After clinching the American League last Thursday, the Detroit Tigers finally get to find out who they’ll play in the 2012 World Series tonight. The San Francisco Giants have surprisingly pushed the St. Louis Cardinals to a Game 7 in the NLCS.
Meanwhile, back in Detroit, the Tigers are playing scrimmages at Comerica Park, trying to stay loose yet focused for Wednesday’s Game 1. Justin Verlander will take the ball against someone, somewhere.
Here are 7 things that I am focused on heading into the World Series.
- Game 1 starters: The Cardinals would probably throw Adam Wainwright if they advance. He is the same guy, then a closer, who threw the last pitch of the ’06 World Series to finish off Detroit. He has had an up and down year coming off of injury but is capable of pitching shutdown baseball. The Giants burned up the rock solid Ryan Vogelsong last night and ace Matt Cain will go tonight. That leaves them with either the suddenly struggling Madison Bumganer, who hasn’t pitched since Game 1 of the NLCS, the aging Barry Zito, or the erratic Tim Lincecum to oppose Verlander. Yes, please.
- Venue: The Tigers will either head back to the Bay and play Oakland’s neighbor, San Francisco, or stay in the Midwest to take on St. Louis. The Cardinals dismantled the Tigers back in ’06 in their own building. Detroit has some good vibes out west right now as they took the last game of the ALDS from the A’s in a hostile environment. Travel aside, I’d rather see the Tigers play in San Francisco. St. Louis has some crazy magic in that building, something Detroit would just assume avoid.
- Hitters Cooling Off: People are concerned that the long layoff might derail the Tigers’ playoff offense. I think this is a virtual non factor. The Tigers have averaged 4 runs/game in their 9 playoff games so far. They aren’t exactly tearing the cover off the ball. Jhonny Peralta (.343 avg.) probably stands to cool off the most, but hopefully not. Delmon Young (.294 avg., 8 RBI’s) would fall in line behind Peralta as a player to worry about losing his rhythm. Young has been streaky all year long though and remains a constant mystery.
- Pitchers Cooling Off: This is of much greater concern than the issue of hitters losing their timing. The starting 4 of Verlander, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez, and Max Scherzer have been dealing. Nobody should expect similar shutdown pitching across the board in the World Series but it still projects to be excellent. If the layoff turns their shiny finish into a thick layer of rust, not only will I be very surprised, but it would be the sort of storyline the media will be dying to latch onto as the reason why the Tigers failed. Detroit is doing what they can to stay sharp during the layoff and Verlander will set the tone in Game 1.
- The Lineup: While in enemy territory the Tigers will lose their DH slot in the order, which means one of the regular outfielders will sit so that Delmon can slide into left. The Cardinals will have all righty starters if they make it, which would result in no Avisail Garcia in the starting lineup. So it will be Quintin Berry who draws the shortest straw in an NL park in the St. Louis scenario. San Francisco has a few lefties that will start should they advance. The lineup will likely look like this on the road: 1. Jackson 2. Dirks 3. Cabrera 4. Fielder 5. Young 6. Peralta 7. Avila/Laird 8. Infante 9. Pitcher.
- Delmon in the Outfield: The worst part about playing in an NL park is that ol’ tippy-toes will be back in the wide open grass. The Giants play in a huge park and Delmon will be a major liability should Detroit have to play there. DY hasn’t played much outfield at all in the last 6 weeks as Jim Leyland has gone with a steady set of lineups that have had him exclusively at DH. He’ll need to grab his glove out of the locker and play better than we expect him to.
- The Pen: What has become perhaps the biggest postseason storyline in Detroit is the bullpen. The demise of Jose Valverde, which has masked the struggles of Joaquin Benoit, and the rise of Phil Coke have been all the buzz. Coke was perfect in the closer’s role against New York due in large part to the lefty-heavy lineup the Yanks featured. Remember this: Coke gave up a .396 batting average to right-handers during the regular season. Don’t think that Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Allen Craig, David Freese, Matt Holliday, and others haven’t taken note. Leyland is trying to get Papa Grande ready in case he is needed in the Series, and he will be needed. I saw an interesting piece on MLB Network this morning that broke down Valverde’s setup and delivery this year as compared to what he did in 2011. He is holding his glove much lower at the set than he did a year ago and isn’t using his front side to hide the baseball like he did before. If Mitch Williams of MLB Network can see this, let’s hope the Tigers can make a tweak or two of their own.
Hopefully the Tigers sweep the series and win every game by 5 runs or more, which would disprove any theory as to why the Tigers might fail. This surely won’t be the case and execution in a tight baseball game will certainly be at a premium.
Jim Leyland’s most important hours as Tigers manager rest immediately ahead of him, starting Wednesday evening.