It’s the matchup we all expected as far back as Game 5 of their respective League Championship Series. Two teams filled with traditions (largely of losing, but that’s beside the point) that will each be looking for their first title in at least a half-century. It’s Rangers-Giants on the baseball diamond, and not some odd cross-promotional hockey-football battle royale in New York. Tim and John S, who were all over this matchup by reverse jinxing it into fruition in their LCS Previews, provide their take hours before Game 1.
While Josh Hamilton’s ALCS heroics got most of the attention—from fans and Joe Girardi alike—the Rangers were not a one-man show against the Yankees. Guys like Bengie Molina, David Murphy, and Matt Treanor all homered in the series, and they got big hits from Vladimir Guerrero and Mitch Moreland. In fact, everybody on the team who got more than three at-bats in the ALCS had multiple RBIs. That may say more about the Yankee pitching staff, but it also shows that the Rangers’ lineup is as deep and as versatile as the one San Francisco just faced. And unlike in a lot of World Series past, the Rangers won’t be hurt much by losing the DH (at least not offensively)—since Ron Washington has already stated that he plans to play Guerrero in the field at least in Game 1, the Rangers will only be losing the platoon of David Murphy and Jeff Francoeur.
The Giants, meanwhile, outscored the Phillies primarily by not letting the Phillies score. As Tim said in his preview to the series, San Francisco would need someone to unexpectedly step up, and Cody Ross—contrary to all the time spent talking about Jose Guillen in that preview, even when Jose did not even make the NLCS roster—turned out to be that guy. Ross hit three home runs in the first two games of the series and finished with as many extra-base hits (6) as the rest of the team combined en route to series MVP. Of course, it was Juan Uribe who had the biggest hit of the series: a stunning in every way opposite-field home run to win Game 6. The formula for the Giants stays the same in the World Series: They need Aubrey Huff and Buster Posey to anchor the lineup with someone else getting hot. Contributions from Andres Torres and Freddy Sanchez—Torres has been, as OutKast would say, “ICE COLD” since his September appendectomy while it seems as if Sanchez hit better than .268 in that NLCS—would go a long way toward helping. All this is complicated, though, by the fact that San Francisco will need to add another below-average bat to the lineup in Games 3-5, with Pablo Sandoval likely getting the nod against the two righties in Games 3 and 4 and, who knows starting Game 5. Travis Ishikawa? Mike Fontenot? It’ll be ugly.
Just as it showed that the Texas offense is more than just Hamilton, the ALCS showed that the Texas rotation is not all about Cliff Lee. While Lee dazzled in Game 3, Colby Lewis was nearly as sharp in his two starts, particularly his gem in the clinching Game 6. C.J. Wilson had a rough start in Game 5, but his first two starts of the postseason were very impressive. Of course, the Rangers, like pretty much every team in baseball, are still at a disadvantage against the Giants when it comes to their starters, but their rotation is deep enough to hold its own. And, of course, the Rangers do have the best starter left pitching, and possibly the best postseason pitcher of all-time, in Cliff Lee, who will go in Games 1 and 5.
The Giants’ rotation remains the best thing they have going for it. Tim Lincecum outdueled Roy Halladay in Game 1 and was unlucky in Game 5, with a bad call on Halladay’s bunt and an Aubrey Huff error leading to Philadelphia’s only three runs off him. Matt Cain bumps up to Game 2 following his gem in the NLCS and Jonathan Sanchez’s egg in Game 6. The key for San Francisco might be how Sanchez rebounds; it was pretty clear he was unnerved early against the Phillies, even if I don’t attribute it as much to the “SAN-CHEZ” chants as everyone else does. If he bounces back to pitch the way he’s capable of, the Giants can have the pitching edge in all but the Cliff Lee games in this series.
JOHN: Will Bengie Molina even be trying?
TIM: He does get a ring regardless, but I imagine Molina would have some motivation to stick it to the Giants after they traded him, right? I mean, this guy was upset at the Mets all season long because they wouldn’t give him a two-year contract in the off-season when NOBODY gave him a two-year contract. He’s probably retiring after this series anyway, so I guess the point is, Omar Minaya was right.
TIM: How does it feel to have a Molina unexpectedly ruin your postseason?
JOHN: I won’t pretend to be as devastated as you were—this was Game 4, not Game 7, and in the 6th, not the 9th—but it was pretty frustrating, especially given the godforsaken intentional walk that led to it. At the same time, though, you can’t really put too much stock in any one thing that happened in the ALCS: It’s hard to imagine any non-sweep being as thoroughly one-sided as that series was.
JOHN: What should our expectations for Lincecum/Lee be after the Halladay/Lincecum duels did not actually yield competing perfect games?
TIM: Well, since we should both now be able to agree on the fact that Lee is incontrovertibly better than Roy Halladay, the expectations for this matchup are higher. Lincecum showed me something with his performances against the Phillies, and I envision tonight’s Game 1 as an absolute classic—something like 2-0. Of course, there’s no chance the Giants get two runs off Lee in the series, let alone one game.
JOHN: Before going to the next question, I would just like to point out that I certainly do not agree that Lee “incontrovertibly better than Roy Halladay,” although I would be hard-pressed to take anyone over Lee in a playoff game.
TIM: Colby Lewis: legit shutdown starter or total LCS flash in the pan? (I’m looking in the direction of Jeffrey Suppan here.)
JOHN: Probably closer to the latter than the former, but it’s probably not as simple as either/or (take that, Søren Kierkegaard!). Lewis was solid all season and pitched better than his 12-13 record would indicate—his WHIP was lower than C.J.Wilson’s, for example. Having Said That, you really have to factor in how poorly the Yankees were hitting throughout that series to evaluate Lewis’ Game 6 start: New York hit .201 for the series, .181 if you take out Robinson Cano. I think Lewis will pith well against San Francisco’s paltry lineup, but I definitely wouldn’t call him a “shutdown starter.”
JOHN: We had this argument at the time, but once again: Defend Bochy’s move to go to Lincecum in the 8th inning of Game 6.
TIM: First off, I think that was the series right there. If Philly comes back in that game to force a Game 7, the chances of the Giants winning strike me as slim. So you need to get these six outs. Your options are Lincecum, Sergio Romo, and Brian Wilson. Wilson is the obvious one, but he’s never had a six-out save. NEVER. The only time he’s tried for a six-out save, he blew it in Game 2 of the NLDS. Romo, meanwhile, was excellent all season, but he got beaten up twice in three outings against the Phillies in the regular season, was trashed in the NLDS, and, although he hadn’t allowed a run in the NLCS, had allowed two hits, a walk, and an inherited runner to score in 2 2/3 innings.
I don’t think I have to tell you that Lincecum is the best pitcher of those three, and he’s also the guy who’s pitching the best among them. He would occasionally close while in college, so it’s not unheard of for him to come out of the bullpen. And come on, John, look at postseason history: It’s littered with big-time aces coming out of the pen to shut a game down. Hershiser, Pedro, Mussina, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens—that’s what makes the postseason so much fun. Despite what happened to Oswalt in Game 4 (and I was against putting him in that game, even before I heard he tossed a bullpen session earlier in the day), starters pitch well out of the bullpen in the playoffs. It was the right move.
JOHN: Hmm, it’s good that you provided a legitimate statistical background because I think we tend to glamorize the whole “starter comes in from the bullpen” thing because, as you point out, it’s “so much fun.” It is cool, but it’s usually reserved for extreme situations. Pedro, for example, had two relief appearances in the playoffs: In Game 5 of the 1999 ALDS he came in to start the fourth inning after Brett Saberhagen and Derek Lowe pitched horribly, and threw six shutout innings to get the win. In other words, it was an extreme situation that called for extreme measures. In 2004, on the other hand, Terry Francona inexplicably brought him in for a middle relief appearance in a blowout game: He gave up two runs in one inning before getting pulled for Mike Timlin.
Similarly, Mussina came in early after Clemens got knocked out after three innings in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS; Clemens pitched in that 18-inning game in 2005; Johnson came into Game 5 of the 1995 ALDS in the 9th inning. The point is, desperate times call for desperate measures, but the Giants had a one-run lead in the 8th inning—a situation they’ve no doubt been in countless times this season. When you use desperate measures when the situation doesn’t call for it, you’re essentially panicking, which is what Bochy’s move looked like. Yes, Lincecum is the best pitcher the Giants have, and I don’t have a huge problem with using your best in the biggest situations, but when you ask guys to do things they’re not used to—and Lincecum hadn’t come out of the bullpen once this season—they tend to make mistakes. I think you only use Lincecum in that spot if you have no faith in Romo and little faith in Wilson, and neither of those opinions seems particularly justified. I would have used Romo to start the 8th, and brought Wilson in if he got in trouble.
TIM: Can Vlad actually still play right field?
JOHN: Surprisingly, he did play in the outfield a few times this season, so I guess the answer is “yes,” but I can’t imagine he’s particularly dazzling out there. I haven’t seen him play the outfield in a few years, so I imagine he might be a liability out there, but I still think it’s definitely the right call: Guerrero is so important in lineup as Hamilton’s protection that it outweighs any defensive upgrade you get from Murphy or Francoeur.
JOHN: Speaking of the Giants bullpen, how much faith would you put in Brian Wilson?
TIM: Wilson is the epitome of the Giants’ weird “Torture” slogan (which Rob Neyer points out as, well, sorta inaccurate) in that he puts some runners on and works deep counts before eventually getting the save. But in terms of National League closers, I don’t know if there is anyone else I’d rather have at the back end in a big spot. I mean, he did pitch that 1-2-3 eighth in the All-Star Game.
TIM: As an American League fan, what goes through your mind when you look at the box score of Game 4 of the NLCS, when Bruce Bochy made three double-switches?
JOHN: Despite my disdain for the National League, and over-managing in general, I actually really like double-switches. They favor depth and thinking ahead and making the most of your bullpen. And, particularly in the Giants’ case, it really looks like Bochy is making runs out of nothing. At the same time double-switches, like most managerial moves, probably get more attention than they deserve.
TIM: The claws and antlers. Discuss.
JOHN: I hate pretty much every one of these stupid mascot/team motto gimmicks: “Cowboy up,” the Rally Monkey, etc. They’re stupid marketing ploys that give national broadcasting idiots like Ron Darling and Tim McCarver something to talk about instead of providing actual analysis. Like most of them, this one doesn’t even make sense. A “Ranger” has neither claws not antlers, and it is not entirely obvious what a claw has to do with hitting. I suppose I get that deer are fleet of foot, and hence related to base-running and hustle, but it still seems more like a way to sell T-shirts than anything else.
TIM: Ron Darling eagerly awaits your apology for lumping him in with Tim McCarver. And I doubt you feel the same way about any of the Yankees’ marketing gimmicks (Chase for 28! Jorge Posada’s 1,000th career RBI! Earn your pinstripes! And so on and so forth.)
JOHN: Are you worried that a Giants win could vindicate one of the worst GMs of the modern era?
TIM: I really don’t know what you have against Brian Sabean. He isn’t a good GM, but he was also put in a bad spot with Bonds, where he couldn’t rebuild and had to keep signing win-now guys (much like Danny Ferry was with the Cavaliers). And come on, Tyler Kepner wrote about what a good job he did this season!
TIM: How sick are you of the constant Nolan Ryan praise? Show me some love for the Queens native and actual GM of the Rangers, Jon Daniels.
JOHN: That’s a very good point. I mean, Ryan is an old-school baseball guy and he gets a lot of press for de-emphasizing pitch counts and innings limits, so it’s understandable why he gets so much praise and attention, but the truth is that the core of this team was assembled before Ryan became the team’s president in 2008. Daniels has a mixed record as GM, having traded Chris Young, Adrian Gonzalez, and John Danks all away from the Texas system, but he also managed to pick up Nelson Cruz, Hamilton, Elvis Andrus, and Neftali Feliz all before 2008, and this year he took a chance on Guerrero that paid off greatly. Whoever gets the credit, though, the Texas front office is pretty impressive now.
JOHN: Should the Rangers walk Cody Ross every time he comes up, like the Yankees started doing for Hamilton?
TIM: With how well it worked out for Joe Girardi, yes. (Considering who hits behind him, it might not be a bad idea…)
TIM: What status does your baseball fandom take when the Yankees are knocked out? Do you continue watching? Do you sulk? Do you root for who knocked them out? Do you root hard against who knocked them out? Do you wish you personally could have spit on Kristen Lee? Do you savor the sacrificial blood of Dave Eiland?
JOHN: I can’t understand why Yankee fans would spit on Mrs. Lee: We’re trying to sign her husband! The Eiland move perplexes me also, and I think there’s probably more to it than is currently public.
(TIM: Like the fact he took the month of June off, maybe?)
JOHN: Anyway, I’m obviously upset to see the Yankees go, but I think the World Series matchup this year is a very exciting one. I don’t begrudge the Rangers for winning, and I really like a few guys on that team, including Hamilton and Guerrero. At the same time, I just can’t bring myself to root for the same team that George W. Bush is rooting for, particularly when they are playing a team from the most liberal city in America. That may sound like a stupid reason to root for a team, but it’s hard to overstate how much I dislike the former President.
JOHN: While I’m excited for this series, I don’t know if that excitement is shared. What do you think the ratings will be like, and will it lead to another round of infuriating “baseball is not the National Pastime anymore” discussions?
TIM: Ugh, this is the bane of all national sports conversation. I want to be blunt: No fan cares about ratings. Not one. Zero. The only people who care about ratings are television executives, advertisers, and stemming from this but only in a weird, well-I-guess-they-should-kind-of-care way, journalists. As someone who occasionally dabbles in journalism, though, I don’t really know why other journalists care. It’s not like there’s an upcoming bidding war for baseball broadcasts that will hinge largely on the ratings of this World Series. Also, from my understanding, the only World Series that will ever draw optimal ratings is one that somehow features the Yankees and Red Sox. Any series that features only one of these teams is not a good draw because the other team isn’t a big enough market (the Marlins, the Rockies, the Braves, the Padres, the Cardinals, etc.) or operates in the same market (the Mets). Yankees-Phillies was supposed to be a big draw, but Phillies-Rays supposedly matched up two teams without a lot of buzz. This seems hypocritical. And anyway, aren’t the Giants one of the bigger draws in baseball? Isn’t Dallas enormous?
Furthermore, more people watch football regardless of matchup, and baseball’s status as “national pastime” is so clichéd and insignificant by this point that it’s hardly worth mentioning.
JOHN: Who will you be rooting for? Since the Phillies aren’t in it, will you be backing your league?
TIM: This is one of the most likable World Series matchups in some time—it’s really the first time since 1997 that I don’t have a strong rooting interest (with the caveat that in 1999 and 2009, I was strongly rooting against both teams)—but I will be backing my league. I want to see a team win the World Series despite having no offense whatsoever, I want the National League to show that it continues to be more than the Quadruple-A most AL fans make it out to be, and I want the team that beat those hated Phillies to win it all.
JOHN: Who ya got?
TIM: You know I have to do this with a specificity that means I can’t possibly get it right. Texas wins 2-0 tonight, as I said earlier, with dual complete games (Lincecum’s truncated at eight). The Rangers score both runs in the sixth, sparked by Elvis Andrus. Matt Cain evens the series in Game 2 with seven innings of one-run ball, and Sergio Romo and Brian Wilson combine to get six very eventful outs to close the deal. Jonathan Sanchez stymies the Rangers’ bats again in Game 3 in Texas while Colby Wilson can’t shut down the potent San Francisco bats the way he could those quiet Yankee ones, and the Giants take an unexpected 2-1 lead. In Game 4, though, Madison Bumgarner is knocked around a little and Tommy Hunter pitches solidly, leaving in the sixth having allowed three runs. Texas evens the series with an 8-4 win. Lee beats Lincecum again in Game 5—this time, 4-1, with a three-run Nelson Cruz homer in the fourth being the key blow. In Game 6, Cain and C.J. Wilson are each knocked out before the fifth, and Michael Young delivers an opposite-field two-run double in the seventh off Santiago Casilla to give Texas a 6-5 lead it doesn’t relinquish, en route to the Rangers’ first World Series title.
JOHN: Part of me is tempted to be as vague as you were specific and just say something like, “Texas in 5,” but I’ll elaborate slightly. Lee outduels Lincecum tonight, and then Matt Cain evens the series in Game 2. Game 3 will probably swing the series one of two ways. If San Francisco manages to pull it out behind Sanchez, then I see them taking Game 4—Game 4 being the only game I can really see the Giants scoring more than four runs. If that happens, then I see Lincecum closing it out in five games for San Francisco.
More likely, though, is that Game 3 is more high-scoring than the Giants can handle and Texas takes a 2-1 series lead. San Francisco evens it in Game 4, but Lee once again pitches brilliantly in Game 5, giving the Rangers a 3-2 lead. The Giants force a Game 7 behind a Cain shutout that inspires headlines like “Cain is Able to Force Game 7,” but Game 7 is somewhat anticlimactic as Sanchez gets knocked around early and the Giants can never quite get back in it. Texas in 7.