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Matchups that will define World Series

10/24/2012
San Francisco hitters will face Justin Verlander pitching out of the shadows today. Fun. Jamie Squire/Getty Images

SAN FRANCISCO -- The rays from the setting sun will be crawling up the hitter's eye as Game 1 of the World Series starts tonight. The shadows will make it even tougher for the Giants to hit Justin Verlander, the best pitcher on the planet, and could help Barry Zito.

The hitters vs. the shadows is one of the key matchups in this World Series. Here are others.

1. The Giants vs. their muddled rotation

The Giants had a lot of imperfect choices to consider as they lined up their rotation for the World Series. Ryan Vogelsong, their most effective pitcher right now, couldn't pitch in either of the first two games unless he was brought back on short rest, and Matt Cain -- whose stuff is flat -- is not available until Game 4. So the Giants decided to start Madison Bumgarner in Game 2, despite the fact that his mechanics have been a problem and he's allowed 15 hits, 10 earned runs and three homers this postseason. The Giants' staff believes that they've been able to pinpoint a mechanical issue with Bumgarner, and that in his side work, they've made his delivery more compact. That's their hope, anyway. And they like having Tim Lincecum coming out of the bullpen, a role in which Lincecum has thrived in the playoffs, perhaps because there is no mental preparation required; the phone rings and within 10 minutes, Lincecum is in the game.

So the Giants are scrambling. The Tigers, on the other hand, are all lined up and rested and ready to go, with Verlander, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer. On paper, it's seemingly a big advantage for Detroit.

The Giants set their rotation, writes Henry Schulman.

2. Jim Leyland vs. Detroit's bullpen options

The Tigers are within just four victories of the organization's first title in almost 30 years, and yet Leyland doesn't have an established closer. Does it matter? Phil Coke threw with tremendous confidence against the Yankees -- "He took it to another level," said catcher Alex Avila -- and presented a great matchup option because of New York's left-handed hitters, but the heart of the Giants' lineup comprises right-handed hitters Marco Scutaro, Buster Posey and Hunter Pence. Will Leyland stick with the hot hand in Coke? Will he look to match up Joaquin Benoit or Jose Valverde against right-handers?

I think Leyland will stick with Coke as the closer.

Speaking of Valverde...

3. Jose Valverde vs. his layoff

He's been in a Catch-22: He needs to rebuild his confidence, particularly in his splitter, so they sat him down -- but now, as the World Series begins, he will not have pitched in 11 days. In fact, he's only pitched three times in the past 23 days.

4. Barry Zito vs. the umpire's strike zone

His average fastball this year was a career-low 83.7 mph, the second-lowest velocity in the majors behind knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. However, by throwing a cutter more and keeping hitters guessing about which side of the plate he will work, Zito had his most effective season as a Giant. But with his diminished stuff, having a home plate umpire with a liberal interpretation of the strike zone is advantageous -- and maybe even pivotal -- and it just so happens that Gerry Davis is the home plate umpire tonight, with a reputation for having a relatively small strike zone. In games in which Zito has started with Davis behind home plate, the left-hander has issued 25 walks in 35 2/3 innings, with a 5.05 ERA. Not good.

5. Justin Verlander vs. Marco Scutaro

Verlander comes into this game throwing as well as he has at any point in his career, having allowed four earned runs in his past 45 1/3 innings, with 46 strikeouts, and he will be throwing in those shadows. Scutaro is one of the hottest hitters in the majors, with 14 hits in his past seven games -- and he's hitting everything. In his career, Scutaro is 5-for-23, with one walk and eight strikeouts against Verlander.

Teammates have teased Verlander about his All-Star Game start, writes John Niyo.

6. The Tigers' corner infielders vs. the Giants' small ball

The Detroit defense, which was the worst in the majors during the regular season, has not been a problem in the postseason. In fact, shortstop Jhonny Peralta has made some phenomenal plays. Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, the Tigers' corner infielders, really haven't been tested.

But they probably will be in this series, because Giants manager Bruce Bochy strongly believes in trying to manufacture runs, right from the outset. You will see him bunt and hit-and-run in the first innings, and this means that the defensive aptitude of Fielder and Cabrera could be challenged in a way it hasn't been up until now.

Bochy is San Francisco's best manager, writes Bruce Jenkins.

7. Buster Posey vs. his slump

The Giants' best hitter has only four hits in his past eight games, and some rival evaluators believe that is partly because opposing managers, pitchers and catchers basically have decided they will not let Posey beat them. He's not really getting anything good to hit. We'll see if the Tigers take a different approach -- but the guess here is that is unlikely.

8. Miguel Cabrera vs. fastballs down and in

The Athletics had a lot of success pitching to Cabrera by attacking him inside -- more specifically, low and inside -- and the Yankees did the same. But by the end of the Yankees' series, Cabrera had adjusted, in keeping with his reputation, and when CC Sabathia tried to pitch him inside in Game 4, he crushed a ball out of Wayne County.

I asked a couple of AL talent evaluators on email about how they see Cabrera reacting to the way he's being pitched in this series. Their responses:

Evaluator No. 1: "Miguel is such an intelligent hitter that he'll definitely adjust, the surprise effect is everything with him -- but he is thinking and aware, pitch by pitch. I think just making sure you change some component -- location, velocity or pitch type -- on a regular basis. He remembers how he is attacked so you have to keep mixing."

Evaluator No. 2: "Cabrera is SO good, about as good as anyone in baseball, at covering the width of the plate, at extending through the ball on the outer third of the zone, and at driving it to the opposite field, that in Yankee Stadium it certainly makes sense to pound him in to avoid that preposterously short porch. However, Cabrera is so good both physically and intellectually at the plate that he doesn't really have a true hole unless you've caught him anticipating a particular location and execute a pitch perfectly somewhere else.

"Despite his ability to stay through the ball on the outer half and drive it to the opposite field, he's still able to remain quick and short to the ball in, and he's so strong that even when he's just being reactionary to the ball inside he can pull the ball out of the yard. I think he's a guy whose swing you really need to read over the course of a couple of games, see what he's doing well and what half of the plate he seems focused on covering, and work elsewhere. That, or pitching in way that makes sense, like staying away from right field in Yankee Stadium, trying to essentially limit the damage should he center the ball. Otherwise, just staying away from where it seems like he's locked in -- if you limit him to a base at a time, that has to be considered a victory, doesn't it?"

9. Prince Fielder vs. the San Francisco left-handers and Bochy

Inevitably, there will be situations in the last three or four innings of games in which Bochy will call on lefties to face Fielder, who is actually pretty good against lefties. Against Jeremy Affeldt in his career, Fielder is 4-for-12 with two homers, and against Javier Lopez, he is 2-for-9 with a homer. Bochy has ordered an intentional walk three times against Fielder in the past, and that is always an option in this series.

10. Tigers vs. their layoff

The Tigers' experience in 2006 has become almost legendary: After closing out the ALCS, they had to wait almost a week to play, and then they came up flat in the World Series, making a series of defensive mistakes. But as Leyland noted Tuesday, in 2006 the weather in Detroit was awful during that layoff and that made it difficult for them to get their work in. That hasn't been the case in recent days; the weather in Detroit was really good, and the Tigers were able to get outside and hit and field and go through their regular preparation.

Again, it's the whole rust vs. rest thing, writes Larry Stone.

11. Tigers vs. NL rules

Because the two teams will play by NL rules in Games 1 and 2, Delmon Young will make his first start in the outfield tonight in 52 games, and AT&T Park, with its windy conditions, is not an easy place for outfielders. Young, who has played three games here in the past, said Tuesday that this would be his focus in batting practice, getting accustomed to the wind and the angles in the outfield.

The setting sun will not be a problem. By 5:15 local time -- or about the time that Young will play in the outfield -- the shadows will be covering left field entirely.

Andy Dirks will start in the other outfield spot.

12. The Giants vs. AL rules

San Francisco has some decent options for the DH, and the Giants' early plan is to use Hector Sanchez in that role after the series shifts to Detroit. During the season, Sanchez hit .280, with 18 extra-base hits in 227 at-bats.

Notables

• By the way: Verlander has never gotten a hit in the majors. Ever. And he actually has a decent swing. If his first hit happens in a World Series game, well, his teammates might just abandon the dugout, knowing the crowing that will take place.

Benjamin Hoffman has more on Verlander's ugly hitting history.

• The Giants start their games with a football ritual.

• It was not a matter of if Ozzie Guillen was going to get fired, it was a matter of when. Ozzie tweets that he leaves with his head really high.

By season's end, paranoia had set in with this situation. Ozzie told others that he thought some members of the organization were leaking information to damage him -- but what he really didn't acknowledge is that he was his own worst enemy, failing to establish communication with players and, more importantly, within the community. The Marlins had hired Guillen thinking that he was going to be a tremendous link to the locals, and for whatever reason -- the Fidel Castro remark, or maybe a lack of effort, or maybe something else -- that never happened.

Mike Redmond is one possibility. The Marlins are expected to re-hire coach Perry Hill, writes Joe Capozzi.

Guillen was fired, but owner Jeff Loria is the problem, writes Dave Hyde. Guillen's oversized ego was a problem, writes Phil Rogers.

Ozzie can come back when he grows up.

• The climate for managers has changed dramatically, and quickly, in part because of social media; here's a piece I did for ESPN The Magazine on Ozzie and Bobby Valentine in this age of social media.

• Valentine says that David Ortiz quit on the team. And he said that a reported incident with Will Middlebrooks never happened. There was just one problem with that. From Scott Lauber's story:

    ... Valentine said his backhanded comment to rookie third baseman Will Middlebrooks -- "Nice inning, kid," after a pair of misplays in the field -- never actually happened. Middlebrooks seconded that claim in a tweet last night.
    Here's the problem: It was Valentine who first volunteered the story during a radio interview in July.

John Farrell promised to make the Red Sox better.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Rangers' officials met, as they prepare for major change. From Jeff Wilson's story:

    ... [T]he Rangers appear to be leaning toward having infielder Jurickson Profar as a key part of the team in 2013.

    He wouldn't play 162 games, but 120 is a nice target. To find him at-bats could mean shifting Kinsler from second base to left field and relegating Cruz to duties at designated hitter.

    Michael Young and David Murphy would see their playing time squeezed, though Young and Mitch Moreland could continue to platoon at first base.

    Leonys Martin and Craig Gentry would seem destined for a platoon in center field.

I'll say this: No matter where Profar plays -- in the big leagues, in the minors -- he needs to play every day. Every day. He is a transcendent talent, like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, and you didn't see Harper and Trout on the bench this year.

2. Dejan Kovacevic is stunned that nobody has been fired by the Pirates' owner.

3. Ortiz continues to talk to the Red Sox about a multiyear deal.

4. Brian Cashman needs to confirm that Mariano Rivera wants to come back.

5. Troy Renck writes about Jason Giambi's chances of being the Colorado manager.

6. A former Arizona State coach is going to manage in Class AAA.

Other stuff

• The Cardinals are packing instead of playing. Bernie Miklasz wonders what happened with the Cardinals.

• Jhonny Peralta says he never worries about pressure.

• Kevin Towers has lived up to his reputation.

• Carlton Fisk was arrested.

• Wil Myers won another award.

• Bob Klapisch writes about Shannon Forde, a longtime Mets employee, and her battle with cancer.

And today will be better than yesterday.