One of the many things I love about this San Francisco-Texas World Series matchup is that I don’t have to defend my original prediction that the Phillies would sweep the Yankees. As good as the Phillies’ starting pitching was, and as amazing as Jayson Werth and Ryan Madson have been over the past three postseasons while flying somewhat under the radar, that strikeout-prone offense wasn’t built to destroy teams like the Giants and Rangers, who have comparable pitching talent.
With that out of the way, my first thought in trying to solve this World Series is that it feels like a trap.
Texas has slightly better starting pitching. As great as Tim Lincecum is, he’s no Cliff Lee, at least in October. CJ Wilson matches up well with Matt Cain. Regardless of the order in which Bruce Bochy pitches Madison Bumgarner and Jonathan Sanchez, the Giants will be at a slight disadvantage against Colby Lewis and a slight advantage against Tommy Hunter or Derek Holland.
Texas has a slightly better offense. Josh Hamilton is the best hitter in this series (and probably the best player, though a case could be made for Buster Posey). He’s protected in the order by Vlad Guerrero and Nelson Cruz, slightly more offensive talent than Posey’s Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell. The Rangers’ advantage in Weighted On Base Average (.333, 8th in baseball to .318, 18th) is neutralized to some extent by the Giants’ late-season pickups. The October Giants, with Posey and Burrell and Cody Ross will certainly hit a little more than the April Giants, with Bengie Molina and Aaron Rowand and Nate Schierholtz. Still, the Rangers pack a little more punch one through nine than the Giants.
On the surface, the Giants have the better bullpen (their 3.41 Fielding Independent ERA was 3rd in baseball, to Texas’s 14th-place 3.99), but three of the six relievers the Giants are likely to use in this series- Javier Lopez, Jeremy Affeldt, and Ramon Ramirez- were chewed up and spit out in the American League. After crumbling in game one, the Rangers’ relievers weren’t tested much in the ALCS, winning four blowouts and losing one. Still, Neftali Felix, Alexi Ogando, and the two Darrens (Oliver and O’Day) are no more than one run in a seven-game series worse than Brian Wilson, Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo, and the three AL dropouts.
The Giants had better fielding numbers this season, including a 2nd-best-in-baseball 56.4 Ultimate Zone Rating, to Texas’s 9th-best 18.1. Much of the Giants’ defensive success, however, is due to the early-season outfield of Andres Torres, Rowand, and Schierholtz. Pat Burrell’s bat will keep the Giants from employing that defense, which leaves a good-but-not-great product on the field. The Rangers are solid up the middle with Molina, Kinsler, Andrus, and Hamilton or Borbon, and not too shabby in the outfield either.
The most important factor in the Rangers’ favor, of course, is the competition they’ve played all year, and in particular, over the last two weeks. Smiting the AL East’s top two teams is a taller order than beating the best of the NL East. While the Giants were impressive in matching arms with Philadelphia and scraping together just enough runs to win, but the Rangers obliterated the defending champs, outscoring them 33-14 after the game one meltdown. I have little doubt that the Rangers are the best team left in the playoffs.
Why, then, is this a trap? Because I would have said the same thing about the 2006 Tigers, who beat better teams all year than the Cardinals, and about the 2008 Rays, who beat better teams than the Phillies. In both cases, the National League team took an early lead and never looked back, winning the series in five games. The talent gap between the ’06 Tigers and Cardinals was bigger than the gap between this year’s Rangers and Giants. The same may be true of the Rays and Phillies. While it’s hard to imagine these near-dynasty Phillies having been much weaker than the Rays, their Hamels-Myers-Moyer-Blanton rotation wasn’t exactly Halladay-Oswalt-Hamels.
I’m inclined to believe the Giants were about as good as the Braves and not as good as the Phillies, and that the same combination of sound managing, good luck, players peaking at the right time, and some intangible will to win that helped them hold off the Padres, knock off the Braves, and upset the Phillies might just guide them past the Rangers. On the other hand, the better team has the best postseason pitcher in the game going in game one, and we’ve seen how much game one matters in recent years (last year aside). That’s enough to lead me to:
Texas in six