The 2012 World Series promises to be unforgettable just given the days that have led up to it. The amazing San Francisco Giants won three straight elimination games, making it six in this postseason, tying the record set by the 1985 Kansas City Royals. Meanwhile, the Detroit Tigers were playing practice games to stay sharp, then waited and waited and waited to figure out where they were headed, St. Louis or San Francisco. It's San Francisco. The Giants and Tigers, the first time they've faced each other in the World Series. One team has a Cabrera; the other lost a Cabrera. One team has a Verlander, the other a Vogelsong. It's going to be great.
Here are five questions.
Is this what it was like watching Sandy Koufax in the 1960s?
Justin Verlander threw 23 straight scoreless innings this postseason, the third-longest streak behind Christy Mathewson (27 in 1905) and Lew Burdette (24 in 1957) in a single postseason. Verlander dominated the A's twice, and in Game 5 of the American League Division Series, he joined Koufax (Game 7 of the 1965 World Series) to become just the second pitcher to throw a shutout with 10 strikeouts in a winner-take-all game.
"I have never seen him throw the ball better," said one scout who saw Verlander in that Game 5. He throws 100 mph with as good a curveball as there is in the game and a tremendous changeup. Verlander is the best pitcher in the game and has been for two years. This is his opportunity to complete one of the best two-year runs by a pitcher in recent history, with a Cy Young (at least one), an MVP and perhaps a world championship. And, being a maniacal competitor and being on full rest following the sweep of the Yankees, Verlander will want to pitch Games 1, 4 and 7 of the World Series, but the Tigers already have set their rotation: Verlander, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer. Against the Yankees, Tigers starters allowed two earned runs in 27 1/3 innings, a 0.66 ERA, the second-lowest ERA ever (to the 1966 Orioles) in a seven-game series. Scherzer's 1.59 ERA was the highest of the four starters.
How tough are the Giants?
They were done after losing the first two games at home to the Cincinnati Reds, then came back to win three in a row in Cincinnati. They were done against the St. Louis Cardinals, down three games to one, then roared back with three straight victories.
"We've been counted out four or five times this year, but we keep coming back," Giants pitcher Ryan Vogelsong said. "The adversity has made us stronger." They lost their closer, Brian Wilson, the first week of the season; they lost the league's hits leader, Melky Cabrera, for 50 games to a performance-enhancing drug suspension; they lost all sorts of others to injuries. But by the time they got the National League Championship Series back to San Francisco, there was no stopping them. Not even the poised, tough-minded Cardinals could slow them. "Hope," Giants right fielder Hunter Pence said, "is a very powerful thing."
What is the status of the back end of the Tigers' bullpen?
Closer Jose Valverde has really struggled in the playoffs, and Joaquin Benoit, the eighth-inning guy, hasn't been at his best (3 2/3 innings, five hits, two runs, one homer). Phil Coke stepped in and recorded saves in consecutive games for the first time in his career, but he has a large platoon split and has never saved more than two games in any season. So, Tigers manager Jim Leyland likely will mix and match at the end of games as opposed to relying on Valverde. And Leyland might go longer with his starters, given that they threw 30 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings, the longest streak without allowing a run in one postseason.
What is the status of the Giants' rotation?
It's a little jumbled. There are three options for Games 1 and 2 starters: Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito and Madison Bumgarner. Lincecum finished with a 5.18 ERA in the regular season and didn't get through five innings in his only NLCS start but was terrific in relief in the division series against Cincinnati. Zito had a 2.35 ERA in his final five starts of the regular season, the Giants won his final 12 starts of the regular season, he went 7-0 in his past 11 starts, and he threw the game of his life in Game 5 of the NLCS. "He had a presence about him on the mound from the first pitch on," catcher Buster Posey said, and it appears Zito will pitch Game 1. Bumgarner had a 5.89 ERA in his final seven starts of the regular season and struggled so mightily in the postseason that he was replaced by Zito in the rotation. But he apparently has found and fixed a mechanical flaw. We'll see who gets the ball in Game 2.
Can the middle of the Tigers' lineup be stopped?
Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder form the best 3-4 combination in the majors, although Fielder has not been a big factor in this postseason. But what the Tigers have been searching for all season -- someone to hit behind them -- has been found in Delmon Young. He became the first player in postseason history to record the winning RBI in three consecutive games, then he did so in a fourth game in a row. Young also has three home runs this postseason, giving him seven career postseason homers with Detroit, a franchise record. If Young continues to hit, and Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila produce like they have, the Tigers have the lineup everyone thought they would have when the season began.
The pick: Tigers in seven.