- Jim Bowden, ESPN Insider
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With the World Series upon us, the 50 players showcased on baseball grandest stage will have varied roles, boasting an assortment of strengths as well as exposing some weaknesses. The Detroit Tigers' lineup is fearsome, as are their top three starting pitchers. But the San Francisco Giants match up well, and if the length of their series in the first two rounds is any indication, this could go down to the wire.
Let's take a look at those 50 players and rank them according to their potential impact on the series and importance to their respective teams. (Note: At time of publication, official rosters had not been announced.)
1. Justin Verlander, RHP, DET: Verlander has the best overall stuff of any pitcher in the major leagues, and he is finally dominating the postseason in the same fashion as he does the regular season. He's the Tigers’ key to winning the World Series.
2. Miguel Cabrera, 3B, DET: He will win the AL MVP this November after becoming the first AL Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.
3. Buster Posey, C, SF: He will win the NL MVP this November, and despite a poor NLCS, I look for him to rebound in the World Series.
4. Matt Cain, RHP, SF: It was just two years ago that he ran the table in the postseason, leading the Giants to a World Series title. I expect him to repeat what he just did in Game 7 of the NLCS and help give the Giants their second title in three years. He’s a true ace.
5. Prince Fielder 1B, DET: Owner Mike Illitch took a lot of grief from his peers over the nine-year pact he gave Fielder, but that signing has Illitch just four wins away from a world championship.
6. Max Scherzer RHP, DET: He and Verlander had the highest K/9 ratio of any tandem in baseball this season. As future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones once told me, power pitchers win in the postseason. The Tigers have the two best in this series.
7. Austin Jackson CF, DET: The best defensive outfielder in this series, Jackson runs down fly balls in the gaps better than anyone in this World Series. His ability to get on base will offer RBI opportunities for Cabrera and Fielder.
8. Pablo Sandoval 3B, SF: “Kung Fu Panda” is the heart, soul and energy of the Giants’ lineup. He's locked in at the plate right now with consistent sweet spot contact. Don't be surprised if he's the next one to deposit a home run in the left-field cove at AT&T Park.
9. Ryan Vogelsong RHP, SF: Who would have thought that Vogelsong would be the best Giants starting pitcher in the postseason, ahead of Cain, Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner? Vogelsong possesses a 92-93 mph fastball with pinpoint control on the black and changes eye levels.
10. Doug Fister RHP, DET: Fister pounds the lower part of the zone with a nasty sinker and is one of those players who loves center stage. I expect another good series from him.
11. Marco Scutaro 2B, SF: He led all NLCS players in on-base percentage and is a true table-setter. His defense has been matching his offense, and he sets the tone for this resilient ballclub.
12. Sergio Romo RHP, SF: He has one of the best sliders in baseball, and his ability to put away Jay Bruce in the NLDS might have been the at-bat that truly put him in the category of an impact closer. Bruce Bochy now has the confidence to use him in the biggest games to close against left-handed hitters as well as right-handed hitters.
13. Barry Zito, LHP, SF: How does Zito land ahead of Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner on this list? His 15 regular-season wins and his dominant Game 5 performance against St. Louis in the NLCS give him the edge. However, my instincts say his 84 mph fastball is at risk of being exposed by the Tigers. Stay tuned.
15. Delmon Young, LF/DH, DET: Young entered the postseason with little free-agent value and completely changed that with his second consecutive strong postseason, earning this year's ALCS MVP. He would be higher on the list if he were to play strictly DH, but he will have to play left field in possibly four games of this series.
16. Santiago Casilla, RHR, SF: Casilla had once been the closer, and he also shared the role, and now he has found a home in the eighth inning. Expect some critical relief outings for him in this series, especially against Cabrera and Young.
17. Tim Lincecum, RHP, SF: It will be interesting to see if Bochy uses him to start or relieve. He was really effective out of the bullpen, but then gave a mediocre start at best. He's now working exclusively from the stretch, which has somewhat cleaned up his delivery. He's throwing mostly 91-92 mph, but with inconsistent command in the zone.
20. Javier Lopez, LHR, SF: Lopez is one of the best situational left-handed relievers in the sport and his matchups against Fielder and Avila in this series will be interesting to watch.
21. Madison Bumgarner, LHP, SF: What in the world has happened to Bumgarner this postseason? In his last two outings he's thrown 91 mph in the first inning and then 87 mph in the second. His arm slot is down, the ball is coming out on the side, everything is flat, and he looks fatigued. However, with extra rest, I still think he can rebound. If he gets another shot at starting, he might even have a dominating performance left in him unless, of course, he's hurt and not telling anyone.
22. Angel Pagan, CF, SF: Another one of Brian Sabean's excellent under-the-radar trades. Pagan has stayed focused all year and done a great job of covering ground even when he takes an occasional bad route to a ball. He's done a solid job in the leadoff spot ahead of Scutaro and brought good passion to the team.
23. Hunter Pence, RF, SF: How do you drive in 100 runs and end up 23rd on this list? But that's how he's looked this postseason. His timing is off and his at-bats have been inconsistent. Will he break out in the World Series? I doubt it while facing Verlander, Scherzer, Fister and Sanchez.
24. Joaquin Benoit, RHR, DET: He's been one of the best eighth inning relievers in baseball the last few years. The question should that be past tense?
25. Jhonny Peralta, SS, DET: He makes the routine plays at shortstop, including when the game is on the line.
26. Octavio Dotel, RHR, DET: He was an important middle reliever for the Cardinals in last year's World Series, and with Valverde falling off the face of the Earth, he'll be even more important this World Series.
27. Brandon Crawford, SS, SF: He's one of the best defensive shortstops in this postseason. He possesses above-average range to both sides with a gun for an arm and he reads the ball off the bat as good as anyone in the game. The bat is the reason why he's down on the list.
28. Gregor Blanco, LF, SF: He's a fourth or fifth outfielder playing regularly because of Melky Cabrera’s absence. However, his speed on the bases and range in the outfield has been a plus for the Giants. He's also a great character guy.
29. Brandon Belt 1B, SF: Belt is trying to make adjustments on the fastball inside on the black, where clubs love to pound him. He's cheating some to get to it, but that's making him vulnerable to the outside pitch, although on Monday he crushed a Jason Motte 98 mph fastball in the same vicinity. His defense at first base is above average.
30. Omar Infante, 2B, DET: He instantly helped solidify the Tigers’ weakest position on the field after coming over from the Marlins in the Anibal Sanchez deal.
31. Jeremy Affeldt, LHR, SF: Affeldt is used mostly in the sixth and seventh innings, and can get both right- and left-hand hitters out.
32. Hector Sanchez, C, SF: You will see him start only if Lincecum gets a start. He's solid behind the plate and can drive a key run in the other way.
33. Avisail Garcia, RF, DET: In a couple of years, Garcia will skyrocket up this list, but his time is not now.
34. Andy Dirks, RF, DET: He'll get most of the playing time in right field over Garcia this World Series, but Garcia could see action if the Giants throw lefties Bumgarner or Zito at them. Regardless, Dirks is a gamer.
35. Al Alburquerque, RHR, DET: There should be specific spots against the Giants where Alburquerque can come in and get that much-needed ground ball.
36. Quintin Berry, LF, DET: His speed is an important element coming off the bench or playing left field for the Tigers.
37. Ryan Theriot, INF, SF: Theriot is a team player and possesses tremendous makeup. He can help the Giants win games in so many different ways off the bench.
38. Joaquin Arias, INF, SF: He's an above-average defender at second base, shortstop and third base, and could become valuable if there is an injury.
39. Drew Smyly, LHP, DET: Has a chance to develop into a 12- to 15-game winner but will have a limited role in this World Series.
40. George Kontos, RHP, SF: Picked up in the Chris Stewart deal with the New York Yankees, the Northwestern product played an important role of giving the Giants quality bullpen depth in the second half.
41. Rick Porcello, RHP, DET: This could be his final season as a Tiger and is a candidate to be traded this winter.
42. Jose Valverde, RHR, DET: He's gone from a top 10 player to 42nd on this list. Oh how life can change quickly for closers in Major League Baseball.
43. Gerald Laird, C, DET: Has done a great job against left-handed starters and could see time if the Giants run out Bumgarner or Zito.
44. Brennan Boesch OF DET: Has great power from the left side and stock just collapsed. Great guy.
45. Ramon Santiago, INF, DET: The switch hitter could be called upon to pinch hit or as a defensive replacement, but not much more.
46. Jose Mijares LHR, SF: The third left:hander out of the bullpen picked up from the Royals during the season. He'll be the first left out of the bullpen if needed early in the game only.
47. Xavier Nady OF, SF: Veteran bat with power from right side.
48. Aubrey Huff 1B, SF: Veteran bat with power from left side.
49. Guillermo Mota, RHR, SF: No longer taking cough medicine.
50. Danny Worth, INF, DET: He might get an at-bat or two during the series. However, if he's not on this list, Brayan Villarreal will be. The hard-throwing right-hander struck out 66 in 54.2 innings pitched. He's got future closer written all over him.