Justin Verlander, the reigning AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner, is the best pitcher in baseball. On average, he throws his fastball at a higher speed in the eighth and ninth innings than he does in the early innings. He has a 0.74 ERA with 25 strikeouts in the postseason.
So given that he’s on proper rest, the Tigers ace should mow through the Giants in Game 1 of the World Series tonight in San Francisco.
Not so fast.
Ace pitchers don’t always dominate and there’s never a predictable script in the World Series. Check out the 2010 World Series when lefty Cliff Lee of the Rangers came into the World Series versus the Giants as the Verlander of 2010.
The light-hitting Giants pounded him. He gave up 14 hits in two games. He finished the series 0-2 with a 6.94 ERA.
The World Series is about unexpected heroes. Conventional wisdom means nothing in the Fall Classic. The Tigers, for example, won 88 games and didn’t play up to potential until the final two weeks of the season. They only won the American League Central because the White Sox lost 17 games in September.
Another example is the Atlanta Braves. They won 14 consecutive division titles and only one World Series, even though they had future Hall of Famers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz in their rotation.
Still, it’s difficult to believe that the Tigers aren’t going to win because they have their pitching lined up the way they want. An American League Championship Series sweep of the Yankees gave the Tigers six days off. So they got to set their rotation with Verlander, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer, who nearly won the AL strikeout title over Verlander.
Underachievers all season, the Tigers are now playing their best baseball.
The Giants needed seven games to win the NLCS, so their best pitchers - Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain - aren’t pitching until the third and fourth games. Cain, who pitched a perfect game during the regular season, will pitch once in the series. Vogelsong will go Game 3 and Game 7 if needed, crazy considering that Vogelsong was almost bumped from the postseason rotation because he didn’t pitch well in September.
The pitching question comes down to rust versus momentum.
The Tigers, trying to win their first World Series since 1984, have the rotation advantage, but the Giants are better in the bullpen. A bullpen question for Detroit: If Verlander throws 125 pitches through eight innings and the Tigers have a 2-0 lead, do they bring in slumping closer Jose Valverde to close out Game 1?
The Giants have a better infield and outfield defense. The Tigers’ infield defense, a sore spot all season, has made strides in the last few weeks.
The Tigers have the better offense, especially with Delmon Young, the ALCS Most Valuable Player who hit an inconsistent .267 during the regular season, supporting Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.
Young is not a good defensive player, but the Tigers are going to use him in left field in San Francisco to keep his bat in the lineup. Does Young finish a bad season by winning the MVPs in the LCS and World Series, a la David Freese a year ago?
The question for the Giants: Will Hunter Pence be a big enough threat behind catcher Buster Posey so that the Tigers have to pitch to Posey?
Can the Giants win a World Series with Zito and Madison Bumgarner pitching four of the games?
Zito pitched brilliantly in Game 5 of the National League Championship versus the Cardinals, but he also got defensive help from Pablo Sandoval, Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro and Hunter Pence.
Zito has to win Game 1. The Giants don’t want to go into Game 2 needing a win with a tired-arm pitcher, Bumgarner, trying to even the series. And that begs another question: Should Bumgarner or Tim Lincecum pitch Game 2?
Maybe the Giants need to be down 0-2. They were down 0-2 and won three games in Cincinnati to win the Division Series. They were down 3-1 to the Cardinals in the NLCS and surged back.
The Giants and the 1985 Kansas City Royals are the only teams that have won six elimination games in one postseason. The Royals beat Toronto and St. Louis in 1985.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t surprised how these guys survived,’’ Giants manager Bruce Bochy says.
Posey and Cabrera are leading candidates to win their league’s MVP. The last time the two potential MVPs played against each other in the World Series was in 1980, when the Phillies’ Mike Schmidt played against the Royals’ George Brett. Each wound up winning an MVP.
Conventional wisdom says one thing, the actual games say another. The Giants and Tigers have never played in the postseason and only 12 games in interleague play. It’s as close to a good old-fashioned World Series as there can be.