THE RANGERS HAVE THE BEST PLAYER AND PITCHER IN THIS SURPRISING MATCHUP, BUT THIS SERIES IS STILL GOING SEVEN
Two weeks ago the Yankees and the Phillies, the AL leader and the NL runner-up in runs scored this season, seemed assured of staging the first World Series rematch in 32 years. What we have instead is a Series between two teams whose strength is run prevention, thanks to strong rotations, deep bullpens and excellent defensive range. During the season the Giants and the Rangers were the top two teams at turning balls in play into outs. That skill drove Texas's ALCS upset: By holding New York to a .244 batting average on balls in play, the Rangers' D starved the Yankees of hits, limiting them to 19 runs in six games. In the NLCS, San Francisco beat the Phillies with power pitching, striking out one of every four batters and allowing just 20 runs in six games.
Both teams will enter the World Series with their rotations lined up the way they want them, with a Game 1—and likely Game 5—matchup of aces Cliff Lee and Tim Lincecum. After that, both teams go to high-variance starters such as the Rangers' C.J. Wilson and the Giants' Jonathan Sanchez, two talented lefties with occasional command problems. As we saw in the LCSs, when both the Rangers and the Giants won games in which their starters failed to go five innings, both teams can call upon bullpens that are full of pitchers who can miss bats, anchored by power closers Neftali Feliz (Texas) and Brian Wilson (San Francisco).
Despite the annual fall call for small ball, the way to beat good starting pitching in October is to get many runs on few swings. The Rangers have 40 extra-base hits and a .478 slugging percentage in 11 postseason games. The Giants' overall numbers are poor (.231 batting average, .626 OPS, 30 runs scored in 10 postseason games), but their wins have come thanks to lightning strikes by NLCS MVP Cody Ross (three home runs) and Juan Uribe (the series-clinching blast in Game 6) and key hits by Buster Posey. Neither team walks much, so look for the offense to keep coming in short bursts.
The Giants' biggest edge may be in the dugout, where Bruce Bochy has been very aggressive in managing his pitching staff and lineup. He hasn't always had the right answers, but his use of southpaw reliever Javier Lopez to shut down the Phillies' lefty bats was a key element in the NLCS. Contrast that with Ron Washington, who let one ALCS game get away and nearly lost another due to his refusal to use Feliz in the eighth inning.
The Rangers have a stronger offense and defense, as well as the best player (centerfielder Josh Hamilton) and best pitcher (Lee) in the Series. Their lineup isn't quite as exploitable as the Phillies' was, and while speed is an overrated element, the Rangers have a massive edge there. It all adds up to the end of the drought in Texas. Rangers in seven
ROBERT BECK (ROSS)
POWER COUPLE NLCS hero Ross (top) gives the Giants some pop, while likely AL MVP Hamilton (bottom) is the best player in the Series.
CHUCK SOLOMON (HAMILTON)
[See caption above]