SAN FRANCISCO — Let’s state the obvious: Tigers ace Justin Verlander is head and shoulders above everyone else, and he’ll pitch Games 1 and 5 of the World Series. The Detroit rotation is rested and set up 1-4. The Giants used up their ace, Matt Cain, for Game 7 of the National League Championship Series and they’re starting Barry Zito in Game 1 Wednesday.
What can we conclude?
We can conclude that the Tigers are strong favorites to win the World Series. Except for one thing: They are playing the Giants, who so far have been one of those magical teams.
“That’s one of the things that’s impressed me the most about them,” said Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder. “They’ve been able to win elimination games. That’s pretty impressive.”
Even Giants manager Bruce Bochy has been surprised by his team’s resilience.
“What these guys have done to get to this point, they’ve gone against all odds in those two series against two nice ball clubs in Cincinnati and St. Louis,” said Bochy. “The fact they’ve done it time and time again and come back from being down and on the brink is just remarkable.”
The Tigers were the anti-Giants. They swept the Yankees. Fairly easily. They’ve been waiting around. They are rested. Some might say they’re rusty.
“Personally for me, I love the rest,” Fielder said. “I don’t mind resting. We had our workouts every day, so I feel we’ve stayed baseball-ready. This is the World Series, everyone is ready.”
You wonder whether all of these advantages and disadvantages amount to a hill of beans.
It’s the World Series. Ironically, the Giants have the home field because Melky Cabrera, their former center fielder, helped the National League win the All-Star Game with an MVP performance, but he is not with the team after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. And in that All-Star Game, Verlander had a terrible game as the starter for the American League.
“Do I wish it would have worked out a little bit better and we’d be home now? Absolutely,” said Verlander. “But it didn’t, and we’re here.”
Verlander said starting the All-Star Game almost felt like a bullpen appearance to him. He was trying to throw as hard as he could.
“You know, when I’m throwing 100 m.p.h. in the ninth inning, I’m trying to get people out, too,” he said. “It just so happened I wanted to do it in the first inning and it didn’t work out well. It wasn’t for lack of effort.”
Verlander throws 100, and his opponent in Game 1, Zito, throws 85 on a good night — which he had in Game 5 of the NLCS, when he pitched 7⅔ scoreless innings.
This seems like a mismatch on paper, but it seems as if the Giants like to spot the opposition a win or two anyway, then they wake up. Bochy will go with another lefty, Madison Bumgarner, in Game 2, then Ryan Vogelsong in Game 3 and Matt Cain in Game 4. Two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum will work out of the bullpen.
Bochy said there’s nothing to read into the double lefties, even though Bumgarner, whose second start in the NLCS was skipped, was chosen over Lincecum.
“It’s the way it’s fallen more than anything,” said Bochy. “We decided to go with Madison starting rather than Timmy. They’re two different style pitchers. I don’t have a problem righty-righty or lefty-lefty.”
Truth is, the Giants feel the Tigers may be more vulnerable against lefthanded starters.
Asked why he went with Vogelsong (who won twice in the NLCS) before Cain, Bochy said, “I like the way Vogelsong is throwing, too. He’s throwing it as well as anyone on the staff. If Vogelsong gets the last start, we’re fine with that.
“I didn’t think we needed to flip-flop the way Vogie is going.”
Zito has faced the Tigers 16 times in his career, with success — a 2.91 ERA and an 8-6 record — but he has faced them only twice with the Giants. Once was in 2011, and it was a good one; he beat them with six shutout innings on three days’ rest and managed to come back from a two-hour rain delay.
Marco Scutaro has seen Verlander the most from his American League days. He is 5 for 26 against Verlander but said, “I don’t care how many times you face him, he’s one of the best every time you face him. He may be the best.
“We have to go up to the plate and not try to do too much. That’s it.”
Scutaro is right; nobody really had has great success against Verlander (unless you count the bases-loaded triple Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval hit off him in the All-Star Game).
One strategic decision that could backfire on the Tigers is not setting Verlander up for Games 1, 4, and 7. Three times against Verlander would be pretty tough on the Giants.
“He told me he was pitching Game 1, so I said, ‘OK,’ ” kidded Tigers manager Jim Leyland. “Some people have asked whether he should pitch in the fourth game, but with his little bit of a tired arm he went through recently, we thought this was best.
“I feel comfortable with all my pitchers. Obviously I feel real comfortable with the one to my left.”
The Tigers will go with Doug Fister in Game 2, Anibal Sanchez in Game 3, and Max Scherzer in Game 4. It was a pretty devastating rotation against the Yankees, and now they’re fully rested against a Giants team that has gone the distance in two consecutive series.
“I think we’re ready to go,” Sanchez said. “Our rotation has been very effective since I got over here. We’ve done the job and I hope we can continue to do that.
“The Giants are a great team. I faced them a lot in the National League and they have hitters who come up with big hits at the right time. We have to be ready.”