The San Francisco Giants stomped their way into the World Series last night, with a 9-0 drubbing of the choking Cardinals. They face the Tigers, who have been waiting for almost a week after shutting down the Yankees in the ALCS, and happen to have the most talented players on both sides of the ball in the sport. The Series (the only series that earns a capital ‘S’) should be exciting, and whichever team wins, we should not have trouble believing they are the best team in Major League Baseball.
But baseball is a game that takes a long time, in every aspect, so it is interesting to see how both teams got to become the champions of their respective league. It is rarely an accident because it isnt easy to win enough games over 162 to earn a playoff spot, which is usually decided in each division by only a few games. You are dealing with a game that by nature is not easy to come out of a winner from; an average 9-inning game will normally see 10-14 hits out of 60-70 plate appearances. We all know baseball is a game of failure, which makes succeeding at the right time very difficult to nearly impossible. It takes a great effort, especially in a knockout format, to put it all together and move on.
Baseball playoffs are sort of frightening in format. You go from a 162 game season to a 20 game season, at the maximum. Of course, the philosophy changes from protecting pitchers and keeping players on schedule to a more ‘all systems go’ attitude. But schedule is what keeps teams winning in the regular season, and it is what keeps teams in the postseason.
So let’s see what the Giants and Tigers did right to get to the World Series
The Giants beat out the Dodgers for the division in the last week of the season, the league-best Reds in the NLDS, and the defending champion Cardinals in the NLCS. Their season to this point came to a crescendo in the 9th inning of the 9-0 Game 7 last night, with the rain teaming down on everyone in attendance, and all of them too happy to care. It was the Giants’ sixth elimination game this postseason; they have played as many games with their backs against the wall as not. That shows a lot about a team’s will to win, and it is something that has followed them through this season and beyond.
The Giants won the World Series in 2010 after sneaking into the playoffs on the final day of the season, on the strength of their pitching. The story is the same this time around, except the team had to deal with the crushing feeling of not winning last year. They brought that feeling with them into this year, as well as a new left fielder in Melky Cabrera. The impact that Melky made on this season should never be overlooked.
Melky set the baseball world ablaze, hitting .346 though half the season before being busted for performance-enhancing drugs and suspended 50 games. Melky was the MVP of the All-Star Game, where, along with Pablo Sandoval, gave the Giants the advantage to open this Series at home, a place that has been very magical for the last three games. Rarely does the team whose players decide the All-Star Game make it to the World Series, and more rarely does said team elect to leave that player off the postseason roster. That is what the Giants are doing, and they have a ton of reasons for it:
-The obvious reason is for PR purposes. Who wants a known steroid user standing as a lasting image of their second of two championships in San Francisco? They don’t need the negative headlines.
-A very plausible and more importantly, logical reason is that Melky was hitting like he was because of the drugs he was using. What if he is just another scrub when he’s off the stuff, like he was at times in his career? That risk isn’t worth it to some.
-The actual reason they gave: they are happy with what they have. The loss of Melky became the acquisition of Hunter Pence, the outfielder whose multi-hit double opened the flood gates in Game 7. They have a group of guys who have got them through the toughest part of the baseball season, from August-October, and they are glad to stick with them.
This could backfire, and the true weakness of the Giants’ offense, aside from likely NL MVP Buster Posey (this is a very important piece of the puzzle that I nearly omitted. Sorry Buster), could come through against a very legitimate pitching staff from Detroit, but that has been the issue all along, really. The Giants’ have ridden their pitchers’ backs to this point. Matt Cain, Ryan Vogelsong, Madison Bumgarner, Barry Zito, and a Tim Lincecum who is a far cry from the 2010 Timmy-Jim have pitched their hearts out on the wings of hashtags. This is the what the Giants have built toward for a long time…pitching, pitching, pitching. It wins games. They just hope it can win four more.
The American League representatives, the Detroit Tigers, have been working toward this a lot longer than the Giants have. In 2005, the Tigers called Justin Verlander up to the major league club for two games, and since the following year, he has been the best pitcher in baseball. Each year is more dominant than the last, with Verlander earning both the MVP and Cy Young Awards last season. He had one average year in 2008, but despite an 11-17 record, he has still won almost twice as many games as he has lost. He is the leader of this Tigers team. This year though, he isn’t the most talented player on the team.
That title goes to Miguel Cabrera, who won the first batter’s Triple Crown in Major League Baseball since 1967. Cabrera was a Marlin until 2008, where he was the superb young player making too much money for Florida’s liking. He was traded to Detroit along with the big contract of Dontrelle Willis for a bunch of prospects who never panned out, aside from Cameron Maybin. Cabrera signed a big deal with the Tigers, and has since been one of the best hitters in baseball.
He leads a team of players acquired over the past 5 years; players like Austin Jackson, who along with starter Max Scherzer and reliever Phil Coke was acquired in a trade that sent Curtis Granderson to the Yankees, and Delmon Young, who came over from the rival Twins and turned into the ALCS MVP. This is a team that has been trying, failing, and trying harder to win it all. They now enter the 2012 World Series with one of the most talented teams in MLB, have a chance to get what they’ve been longing for since the last Tigers’ title in 1984.
We’re dealing with two teams with 247 years of history; the Giants won the second-ever World Series, and the Tigers lost three of the first six, but they have never played each other before in the Fall Classic. Two iconic teams bringing the ghosts of the Polo Grounds, Seals Stadium, Candlestick Park and Tiger Stadium with them on a quest to become the 2012 champions of baseball. The teams are primed for greatness, and we can all witness the greatness ourselves in big beautiful HD. Game 1 is on FOX tomorrow night, Wednesday Oct 24, at 5PM local time, 8PM ET.