SAN FRANCISCO – Belying their name, the Giants are the little team in this World Series. Everyone views them as the World Series participant with fewer big players, and less talent.
No one is picking them. Check out any prognostication page on this site or any other, and it's all Tigers all the time.
The Tigers swept the biggest, baddest
The scouts are the same way. They all see the Tigers' talent and love it. But they appreciate the Giants, too. “They are a nice club,'' one N.L. scout said when asked about their chances. “They've got a good baseball team. I wouldn't put it past ‘em.''
That's about the best you're going to get. But that isn't nothing. It means plenty. Don't put it past ‘em. Here are 11 reasons not to look past the Giants, with thoughts from National League scouts.
- Their offense is more dangerous than it looks. To a man scouts suggested the Giants were excellent with two outs and with runners in scoring position. But in reality, while it may seem that way, the key for the Giants is that they were the best in baseball at getting players into scoring position in the first place. They scored the most runs in baseball with runners in scoring position, not because they hit great on those occasions but because they got into those positions more than anyone else. The Giant s scored a best-in-baseball 586 runs with runners in scoring position during the regular season because they had a most-in-baseball 1,507 at-bats with runners in scoring position. “They got big hits all year,'' one scout said. “I got sick of looking at it.''
- Their team is better than you think. Let's not forget the Giants won 94 games in the regular season, six more than the Tigers. And they did it in the tougher division.
- Don't underestimate the power of Marco. “Marco Scutaro,'' one scout said, “is on another planet right now.'' Scutaro has become the inspirational sparkplug, gathering 14 hits in the NLCS (consider that the Yankees had only 22 total his in their LCS vs. Detroit), a series in which Matt Holliday took him out with a late slide. Scutaro had a record six mult-hit games out of seven, and there's only a one-game break before the World Series. The scout surmised, “I think it elevates the level of play and execution of the whole team.''
- They're on a roll. Until the game is played on a Stra-o-Matic board with only numbers that matter, that will count here. “They're certainly on an emotional high right now,'' one scout noted. Of course, momentum can be quickly halted by the next day's pitcher, and in the Tigers' case, that would be baseball's ace, Justin Verlander.
- Buster Posey is an underappreciated star. He's probably going to win the N.L. MVP, so that'll show some appreciation. But no one – not even the Triple-Crown-winning Miguel Cabrera – had a higher on-base percentage or OPS than Posey in the second half (.456 and 1.102 were his otherworldly numbers after the break). The Cardinals employed an excellent strategy of avoidance in the NLCS. But there are signs he may be ready to break out. One scout observed, “He was getting much better swings in the last couple of games.''
- Barry Zito wasn't just lucky, as some figured. The Giants have won 13 straight games with Zito starting, including his masterful Game 5 performance that turned the tide of the NLCS. “I really was proud of him,'' one scout said. “He still had the guts to pitch inside. He put his (bleep) on the line.'' That scout still thought the Cardinals hurt themselves by being “cranked up for the fastball'' so there's still a degree of skepticism about Zito. But there's undoubtedly a much better feeling about him in San Francisco. “They gave him that contract for moments like that,'' the scout said “and he finally delivered one.''
- Ryan Vogelcong is still an unsung player. The scouts noted that he seemed to have lost his zip at the end of the regular season. “His arm angle was dropping down, and his pitches were flat,'' one scout said. But he has regained his form in the playoffs, locating his fastball to the point the former reclamation project who had to go to Japan has been their best pitcher.
- Manager Bruce Bochy is one of the best around, even if he usually isn't mentioned with the best. This is Bochy's third trip to the World Series, tied with Tigers counterpart Jim Leyland for most among current managers, and he got there with three very good but less than overwhelming teams. The thing that stands out about this one is winning six straight elimination games in the playoffs. “He's so great at not letting his team get down,'' one scout said.
- Like a lot of parts of their game, the bullpen is a bit better than it looks on paper. They don't have closer Brian Wilson (except as a very weird cheerleader) and its overall numbers are less than overmmingly (the pen ranked 15th in baseball), but Sergio Romo, Jeremy Affeldt and Santiago Casilla are doing the job. “Even though they don't have a closer, they're able to play matchup,'' one scout observed. “Romo doesn't have the dominant stuff of a closer but he gets people to chase with his slider,'' another scout said. That scout did add, “To me the one concern is the back end of their bullpen.'' One extra thing to keep in mind is that one of Bochy's greatest strengths is his bullpen usage.
- They don't beat themselves. “They are very good up the middle,'' one scout said. Shortstop Brandon Crawford is worthy of a Gold Glove, center fielder Angel Pagan is quite proficient in center field, Posey is a very good catcher with a tough and eccentric staff (though Tim Lincecum obviously prefers Hector Sanchez) and, of course, second baseman Scutaro can do no wrong at the moment.
- AT&T Park doesn't hurt, either. They get four games there, which in this case is fair since coincidentally it was Giants ace Matt Cain who beat Verlander in the All-Star Game that decided home-field advantage, and that's a nice thing, especially with their fans and city all juiced up from the exciting finish to the NLCS. San Francicsco is a quirky, big park that provides a real home-field edge for its inhabitants (though the Giants' 48-33 home record was only slightly better than their road mark and their postseason record has actually been slightly better on the road lately). “It's a little like Fenway or Yankee Stadium when the crowd gets into it,'' one scout said. One difference: it's very difficult to come back as quickly. “If you score a run or two early it's like three or four runs,'' that scout said. “You can't count on a home run to come back.''