Justin Verlander on the spot
The Tigers have their ace on the bump in Game 1, so is the pressure on them?
The 2012 Fall Classic between the Detroit Tigers and San Francisco Giants kicks off Wednesday, with Justin Verlander facing off against Barry Zito. Our experts discuss that seemingly lopsided pitching matchup, and other pressing issues, in Triple Play.
1. Based on the Zito-Verlander mismatch in Game 1, is this a game the Tigers need?
Eric Karabell (@karabellespn), ESPN Insider: Absolutely not. No Game 1 of a seven-game series is a must-win for any team. I also don't buy momentum as a factor should the Giants topple the mighty Verlander. Frankly, those assuming the Tigers will simply rout Zito weren't paying attention last week when he flummoxed the stunned Cardinals. Either team can lose Game 1 and still win this series.
Doug Glanville (@dougglanville), Baseball Tonight: This certainly puts unique pressure on the Tigers, because it will be a letdown if they lose, as they have the clear starter advantage. But keep in mind that the Tigers' entire rotation has been excellent, and they can salvage the series even if Verlander loses Game 1.
Christina Kahrl (@ChristinaKahrl), SweetSpot: They need them all, but I would not have bet against Verlander if he were facing Matt Cain or Madison Bumgarner. It's a game the Giants have to confront with a basic sense of mathematically driven desperation -- can they win three of the next four in the non-Verlander starts to get to a deciding Game 7? Sure they can, but the Tigers' matchup advantage is significant at the outset.
2. Looks like Tim Lincecum will pitch in relief. Is that the right call?
Karabell: Correct call, although I'd have Timmy warming up early in either of the first two games. For whatever reason, Lincecum simply has pitched better in relief in October, with three hits, one walk and one run allowed over 8 1/3 innings, while his one start went poorly. Plus, it's worth noting Detroit's OPS was 47 points better against right-handers this season. The Giants shouldn't remove Zito or Bumgarner from the rotation.
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Glanville: Yes. Lincecum earned his opportunity to start in the National League Championship Series, but that didn't go well, and he has thrived when used as a long man. In the postseason, the long man is critical when hooks are quick. His start didn't go well enough to trump what Zito pulled off in Game 5.
Kahrl: Yes. I wanted to see Bruce Bochy keep Lincecum in a long relief role, because of what it lets the skipper do in the series, starting with keeping Zito on a short leash so that the Giants' bullpen doesn't have to burned once trouble crops up in Game 1. If Zito creates any cause for alarm, Bochy can pull him fast, count on Lincecum for at least once through the order and then see where things stand. Keep Game 1 close, and maybe the Tigers' bullpen gets put on the spot late. It's as good a plan as the Giants can come up with to open the series.
3. Who should close for the Tigers?
Karabell: I think people forget that while Jose Valverde was overrated in his perfect 2011 season and certainly not a great reliever this year, he does have value, especially against right-handed hitters. With Joaquin Benoit a home run waiting to happen, I'd have lefty Phil Coke and Valverde share the role, depending on the hitter. Valverde allowed a .515 OPS to right-handed hitters this year, with no home runs. Use him against Hunter Pence and Buster Posey.
Glanville: Valverde. He might find that one adjustment he needs to make to get back to form. They can give him a short rope and then be situational from there. His velocity is down and his location has been a bigger issue, but he still is my choice.
Kahrl: Jim Leyland should just keep playing matchup games and keep Bochy guessing. If Coke makes sense, Coke is it. If Benoit is the better matchup, bring him in. Octavio Dotel? Do tell. The point is winning, not affirming anyone's sense of whether or not they get to wear the "closer" label. Happily, this time of year, I suspect the Tigers' relievers get that.