A little over a week ago it seemed very likely that the World Series was destined to be a rematch between the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies. Neither got past their respective opponent, however, and as such this World Series features some mostly fresh faces. The Texas Rangers, making their first ever World Series appearance and obviously seeking their first ever title, and the San Francisco Giants, making their first World Series apperance since 2002 and seeking their first title since moving to San Francisco over fifty years ago.
The Rangers have one of the top offenses in baseball, while being supported by a starting rotation that is underrated outside of ace Cliff Lee. The bullpen outside of closer Neftali Feliz has been somewhat shaky, but it is definately not overworked. Josh Hamilton pummeled Yankee pitching, and Nelson Cruz and Vladimir Guerrero also provided key hits when Texas needed them the most to advance to the World Series
The Giants, on the other hand, have one of the best pitching one-two punches in baseball with Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner are also very capable and the Giants bullpen is among the best in baseball, proving as much by shutting out the Phillies offense in the decisive Game 6 of the NLCS. The offense isn’t as potent as Texas’ but it does have some pop. Cody Ross went off on Phillies pitching, earning the NLCS MVP in the process, but Juan Uribe, Aubrey Huff, and Buster Posey are all capable of getting big hits for the Giants as well.
Home field advantage, given to the Giants following the NL’s long overdue win in the All-Star Game, has not been much of an advantage in these playoffs so far. Home teams went 4-11 in the ALDS and NLDS combined, and in the two Championship Series, home teams went 6-6. That’s ten home wins altogether, though the Rangers and Giants combine for five of those wins.
Home field advantage always takes a unique spin in the World Series as the DH rule will only apply in Games 3-5 when the games are played in Texas, the AL team’s ballpark, while the other four games are going to be played in San Francisco’s home park which follow the NL’s no-DH rules. The immediate impact of this concerns Texas’ designated hitter, Vladimir Guerrero. Texas has already stated that Guerrero will start in the outfield in one of the first two games in San Francisco, leaving Guerrero as a pinch-hitter possibility in the other game, so it will be interesting to see how Texas’ offense – and their defense with Guerrero in the outfield – will be affected in these first two games as well as Games 6 and 7 should the series go that far.
Offense, however, should be on the backburner in this World Series in favor of the pitching matchups we may see. Game 1 will likely feature a matchup between Cliff Lee, who continued his playoff dominance against the Yankees with two stellar efforts, and Tim Lincecum who has been strikeout crazy this postseason though still not as dominant as one may expect. Admittedly, the pitching matchups between Lincecum and Philly’s Roy Halladay did not pan out as expected and the same may even be true for Lee vs Lincecum, but it is still a matchup to look forward too.
Matt Cain has been very dominant for the Giants as well and may be San Francisco’s key to success. In the ALCS/NLCS preview I noted that Texas’ pitching outside of Cliff Lee is somewhat underrated, as both C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis are both very capable starters, and that is still true going into this World Series. How well San Francisco’s Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner perform may be the difference but there’s a very good chance that, should the series go seven games, both teams may employ Lee and Lincecum a total of three times.
This will be a series that should be defined by strong pitching with a few pops of the bat here and there. Unlike in the previous two playoff rounds I do think home field advantage will work in San Francisco’s favor, and even if Cliff Lee dominates them like he has every other opponent, I think the Giants fare well enough to win the World Series in six games.