In both ballparks, we will hear chants of “M-V-P!” when the right-handed cleanup batter comes up. Thus far, the postseasons of both Posey and Cabrera have reinforced the idea that superstars often see few pitches to hit in October. Cabrera leads the Tigers with four walks but clubbed the Game 4 home run against New York that effectively clinched the pennant. Neither has had a standout October to date. Can one of them carry his team in the World Series?
Vogelsong and Sanchez figure to start opposite one another in Game 3, which is significant for a couple reasons: Assuming Barry Zito and Tim Lincecum start the first two games for San Francisco, this will be the first game in which the Giants can argue they have the pitching edge. But don’t overlook Sanchez. He’s already having an excellent postseason — 1-1 with a 1.35 ERA — and a World Series win could help him challenge for the largest pitching contract of any free agent this winter.
Jhonny Peralta vs. The Layoff
Peralta could be the player most affected by the layoff, because he showed such energy through the first two rounds after an indifferent regular season. It barely registered amid the Alex Rodriguez frenzy, but Peralta’s deft denial of a possible run-scoring single for A-Rod in the first inning could have been the turning point of the entire series. Peralta’s defensive play improved almost overnight, and he batted .375 over his last eight postseason games — including two home runs in the ALCS clincher. Now the Tigers hope the streaky hitter finds a way to stay hot.
Jose Valverde vs. Phil Coke
Tigers manager Jim Leyland has been circumspect in answering questions about who will close for his team in the World Series, but here are the facts: Valverde surrendered leads in his last two playoff appearances and gave up another run in a Sunday intrasquad game. Coke has (temporarily) ascended to the closer’s role, with 7-1/3 shutout innings this postseason. Coke closed against the Yankees in part because their lineup was stacked with left-handed and switch hitters. But he’s also held righties to a .154 batting average in the postseason, suggesting he deserves a chance to pitch the ninth against the more right-handed Giants.
Madison Bumgarner vs. Tim Lincecum
One of the many key decisions Bruce Bochy must make: He needs a starter for Game 2, and Bumgarner and Lincecum are his only obvious options to go on regular rest. (He could opt for Ryan Vogelsong on short rest.) Lincecum has been better than the mercurial Bumgarner in this postseason, but both have struggled to regain the form they showed during their dominant run in 2010. Particularly if the Tigers win behind Verlander in Game 1, this will be a crucial game for San Francisco. (The bet here: Lincecum gets the call.)
Angel Pagan vs. The Righties
The Tigers will start a formidable rotation that happens to be entirely right-handed: Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer. The Giants just beat the Cardinals’ all-righty rotation in the NLCS, so it’s not as if this is something new to the San Francisco hitters, but the Detroit starters have better stuff than what they saw against St. Louis. Pagan, a switch-hitting leadoff man, needs to be a tone setter for the San Francisco lineup, after posting a solid .799 OPS against righties during the regular season.
Jim Leyland vs. NL Rules
Jim Leyland knows how to double switch. He has more wins than any active manager, and he earned more than 60 percent of them while working for National League franchises (Pirates, Marlins, Rockies). He’s already made one weighty decision, committing to (usual DH) Delmon Young in left field for Game 1. With a five-day layoff, the Tigers have had ample time to get their pitchers used to bunting again. But if recent history is any guide, it won’t be easy for the Tigers to win in San Francisco. AL teams are 3-9 in NL ballparks over the last four World Series.
Marco Scutaro vs. Delmon Young
Can either LCS MVP continue his run into the World Series, as David Freese did last year? Young — not Miguel Cabrera or Prince Fielder — has been the Tigers’ most dangerous hitter this month. Young’s eight RBI were the most of anyone in the AL playoffs, and he drove in the go-ahead run of all four ALCS wins over New York. Scutaro earned the ultimate measure of revenge after Matt Holliday’s excessive takeout slide, hitting an even .500 in the series while catalyzing the Giants on both sides of the ball.
The Lefties vs. Prince Fielder
Fielder, a career National Leaguer until this year, needs to do his damage against right-handed pitching early in games. He’s certain to see a steady diet of left-handers in the late innings, considering the Giants carried three southpaw relievers on their NLCS roster: Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez and Jose Mijares. Madison Bumgarner looms as another possibility if he doesn’t start. Fielder has a .558 OPS in this postseason, so perhaps he’s bound to break out anyway.
Barry Zito vs. Justin Verlander
Zito was left off the Giants’ postseason roster when they won it all in 2010. Now he should be their Game 1 starter — against the Best Pitcher on the Planet. Zito earned the assignment with a strong run to end the regular season (7-0 with a 3.92 ERA in 11 starts) and stirring Game 5 in St. Louis to avoid elimination. The good news for Zito: Detroit went only 26-25 against left-handed starters during the regular season. The bad news: Verlander is pitching for the other guys.