|Miguel Cabrera's Tigers will take on the never-say-die Giants in the World Series. (Getty Images)|
At long last, the final chapter begins.
Will Jim Leyland become just the third manager ever to win a World Series in each league? Will Bruce Bochy notch his second ring? Will the Giants hoist the trophy for the second time in three seasons? Will the Tigers win it for the fifth time in franchise history? Are the MVPs from each league about to match baseball wits and skills?
Questions abound. Let us get to answering them by determining which team -- the Detroit Tigers or the San Francisco Giants -- has the edge in every facet of the World Series...
Catcher: Alex Avila/Gerald Laird vs. Buster Posey
Posey is probably the odds-on favorite to win NL-MVP honors, and that's with good reason: he's a catcher who hits like an All-Star first baseman. Stated a more specific way, Posey mans the most demanding position on the diamond, and he's coming off a regular season in which he led the majors in OPS+. Avila's no slouch -- and is one of the smartest players in baseball -- but he can't compare to Posey. Expect to see Gerald Laird in the lineup against left-handers.
First base: Prince Fielder vs. Brandon Belt
Belt is an underrated hitter because of the park in which he plays his home games, and he's certainly a better fielder and base-runner than his Detroit counterpart. However, Fielder is a rich source of power and on-base skills -- one of the best in baseball, in fact -- and his edge with the bat is more than enough to overwhelm all other considerations.
Second base: Omar Infante vs. Marco Scutaro
While Scutaro has been the better player in the postseason and since each was traded to his current team, consider the body of work. Each has a career OPS+ in the 90s, and each is solid base-runner without being much a base-stealing threat. As we all, each is capable if unspectacular with the glove. Giants fans are going to be unduly enamored of Scutaro because of recent events, but the (much) larger data sample suggests a rough equivalence.
Shortstop: Jhonny Peralta vs. Brandon Crawford
Neither impresses at the plate (although Peralta has had his moments in past seasons), but it's Crawford's exceptional glove-work that earns him the nod. He's on the short-list of top defensive shortstops in the game today, and while he can't hit, that's a serious point of distinction. What also might help him is that the lefty-swinging Crawford will face nothing but right-handed starters in the World Series.
Third base: Miguel Cabrera vs. Pablo Sandoval
Sandoval has his merits at the plate, but there's no comparison here. Cabrera, as you may have heard, became the first hitter in 45 years to win the triple crown. Neither is aesthetically pleasing with the glove, but Cabrera, if nothing else, seemed particularly focused in the field during the ALCS. The bat, though, is what makes Cabrera the easy choice.
Left Field: Delmon Young or Andy Dirks/Quintin Berry vs. Gregor Blanco
Young will be playing the field when the Series is in San Francisco and thus DH-less. Recent trends suggest that Dirks will be in right when he isn't in left (i.e., he's going to be in the lineup regardless of platoon considerations). When Dirks is in left, the Tigers have a clear edge, but when Young is manning the position the advantage shifts to Blanco and the Giants, in large part because of defense. However, what minimizes that edge is that the Giants are the least fly-ball-inclined offense in all of baseball. Throw in Detroit's swing-and-miss rotation, and that makes for an effective "harm-reduction plan" when Young is planted in left. Overall, give a slight edge to the Tigers.
Center field: Austin Jackson vs. Angel Pagan
Jackson is one of the best defensive center fielders around, and he's coming off an exceptional season at the plate (.300/.377/.479). Pagan's solid at all phases, but Jackson is the better player in all phases.
Right field: Andy Dirks/Avisail Garcia vs. Hunter Pence
At home against right-handers, you'll likely see Dirks in right and Berry in left. Garcia, meanwhile, should see duty in right in the event that the Giants start a lefty in Detroit. That's a nice mix of platoon-advantaged bats, and it's that roster flexibility that gives the Tigers' arrangement the narrow edge over Pence.
Designated hitter: Delmon Young vs. Aubrey Huff
Huff figures to get the nod in Games 3, 4 and 5 since they'll be facing a right-handed starter in every game. Or the Giants could instead put Hector Sanchez behind the plate and install Posey at DH. In either case, it's the extra lineup spot we're comparing. Young isn't a particularly good hitter unless he's facing lefties, but he's better than what the Giants figure to be able to muster up. Slight edge.
Starting rotation: Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez vs. Barry Zito, Tim Lincecum/Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong
The Tigers, who will enter the Fall Classic on six-days' rest, have advantage of being able to slot their rotation as they wish. That almost certainly means Verlander, Fister, Sanchez, Scherzer, Verlander, Fister, Sanchez. The Giants, meantime, have just a single day off, and they have far less certainty in the rotation. Because the NLCS went the full seven games, they'll likely go: Zito, Bumgarner/Lincecum, Cain, Vogelsong, Zito, Bumgarner/Lincecum, Cain. They'll have the option of starting Vogelsong on short rest in Game 2, so that's something to keep in mind.
Regardless of whom they trot out, the Tigers get the nod. All four right-handers will make their first starts on extra rest, and all four are on a roll. As well, the Giants this season were slightly less effective against right-handed pitching than they were against lefties.
Relief pitching: Jose Valverde, Phil Coke, etc. vs. Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez, etc.
While the Tigers don't really have a closer, the Giants have a number of them. They're two deep against lefties, and Romo, Santiago Casilla and George Kontos are all varying degrees of dominant from the right side. This is a pen with remarkable depth, which places it in stark contrast with Detroit's. Jim Leyland can't blunt that edge just a bit if he gives some high-leverage innings to Al Alburquerque, who's simply better than Valverde right now.
This is a clear edge for the Giants. You can eyeball the team -- Crawford at short, the range-y outfield, Belt anchoring first -- and perceive that they're better than Detroit. The numbers agree: during the regular season, the Giants converted 69.3% of balls in play into outs, while the Tigers converted just 67.8% of such chances. Lest it strike you otherwise, that's a pretty substantial difference.
As you can see above, we've got a nice mix of strengths, weaknesses and counterbalances on both sides. While predicting a short series in a sport like baseball, which has so much built-in parity, is a bit of a fool's errand, try we must: Detroit in seven. That's a function of the Tigers' manifest superiority in the rotation.