By Matt Spiegel-
(CBS) Game on, folks, it’s the fall classic. I know some of us are locked and loaded, but you might be distracted by something shiny in the corner of the room.
Baseball, my most beloved, is the only sport that loses momentum as the playoffs roll onward towards climax. It’s the unfortunate by-product of what may have become untenable season length, in the face of football’s relentless entertainment value.
Presented here are some items of interest, with special contextual relevance for the locals.
Former Cubs to admire/loathe/deride/enjoy:
San Francisco has three who’ve played a home game at Wrigley. Feel free to break out that Ryan Theriot shirsey if it’s not being used as a dog rag. The oxymoronic Angel Pagan has turned into an acceptable defensive CF with a 4.0 WAR. If the Giants end up looking to Xavier Nady in a big spot, it’s probably bad news. Tigers’ ball-kissing reliever Al Alburquerque was a Cubs farmhand, traded away straight up for Jeff Baker. I know, sorry I brought it up.
Former Sox to admire/loathe/deride/enjoy:
There’s just one. Tigers reliever Octavio Dotel is on his record setting 13th team, so he’s probably getting the “I know that dude” treatment in 11 other cities. He might even have to get outs of consequence in the revamped Tigers bullpen.
Lessons to be gleaned from the Giants’ presence here:
They again stand to debunk any sort of formula, or “secret sauce.” They hit the fewest home runs in MLB, becoming the 7th such team to reach the series. They do score runs though, 12th in the league, so that lack of HR reliance is refreshing. San Francisco is here on the strength of starting pitching, with several different guys who’ve gotten hot at various times. They survived Tim Lincecum’s worst season with a depth of arms to be admired, and withstood Brian Wilson’s injury with scrambling bullpen creativity.
Lessons to be gleaned from the Tigers’ presence here:
The tools necessary to win over 162 games are different than those demanded in the post-season. The White Sox were better for more than 120 days, but Detroit was built for this month, and it’s working perfectly. Justin Verlander might be the most purely “valuable” player in the game, and he has 3 teammates throwing strong and healthy. Those oafish, slow-footed hitters have produced just enough, and the sloppy defense hasn’t really manifested in the small sample. They’re another reminder of the possibilities when you just get into the tournament.
A Giant who deserves your attention and good wishes:
Barry Zito signed that huge contract in 2007, and immediately had his arm and skills erode. His Giants tenure has been really bad, and he was famously left off the post-season roster entirely when they won it in 2010. But 2012 was a mostly resurgent year, and he’s coming off the best high pressure start of his life in NLCS game 5. Along the way he never pouted, never quit, accepted whatever roles were presented, and has kept trying desperately to be effective. So interesting that this moment in his career yields a game 1 World Series start.
A Tiger who deserves your attention and good wishes:
Phil Coke is now a proven playoff closer. For two games last week, anyway. It’s been life as a LOOGY for that guy, until Jose Valverde’s implosion and a heavily LH Yankees lineup forced him into save situations. He delivered, and will get his chances again. Jim Leyland will probably go with matchups (which I love), but expect Buster Posey and others to see Coke in crucial moments. I also personally enjoy the way he talks about staying calm and effective.
“Ever since I was a little kid, the harder I tried the more I [stunk],” he said. “If I was able to keep my intensity and not try to do too much? You hear that a lot. People trying to do too much popping up or throwing a wild pitch or something because they’re trying to be too good instead of just letting it happen. When I allow myself to let it happen is when I seem to excel. And I’ve been that way ever since I was a little kid. So it’s been kind of a life lesson to me.”
Players that could annoy you enough to find yourself rooting for failure:
Delmon Young is a guy I comfortably root against. He’s thrown bats at umps, bumped another ump, drunkenly tossed epithets at an old man in the streets of New York, and is a deeply undisciplined underachiever. I’d be fine if he struck out every time, or fell down, or experienced shame in some delicious way.
Brian Wilson won’t even play, but his beard and dugout antics will invade your skull far more than they deserve. I still sometimes like his act, but it’s grown too self-conscious and ever-present.
Managerial decisions that could backfire in horrific fashion:
If Leyland decides to trust Valverde again, as is rumored, we’ll all throw things at the television. That man lost his mechanics in the midst of both of his epic failures the last two weeks, a sure sign that the moment is just too big for him. The Tigers would be far better served staying situational, and letting Coke, Joaquin Benoit, or Alburquerque finish.
Bruce Bochy has decided to stay with Madison Bumgarner instead of the hit-and-miss Lincecum for game 2, even though Bumgarner has been bad for a while. Also, Ryan Vogelsong will go in game 3, and Matt Cain in game 4. That means Vogelsong would get a game 7, when that could have been switched to enable 2 starts for Cain. Interesting, and I think probably wise.
Our media overlords:
MLB’s At Bat App will not let you watch the series on your phone or tablet, and MLB.TV won’t let you watch online. FOX pays too much to have you see it any other way. So, use your Slingbox if you’re not at home (cheap plug, but I couldn’t resist).
Joe Buck, Tim McCarver, and Ken Rosenthal are joined by Erin Andrews for her first world series; we’ll see if she goes demure or sexpot, and if she or Rosenthal add anything of consequence. A.J. Pierzynski will say little, with a smirk, as he joins Matt Vasgersian, Eric Karros and Harold Reynolds in studio before and after. You have to wonder if his former manager, the newly unemployed Ozzie Guillen, shows up.
From the FOX press release, there’s this bit of technical intrigue: “During FOX Sports’ coverage of the NLCS, one of the most-talked about elements of the broadcast was FOX’s “X-MO” Camera, capturing up to 3,000 frames per second. For the World Series, the network raises the bar again with the unveiling of “FOX PHANTOM CAM”, capable of capturing up to 20,000 frames per second.”
I’m in. Seeing a ball hit a bat in that super slo-mo might get old some time, but it hasn’t happened this month.
A blind stab, and a parting wish:
Max Scherzer has been better than Verlander since the All-Star break, with a better WHIP and ERA over a few less innings. His stuff, and nose, will impress. AND HE’S NOT GOING UNTIL GAME 4. The Tigers are far too loaded with healthy, high ceiling starters pitching very well right now.
I just can’t see how the Giants even got here, so that probably means they’ll continue to defy formulas and keep winning. My gut still says Detroit in 6.
But go Giants.
Listen to Matt Spiegel on 670 The Score weekdays from 9am–1pm CT on The McNeil & Spiegel Show and Sundays from 9am–Noon CT on Hit And Run.