The San Francisco Giants are underdogs once again. Even though their opening day payroll was almost twice what Texas was paying (about $97 million for the Giants compared to $55 million for the Rangers), the scrappy, gritty, rag-tag bunch of castoff misfits aren’t getting any love in this series from the majority of national baseball writers or Las Vegas. Even though they hold the home field advantage and a far better bullpen than the Rangers, people check out the lineups side by side and not surprisingly, Texas looks like the better pick.
There are two other reasons why Texas is the more popular choice: they beat the Yankees convincingly and they’re the American League representative, which at this point is sort of like representing the NFC in the Super Bowl from the ’80’s until the late ’90’s. However, baseball has morphed into a pitcher’s game, and the National League not only had 15-20 outstanding rookies this season compared to one for the AL (the Rangers’ Neftali Feliz), they also had far better and deeper pitching staffs.
But none of that matters, this is all about the two teams that are left. And the Giants have some unanswered questions leading into Wednesday’s Game 1:
1. Who will start Game 1?
Tim Lincecum’s the assumed starter, but don’t be surprised if Matt Cain gets moved up. Lincecum pitched on Thursday, then on his “throw day” pitched to three Phillies hitters in the 8th inning on Saturday. Cain last pitched 7 shutout innings on Tuesday, and unless the Giants change course and decide to start Lincecum in Games 1, 4 and 7 against Texas, there’s no reason to have him start Games 1 and 5 instead of Games 2 and 6, especially since Lincecum’s best performances have come after extra rest.
2. Is Andres Torres going to be available?
He had to come out of Game 6 in Philadelphia after sliding head-first into first base. Nobody outside the Giants even knows if the injury is to his hip, his groin, or both. As the only regular starter who can hit leadoff without raising eyebrows, the Giants desperately need him back, since their only other option to hit at the top of the order looks to be Edgar Renteria, if Game 3 of the NLCS was any indication.
3. Will the roster be changed?
One would figure the Giants would stick with the group that went unchanged from the NLDS to the NLCS and was pretty successful. However, Games 3-5 will include the DH and while Madison Bumgarner has performed admirably, he has a tendency to get knocked around in his third time through a lineup. However, Bumgarner had an incredible outing as a reliever on Saturday. Could Bruce Bochy possibly be tempted to bring Barry Zito back to start Game 4, with Bumgarner ready to come to the rescue if any of the Giants starters falter early? The smart money is on the Giants keeping their roster the same, but don’t be shocked if Zito replaces Guillermo Mota.
4. Should the Giants worry about Bengie Molina?
Molina can’t run, he can’t catch pitches above his shoulders, but he has an encyclopedic knowledge of every hitter in the Major Leagues. He also knows Lincecum, Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Brian Wilson better than anyone, as well as Bruce Bochy’s tendencies. This isn’t about sign-stealing, because both teams have plenty of time to change things up. But for a guy like Lincecum who was tipping pitches in the middle of this season, having his favorite receiver on the other team could be a problem.
5. How are they going to pitch to Josh Hamilton?
The Yankees pretty much gave up on trying to get Hamilton out by the end of the ALCS, walking him 3 times in Game 6. And who could blame them, after he hit 4 homers and ended the series with a 1.536 OPS? His OPS during the 2010 regular season was 1.163 against right-handers. Do the Giants risk letting Brian Wilson face him in the 9th inning with a 1-run lead? Probably. Should they? Only if Wilson can continue staying off the plate outside.
6. Can the Giants keep this amazing pitching run going?
Opposing hitters have gone .199/.274/.297 against Giants pitching so far this postseason. The Rangers crushed Rays and Yankees pitching, and are much younger, faster and more powerful than the Phillies turned out to be. Something has to give.
7. Can the Giants hit Cliff Lee?
Actually, the better question might be, “Can the Giants hit anybody?” It’s not like these guys are raking right now, and Lee is threatening to become known as one of the best postseason pitchers of all time. He’s also in full-on contract drive mode right now, as he prepares to field $18M/yr+ offers from the Rangers and Yankees once the World Series is over. Will he be the guy who gave up 2 runs and struck out 34 over 24 innings in the playoffs so far, or the guy who went 1-4 in August with a 6.35 ERA and 1.43 WHIP?
8. Is Buster Posey’s arm ready to get tested?
The Rangers are the most aggressive baserunners in baseball. Elvis Andrus has stolen 7 bases in the playoffs, and overall the Rangers stole 15 bases in 17 attempts against the Rays and Yankees. Posey, after a regular season where he proved he has one of the better arms of any catcher in baseball (throwing out 37% of attempted base stealers), regressed a bit in the playoffs, allowing 7 of 8 base runners to steal safely.
9. Is anyone going to help Cody Ross on offense?
Ross hit 4 homers in the National League playoffs, the rest of the team had … 2. And while Giants pitchers struck out an amazing 102 batters in 10 games, Giants hitters struck out 99 times during that span. The Rangers don’t have the pitching depth of the Phillies or Braves, but besides Ross it seems like the entire team has a hard time hitting anybody. If the Giants are going to win their first World Series in San Francisco, they’re going to need to revert back to the homer-happy offense we saw in the second half of the regular season.
10. Who will the Giants use as their DH in Arlington?
At this point, the smart money’s on Pat Burrell, although the chance to have Pablo Sandoval in there against right-handed starters may be too tempting. No matter what, Burrell will be the DH at the end of games, but it will be interesting to see if Bochy stays with a defense-first philosophy. If he does, expect to see Nate Schierholtz in right field, or Travis Ishikawa at 1B with Aubrey Huff (whose hair was noticeably shorter in Game 6, and maybe-not-coincidentally had a key hit) moving back to the OF.
10 questions, and there are probably about 100 more. Same goes for the Rangers, who as mentioned before are going with a rookie closer who walked 5 in his first three postseason appearances and have to figure out what to do with Vladimir Guerrero in a NL park. The answers should start coming in a couple days. Can’t wait…