World Series Preview (cont.)
5. Which team has the edge at the end of the game?
The Giants. Too many postseason games are lost by managers just trying to get the game to their closer. San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy has the same edge the Yankees and Red Sox enjoyed in past October runs: a closer who can get more than three outs. Brian Wilson led the majors with 10 saves in which he locked down more than three outs. Texas closer Neftali Feliz did it twice.
6. How important is Josh Hamilton in this series?
Not as important as Yankees manager Joe Girardi treated him in the ALCS. Girardi gave him the Barry Bonds treatment, intentionally walking him five times. The Giants will pitch to him. They will give him the Ryan Howard treatment -- giving him the majority of his at-bats against left-handers.
The only meaningful at-bats Hamilton will take off a right-hander in this series will be off Lincecum, Cain and Wilson. Otherwise, he will see left-handed starters Jonathan Sanchez and Bumgarner and left-handed relief specialists Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt, whose stuff sprang back to life in NLCS Game 6.
"To see the swings [the Phillies] took," Affeldt said, "and to see the ball jumped on them gave me a lot of confidence. My sinker was pretty sharp and late."
Why is this so important? Hamilton is the best player on the field in this series, a 245-pound beast who runs balls down in centerfield, scores from second base on grounders and hits 450-foot home runs. But he's just another guy against left-handers. Hamilton posted an OPS of 1.163 against right-handers, but his OPS against lefties is a more mortal .789.
7. The Giants have home-field advantage in this series, thanks to the game-winning hit by Brian McCann of the Braves in the All-Star Game. Isn't that a big deal?
No. This isn't football or basketball, where crowd noise can influence how a game is played. Home teams are 10-17 this postseason. The team with the home-field advantage is 4-3 in the past seven World Series.
But here's one place where it might matter: without the DH in San Francisco, Rangers manager Ron Washington is playing Guerrero in right field, where he has started just 18 games in the past two years. Guerrero is a liability in one of the most difficult and biggest right fields in the game. His throwing, often erratic, is wildly overrated. I would have played him in the less difficult left field -- hey, the Giants have made the World Series with Bonds and Pat Burrell out there.
You can't hide defensive liabilities. There is at least one key play waiting with Guerrero's name on it.
8. How many times will "small ball" be mentioned on the telecast?
It just might be a college drinking game. Expect more sacrifice bunts than home runs. The Giants put down more sacrifice bunts this year than anybody except the Dodgers and Padres. The Rangers dropped more sacrifice bunts than anybody in the American League.
Bochy channeled Gene Mauch in NLCS Game 6 when he bunted in the third inning trailing by two runs. It worked, too. The Giants wound up getting two runs that inning.
The Rangers are the best base-running team in baseball and that will pressure the San Francisco defenders and pitchers, especially Lincecum (27 steals allowed in 30 attempts). The Giants love to play hit-and-run on the first or second pitch of at-bats against strike-throwers such as Lee. Look for plenty of runners on motion.
Both managers understand the importance of scoring first, especially in a low run-scoring environment. The Giants love handing the first lead to their pitching staff; they are 68-21 when they score first (.764). The Rangers have made a habit of jumping out early this postseason -- eight times in 11 games. They are 6-2 in those games, and since Sept. 1 they are 5-0 when they score first for Lee.
9. Should the Giants be worried about their offense?
Yes. It's a blessing and curse, the way San Francisco scratches out wins. The Giants walk a razor-thin line when it comes to mustering enough offense. Their run differential after 10 postseason games is plus-1. Six of their seven wins have come by one run; the other was a 3-0 nail biter. There are only so many times you can win on a seeing-eye grounder.
The Giants are used to this baseball. They have scored 54 runs in their past 17 games, an average of just 3.2 per game. And yet they are 12-5 in that span. They have tremendous confidence and a strange comfort level in low-scoring games. That's great, but at some point they are going to have to score runs against Texas. San Francisco has received two home runs this postseason from what has become the supporting cast for Cody (Babe) Ross. What happens if Ross cools off?
10. Aren't we due for a slugfest or two in this series?
Have you been watching this season? The kind of baseball being played now is vastly different from the last time the Giants made the World Series -- and that was only eight years ago. The Giants and Angels scored 85 runs in seven games, an average of 12.14 runs per game in what would be the last World Series played without a performance-enhancing drug testing policy in baseball.
The average runs per game this postseason is 7.07, a 42 percent drop from the 2002 World Series and a 30 percent decline from all postseason games played that year.
Here's a rule of thumb to keep in mind watching this World Series: the first team to five runs wins; game over. In most cases the winning team won't need even that many. But if you applied that rule to the past 41 games the Giants have played since Aug. 29, it would have failed only twice. That is, in only two of their past 41 games did both the Giants and their opponent score five runs.
Giants fans call this kind of baseball "torture." For the rest of us, it makes for very competitive baseball in which every 90-foot advancement, not just every run, has real meaning.
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