey, imagine that: Tigers owner Mike Ilitch is 83 years old and wants to win a World Series. OK, so Fielder isn’t riding the exercise bike after games. Despite his girth, Fielder is actually one of the most gifted hitters in the game. He seemed a little overanxious at times in the first two rounds, hitting .211 with two unintentional walks, but maybe he’ll be more relaxed as he plays in his first World Series.
8. Sergio Romo. Who says you need a closer who throws 98 mph? Romo is a guy who barely cracks 90 but has a deadly slider that hitters have trouble picking up. He’s another great story, a guy the Giants never seemed to fully believe in until they were forced to use him as the closer after Brian Wilson was injured and Santiago Casilla struggled. Bochy had primarily used Romo as a right-handed relief specialist in recent seasons (last year he pitched just 48 innings in 65 appearances), but now he has earned Bochy's confidence to face all swingers -- as he should, after holding lefties to a .167 average this season. At some point, he’ll probably need to protect a one-run lead against two guys named Cabrera and Fielder and that's going to be some kind of wonderful.
9. Cold weather. Because it’s always fun watch players wearing layers, ear muffs and hand warmers. Oh, wait, no it’s not. The weather in Detroit this weekend may dip into the high 30s, so cold that Leyland might be given special dispensation to smoke in the dugout. But the dark, not-so-secret aspect of cold weather is the realization that the season’s most important games can be played in weather more suitable for creating ice sculptures than baseball art. Let's hope foul weather isn't a factor.
10. Who will have Darrell Evans throw out the first pitch? Yes, I’ve termed this the Darrell Evans World Series. You know, like if it had been the Reds versus the Tigers, we would have had the Sparky Anderson World Series. Or the Cardinals-Tigers would have been the Rematch of 1968 World Series, with highlight reels of Bob Gibson and Mickey Lolich. Instead, we get the Darrell Evans World Series, the underrated star of the '70s and '80s who played for both franchises (he was part of Detroit’s 1984 World Series champs). Make it happen! We need a Darrell Evans sighting.