Looking ahead to the World Series

With the World Series set to start tomorrow in San Francisco, a lot has been said about what went wrong and why the heavily favored Philadelphia Phillies won’t be attending their third straight World Series. Even on the American League side, the New York Yankees looked to be about evenly matched against the pesky Rangers of Texas, but who would have thought that the defending champions would be held to a feeble line of .201/.300/.370?

A quick scan over the numbers can easily tell us what went wrong for those expected to advance, along with what went right for baseball’s final two teams.

Rangers vs. Yankees:

Looking at the Rangers, an exceptional start from Cliff Lee, coupled with two very good pitching performances by Colby Lewis, carried the pitching side of things. Ron Washington’s decision to pull C.J. Wilson in Game One after Derek Jeter doubled off his 104th pitch certainly helped the Texas manager get off to a good start. Looking at how Wilson pitched before getting the hook, it’s obvious that the pitcher should have rethought his pitch selection rather than throwing Jeter an off-speed pitch over the inside part of the plate. One can understand Washington desire to get his bridge, in the form of Darren Oliver, in there before unleashing Neftali Feliz, but with two switch-hitters in Nick Swisher and Mark Teixiera due up and with Wilson still in command (Wilson did easily dispatch of both Swish and Tex in three previous at-bats), Oliver could have been saved for a better situation – but that’s my two cents.

On the Yankees side, manager Joe Girardi has been criticized for issuing eight intentional walks that seemed to backfire in crucial situations. In their series against Minnesota, the Yankees did benefit from timely hits – but suffered the same lack of offense that plagued them during their final 30 games of the regular season, where the team hit .250/.341/.390.

On the pitching end, Cliff Lee did turn in a postseason performance in Game Three that surpassed his Game Six clincher against Tampa Bay in the Divisional Series. Titles, however, depend on the collective and with Colby Lewis taking up his part and C.J. Wilson being robbed of a Game One victory, one would have to say this unit was an overall success. Even Derek Holland made a case for being considered as a possible Game Four starter.

Looking at the Yankees on the mound, C.C. Sabathia never got over the pesky control problems that bothered him during his ALDS start, struggling to keep his sinker down and not trusting his change-up. Phil Hughes was discussed in a previous article and, although he did better staying away from the middle of the plate in his Game Six start, his hanging curve over the middle part of the plate did him and the Yankees in, as the Rangers were able to compile 63 hits over 50 innings.

Giants vs. Phillies:

Even though this series went to six games – with an eastern juggernaut favored to win on the promise of having the three best starters in baseball combined with a lethal offensive attack – it couldn’t have played out more differently.

Offensively, both teams struggled a bit. After the Phillies ended the final 30 days of their season hitting .285/.367/.451, could we have honestly predicted that they would hit .216/.314/.321 over the span of six LCS games? Of course, anything is possible – but probably not. Even the Giants had trouble sustaining an offense suitable for a World Series contender, hitting only .244/.301/.353. After Phillies’ pitchers learned that Cody Ross likes fastballs knee high and inside, the long ball was absent from the Giants arsenal until Juan Uribe’s two out clincher in Game Six.

Of course, Giant lefties like Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez were able to do their job, shutting down (for the most part) the Phillies heart of the order – even after Charlie Manuel decided to confuse Bruce Bochy in Game Two and place Placido Polanco in the number three spot to break up his left-handed tandem. This did work in a few spots and effectively helped the Phillies pull ahead in Game Two for a victory.

With the exception of Jonathan Sanchez (who many were probably picking to be a possible ace during this series), the Giants rotation was very effective, and with closer Brian Wilson avoiding the free pass (despite pitching with three balls and no strikes on a few occasions) a quick recipe was made for the Giants victory – although it wasn’t very pretty.

Rangers vs Giants:

Looking forward, it will be interesting if the Rangers keep up their offense.

With the exception of Jorge Cantu and Jeff Francoeur, the Rangers worked up a batting line of .304/.378/.512 against the Yankees, with nine home runs, and seemed comfortable in just about every at-bat. How Washington decides to set his roster for the first few games in San Francisco will be important. With Lee on the mound in Game One, he could find himself choosing offense over defense and taking a chance with Vladimir Guerrero in right field. Washington did recently state that he was thinking of putting Vlad in the outfield during one of the first few games and this would be one of the better spots.

The Rangers haven’t decided on a Game Two pitcher. It’s probable this will fall upon C.J. Wilson, but if Colby Lewis gets the nod, having a better defense sans Guerrero will be beneficial, since Colby has been known to toss a few more fly balls (44.9 percent last season) than the ground ball friendly Wilson.

On the Giants’ side, it will be interesting to see how Cody Ross is handled. After making Tim McCarver look like a genius (it’s always nauseating when that happens) after warning about the location of Ross’ first home run in Game One (inside knee high), Ross got two more pitches in the same location and both times he was able to go over the left field fence.

Through the duration of the series, Ross saw four more pitches near that spot – two were fouled off while the other two were driven to left field for doubles. What was most telling was how ineffective Ross became against sliders, curves and well placed change-ups. It will serve the Rangers best to probably avoid any inside fastballs to any Giant hitters named Cody Ross.

One possible advantage for the Giants beyond their pitching staff?

As a viewer, keep an eye on how the Giants work the Rangers’ bullpen. One advantage the Yankees had in their previous series was their ability to make opposing pitchers throw strikes. In 16 innings pitched, the Texas bullpen issued 12 walks. Unfortunately for those who rooted for the pinstripers, nothing was capitalized upon beyond Game One. If Giants hitters approach the later innings with some patience, interesting things could happen.

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Comments

  1. Chris said...

    Good analysis but I think you need to mention how aggressive the Rangers will be on the basepaths.  It’s a relatively small sample but Posey was successful in throwing out 23 of 39 baseruners but the Phillies were able to grab 7 stolen bases in the NLCS.

    To be fair to Posey, the Giants pitching staff (esp. Sanchez and Lincecum) are notorious for not holding runners well.  I would think this would be an advantage for the Rangers to possibly expose.

  2. JeffA said...

    Good summaries, but I think you’re being a bit dismissive by saying the Giants pitching versus the Rangers is just “one possible advantage.” It’s going to be huge, and the determining factor. Everyone knew they were very good, but no one expected them to thoroughly outpitch Halladay/Oswalt/Hamels, and yet that’s just what they did, shutting down a much more potent offense than the Phillies’ pitchers did. If the Giant’s “lights out” pitching continues as it has, this’ll be over in 5 (allowing for another Sanchez debacle).

  3. Vince Caramela said...

    @ JeffA, actually I didn’t exactly specify how big the advantage would be for the Giants pitching staff… based on #4 starters I’m giving the Giants a +1 overall.

    Instead I was adding as another “possible advantage” for the SFG the high BB rate coming from the Rangers bullpen. But good point about the Giants shutting down the Phillies offense – it will be interesting to see how this translates against the Rangers.

    Thanks, Chris and Jeff.

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