Talkin’ Baseball: World Series

TIM: John, the readers of NPI are in luck. San Francisco’s dramatic comeback — although Jayson Stark, let’s cool it on the overzealous use of the adjective “impossible” — means the Cardinals aren’t in the World Series, which means my personal boycott of previewing Cardinals postseason series doesn’t affect this Fall Classic.

I guess we should start by talking about the team that’s played in the last several weeks in the Giants. What do you think about this team, especially with the 2010 Giants in the back of your mind? I mean, Barry Zito in Game 1? LOL, right?

JOHN: Totes LOL. When Zito was shutting down the Cardinals lineup in Game 5, my brother and I got into a discussion about his absurd contract. We both seemed to entertain the idea that San Francisco has salvaged some value out of him. After all, he won 15 games this year and came up huge in the NLCS. But, really, when you look at his stats, he’s still a pretty lousy starting pitcher and has been throughout his time with the Giants.

I suppose, though, that pitching him in Game 1 at least works with the logic you brought a few years ago in a postseason preview: If you’re going up against someone like Justin Verlander, you might as well use someone like Zito. If he’s terrible, then you just shrug it off and say you probably weren’t going to beat Verlander no matter what. But if Zito has another performance like he did in St. Louis, then maybe SF can steal Game 1 and still have Baumgarner, Vogelsong, and Cain lined up for the rest of the series.

I know that’s not the Giants’ actual reasoning (and I also realize it doesn’t answer your question– what is this a Presidential debate? Am I right?), but should a San Francisco fan take comfort in that anyway?

TIM: I suppose it’s some solace for a Giants fan. I mean, yeah, with the way Verlander is pitching, their chances of winning Games 1 and 5 seem skewed in the wrong direction to begin with. This gets to a bigger point to make about San Francisco this postseason — one that kind of requires us to overlook Monday’s Game 7. How ridiculous is it that the Giants are here despite getting, at most, solid relief work from Tim Lincecum, two horrendous starts from Madison Bumgarner, and all-things-considered mediocre stuff from Matt Cain? Nada from Buster Posey? One home run and a weird bat-hits-the-ball-three-times-to-confuse-the-easily-befuddled Pete Kozma from Hunter Pence? The race for NLCS MVP was between Marco Scutaro and Ryan Vogelsong. Both those players were actually worse (based on WAR) this year than Jonathan Lucroy.

JOHN: First of all, don’t knock Lucroy, my preseason pick for NL MVP…

Second of all, it would surprise me more if this wasn’t the same team that, two years ago, won the World Series on the backs of Edgar Renteria and Juan Uribe. Also, to be fair to this year’s team, it seems a lot deeper than the 2010 version. Posey hasn’t hit much, but Pablo Sandoval has, and Brandon Belt a little bit also. Both of those guys were pretty good during the season, though, so it’s not just one crazy streak, as it is in the case of Scutaro. Similarly, Lincecum’s been erratic all season, and they knew they were going to need other starters to step up. They just probably expected it to be Cain/Bumgarner, and not Zito/Vogelsong.

Speaking of depth, what do you think about San Francisco’s decision not to bring back Melky Cabrera, even though he’s now eligible? Surely he would be an upgrade over Gregor Blanco?

TIM: Surely, John? Cabrera hit .350/.396/.513. His replacements have hit .215/.271/.276 (figures blatantly stolen from this tweet). So I think they’re doing just fine. (Blanco has actually been pretty good in the postseason; although he’s only hitting .222, he has a .364 on-base while playing a good LF.) Obviously, from a baseball perspective, not bringing back Cabrera doesn’t make much sense. But, and I want to qualify this by saying I’m not a big “chemistry” guy, maybe there is something to the fact that they started playing demonstrably better once he was suspended. Teams love playing that underdog card.

I totally forgot Edgar Renteria won World Series MVP two years ago.

How do you, as an American League fan, view these Giants? Are you galled by their success? What does a second championship in three seasons do to their legacy? Do they even have a legacy?

JOHN: Well, I think their legacy was the power of great starting pitching. I know that, if you want to be all “factual” about it, their starting pitching wasn’t actually that great this year (outside of Cain, at least) and their offense was actually pretty good, but the perception of this team is still that of a weak lineup surrounded by great starters. And I suspect if they win again, it will be behind some good pitching as well, as the “legacy” will be ingrained even further.

Still, I like Buster Posey and Matt Cain, and I’m intrigued by the seemingly inexplicable demise of Lincecum, so I kind of like this Giants team. They have enough good players to seem like a legitimate playoff team while still maintaining their underdog charm.

On the other, the Tigers…. Can we first talk about what kind of voodoo curse Detroit used to silence the Yankee bats in the ALCS?

TIM: You mean last year’s ALDS, right? I don’t remember the Tigers playing in 2012. It’s been a long time.

How weird a series was that for you to watch? Obviously the Jeter injury sucked a lot of the life out of the Yankees, but man, after Game 2, that thing was over. Have you ever felt as helpless as a Yankees fan?

JOHN: Nope.

It felt like karmic retribution for every heartbreak the Yankees have inflicted on other teams. I mean, how many ways can a team go down? The biggest star suffers a devastating injury, another star gets repeatedly humiliated by his manager, the offense goes completely inert, and the ace gets pummeled in his only start. I guess the one good thing about the series was that it was over fast…

Of course, that doesn’t really bode well for Detroit, giving them a huge layoff. Layoffs can be a blessing and a curse–teams with long layoffs don’t have a good track record against fresher teams (2007, 2006)–so when I heard they were bringing up players from the instructional team to play against them during the off days, I wondered why every team doesn’t do that. But do you think it will do any good?

TIM: How do you slice the blame pie when it comes to the whole Alex Rodriguez thing? How much belongs to him, how much to Girardi, Cashman, those two A-Rod-could-and-should-be-doing-better girls?

(This is NOT being shallow, as he was clearly judging them solely off their physical appearance.)

By now, do you just accept that Delmon Young is going to destroy you in the postseason, no matter how much weight he puts on or how ridiculous his facial hair choices are?

I think layoffs can be overblown. The ’08 Phillies were fine after theirs. The ’99 or ’96 Yankees didn’t have much of a problem. Or the ’95 Braves, for that matter. (I needed to get one team in there that actually swept.) That being said, it’s bound to be a discussion point because of just how bad Detroit was in 2006 after the layoff, playing an obviously inferior Cardinals team. If the Tigers lose the first two games, it will be because of the layoff. If they win the first two games, it will be because they played the instructional league guys (something Bob Costas has advocated, btw, in the past). If they split the first two, it will be because Justin Verlander can’t be beaten even when his team is rusty.

JOHN: Yeah, it’s always absurd how narratives work. If Detroit loses Game 1 8-6 and wins Game 2 1-0, people will say the hitters needed to the first game to get fresh.

Getting back to the ALCS, A-Rod obviously deserves a fair share of the blame. He had an absolutely atrocious postseason, and I can understand and even applaud Girardi’s decision to pinch hit for him initially. But, as I said about Girardi in our ALDS preview, he has a tendency to go a little crazy in the postseason, so if he gets an idea in his head (like Josh Hamilton HAS to be walked) he sticks to it way too much. So continuing to pinch hit for him time and again just because it worked so well the first time was dumb; you should never make decisions based on a sample size of one. Benching Rodriguez made some sense, since they at least had a decent lefty on the bench, but Chavez obviously didn’t do any better. It’s obviously not great that A-Rod was slumping, but everyone goes into slumps. I think it’s a big part of manager’s job not to panic just because it’s the postseason.

As for Cashman, I have no problem with him answering questions honestly. And I don’t comment on tabloid stories either…

This Delmon Young thing is kind of crazy. I mean, in the 2009 Division Series, when he played New York as a Twin, he was 1-for-12. In the three series he’s played since then, he’s a Yankee-killer, hitting .333 with five home runs and one triple. And yet, in the two series he’s had against other teams, he’s been abysmal. I mean, I expect Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder to hit, but not Young.

Speaking of, will Fielder get hot at any point in this World Series? And how do you see the series playing out overall?

TIM: There is no chance at all Fielder gets hot. I say this with metaphysical certainty.

How do I see this playing out? Let me preface this by saying it’s pretty clear the Giants have a better bullpen and better defense while the Tigers have a better (or at least more explosive) lineup. Thus, it’s going to come down to the starting pitching, fitting well with this year’s narrative (and not at all with last year’s).

It also fits well with the 2010 postseason narrative, and that’s why I’m going with the Giants. They will unexpectedly hit Verlander hard in Game 1 — much as they did Cliff Lee in 2010 — before Vogelsong pitches them to a 2-0 lead with seven solid innings. Detroit will bounce back in Game 3 behind Anibal Sanchez, who is making himself a lot of money this postseason. The Giants, however, will seize control of the series behind a resurgent Madison Bumgarner in Game 4. (Well actually, I expect this to be a higher-scoring game, complete with one of those stereotypical Max Scherzer lines, like 5.1 IP, 5 H, 6 ER, 11 K.) Verlander will send the series back to San Francisco for Game 6, where Vogelsong will pitch well enough to clinch the title and World Series MVP.

Strangely, Detroit’s bullpen will not be a big story in the series. Its defense will.

JOHN: My feelings are basically the opposite. We’ve discussed in the past how narratives tend fall apart as the postseason goes on. Last year was the Year of Verlander, but he was pretty mediocre in the playoffs, for example.

I expect this World Series to be similar in its differences. I expect quiet series from the two MVP candidates, Cabrera and Posey, but a big one from someone like, U don’t know, let’s say Omar Infante.

Verlander will likely continue his success tonight, and Zito pitches more like he did in Cincinnati than in St. Louis; I do not expect Game One to be close. Detroit will look poised to take a commanding lead in Game 2, but its bullpen issues WILL flare up (I think the anemic Yankee offense made some people forget how weak the bullpen is).

San Francisco ‘s comeback will lead to a lot of 2010 comparisons, but Detroit will stop the momentum with a big offensive explosion against Matt Cain in Game 3 (though Cabrera goes hitless with two walks). Scherzer pitches a great five innings in Game 4, but Leyland has to pull him early because of pitch counts (as usual). The Tiger bullpen redeems itself with four shutout innings and Detroit wins again. Verlander finishes the Giants off easily in Game 5 and wins series MVP unanimously.

Then, two weeks later, the entire Tiger team is implicated in Lance Armstrong’s blood-doping ring, and the WS title is retroactively awarded to the Yankees.

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