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The pitch(ers): How Tigers and Giants match up

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POSTED October 23, 2012 9:33 p.m.


 

Starting Pitchers:

Tigers: It all begins with the best pitcher in baseball, Justin Verlander. The reigning AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner has a chance to turn this postseason into his personal showcase after going 3-0 with a 0.74 ERA and 25 strikeouts over 24 1-3 innings in three playoff starts. The hard-throwing right-hander is rested and ready to go in Game 1. But he's not the only quality arm in a rotation that's on a roll. Anibal Sanchez, acquired from Miami in the same July trade that netted Infante, and Doug Fister were inconsistent during the season. Both, however, have hit their stride in October. Max Scherzer had 231 strikeouts this year, second in the majors to Verlander's 239. He was slowed by a shoulder problem in late September, but went 1-0 with a 0.82 ERA and 18 strikeouts over 11 innings in two playoff starts. In fact, Tigers starters are 4-1 with a 1.02 ERA this postseason after the entire staff held the Yankees to six runs in the ALCS.

Giants: Pitching carried San Francisco to its World Series title two years ago and the deep rotation is still a consummate strength. Matt Cain anchored the group this season, going 16-5 with a 2.79 ERA and 193 strikeouts in 219 1-3 innings. He threw the franchise's first perfecto, started and won the All-Star game, and pitched a pair of series clinchers in the playoffs. After a heavy workload all year and a Game 7 victory in the NLCS, he's likely lined up to pitch Games 3 and 7 of the World Series. Zany left-hander Barry Zito, a $126 million bust for much of his time with the Giants, gets the ball in the opener after his Game 5 gem at St. Louis saved the season. Missing the dominant stuff he once had in Oakland, Zito revived his career by winning 15 games this year and pitched particularly well down the stretch. The Giants have won his past 13 starts. Longtime journeyman Ryan Vogelsong has blossomed into an All-Star in San Francisco and he went 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA in three playoff starts. Vogelsong won't be fully rested until the series gets to Detroit, so the question for the Giants is whether to start Tim Lincecum or lefty Madison Bumgarner in Game 2. Lincecum, a two-time Cy Young Award winner and 2010 postseason star, fell to 10-15 with a 5.18 ERA this year. He pitched well in relief during the playoffs, then was shaky in his lone NLCS start. Bumgarner has struggled mightily in October after going 16-11 with a 3.37 ERA during the regular season. San Francisco limited the Cardinals to one run over the final three games of the NL championship series.

Edge: Even.

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Bullpen:

Tigers: While the starters have been rock-solid, this is an area of concern. Excitable closer Jose Valverde was perfect on save opportunities last season, but vulnerable at times this year — and it only got worse in the postseason. He blew a pair of ninth-inning leads during the playoffs, including a four-run cushion in the ALCS opener at Yankee Stadium before sitting out the rest of the series. Detroit manager Jim Leyland said Valverde will be on the World Series roster, but it was unclear what his role might be. Setup man Joaquin Benoit has been shaky at times, too. Phil Coke, usually a left-handed specialist, saved two games against the Yankees and tossed 7 1-3 scoreless innings in the playoffs. The stellar performance of Detroit's dominant starters has often masked the uncertainty in the bullpen, but that's no sure bet to continue.

Giants: After losing All-Star closer Brian Wilson to a season-ending injury in April, the Giants have pieced things together nicely. Santiago Casilla held down the job for a while before Sergio Romo took over. He has a win, a save and a 1.17 ERA in seven postseason games. Javier Lopez is lights-out against left-handed hitters and Jeremy Affeldt has pitched 8 1-3 shutout innings this postseason. Perhaps the best chip the Giants have is three left-handed relievers to use against Fielder in the late innings. Affeldt, Lopez and Jose Mijares could even be joined by Bumgarner, too, if he's relegated to the bullpen.

Edge: Giants.

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Bench:

Tigers: Newcomers such as Berry and Garcia bring energy, speed and strong defense off the bench — as long as they're not overwhelmed by the moment. They might be too green to feel the pressure anyway. Laird is reliable and gets regular playing time against left-handers. Dirks would be a nice option in a pinch-hitting role. There's no legitimate thumper if the Tigers end up looking for a long ball — unless they add Brennan Boesch to the roster. He was left off during the first two rounds. Leyland always seems to trust his bench players, which could come in handy when pitchers bat in the NL ballpark.

Giants: Huff and Xavier Nady offer experience and power if called upon for a crucial at-bat. Huff from the left side, Nady from the right. Neither has received steady at-bats lately, though, and it might be difficult to stay sharp. They were a combined 1 for 13 during the playoffs. Arias often replaces Sandoval at third base for late-inning defense. Theriot is a veteran and occasionally a pesky out. Sanchez could be tabbed to catch Zito or Lincecum. There's not much speed on the bench.

Edge: Tigers.

 

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