Prince Fielder has been a perfect fit for the Tigers this season, hitting behind Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera. He's not only given Cabrera the best possible protection he could have asked for, but he's raked for himself, as well. Fielder hit a career-best .313 during the regular season, though he's struggled a bit in the playoffs. Fielder cranked 30 homers and knocked in 108 RBIs during the regular season. Meanwhile, Brandon Belt has been solid for the Giants in the postseason, and he hit .304 in the NLCS, with a long homer in Game 7. He's been very good defensively, too.
No one is hotter during these playoffs than Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro, who hit .500 in 28 at-bats in the NLCS and won the series MVP. In fact, he's been a force since he came over from Colorado midseason. In 61 games for San Francisco, Scutaro is hitting .362 with 44 RBIs. The Tigers also feature a second baseman who was a vital addition through trade during the season. Omar Infante already has 10 postseason hits. He batted .274 during the season, spending the first half in Miami and the second with the Tigers.
Yes, Pablo Sandoval is one of the best options at third base in all of baseball. Yes, the Panda was named to his second All-Star team this year and hit .283 with 12 homers during the regular season even while battling injury problems in the first half. Yes, he hit .310 with a pair of homers in the NLCS. But it's no contest at third base. Detroit's Cabrera posted one of the best seasons in recent memory, winning the first Triple Crown since 1967. He hit .330, slugged .606 and blasted 44 homers. In the playoffs, he's hitting .278 with a hit in every game of the Tigers' ALCS sweep of the Yankees, including a two-run homer in the clincher.
Jhonny Peralta has not only been one of the best defenders for the Tigers this postseason -- he's been one of their best performers overall. Peralta hit .294 in the ALDS before a .389 mark in the ALCS against the Yankees that included two home runs. He also made a pair of sparkling defensive plays early in Game 1 of that series to keep Detroit in the game. No one has been better defensively in the second half of the season than the Giants' Brandon Crawford. He doesn't have the flashiest offensive numbers, but Crawford can be a good situational hitter for a San Francisco team that seems full of them this season.
Left field figures to be an interesting situation for Detroit, which will use ALCS MVP Delmon Young there in games played in NL parks. He started just 29 games there during the regular season. For games played in Detroit, Andy Dirks and Quintin Berry will likely share time as they did in the ALCS, and both were very impressive. For San Francisco, it's Gregor Blanco, who took over for Melky Cabrera after his suspension and has been a solid option, though he has struggled thus far at the dish in the postseason, hitting just .212 (but four of his seven hits have gone for extra bases). With Young in left for possibly four games, the defensive edge clearly goes to the Giants, but overall, it's the Tigers on top in left field.
Austin Jackson is no longer a star on the rise. By now, he's just a flat-out star for the Tigers. Jackson his .300 this season, while leading the league in triples for a second consecutive year and playing superb defense in a spacious Comerica Park. He hit .353 in the Tigers' ALCS sweep with a homer in Game 4, though he'd like to cut down on his strikeouts. San Francisco's Angel Pagan also led his league in triples this season, with 15 of them. He hit .288 during the regular season, and though his bat hasn't really woken up yet in the playoffs, he has made several
sparkling plays at crucial moments on the defensive side of the ball.
Hunter Pence has been an emotional leader for the Giants during their remarkable pennant-winning run, but he hasn't exactly crushed the ball, hitting just .188 in the postseason. Still, Pence had two hits in a decisive Game 7 and appears to be piecing together better at-bats. For Detroit, it'll probably be another platoon situation between Dirks, Berry and rookie Avisail Garcia. The three of them have combined to hit .282 with five RBIs this postseason, and all three came up with crucial hits in the ALCS against the Yankees.
Justin Verlander is putting up one of the best postseason performances in baseball history, as the leader of a Tigers starting staff that has been lights out in combining for a 1.02 ERA in nine playoff games. Doug Fister gets the ball in Game 2, Anibal Sanchez starts in Game 3 and Max Scherzer, who has been dominant despite having to recover from injury on the fly, will start Game 4. Meanwhile, Ryan Vogelsong has been great for the Giants, while ace Matt Cain picked up the win in a pair of winner-take-all games. Bruce Bochy has three solid options in Barry Zito, coming off a gem, Madison Bumgarner and Tim Lincecum to fill two slots. The deciding factor between these two clubs may be that the Tigers get to set their rotation because of an LCS sweep, while the Giants must adjust to only one day of rest.
If there's been a weakness in these playoffs for the Tigers, it's been the 'pen. Meanwhile, Giants relievers have combined for a 2.63 ERA in 41 innings during these playoffs, with a 2-0 record. Sergio Romo has been a force at the end of games, while Jeremy Affeldt and Santiago Casilla have been among the most valuable Giants late in tight games. For Detroit, there are still question marks surrounding Jose Valverde, who blew two saves in the first two rounds. Phil Coke did a stellar job finishing games against the Yankees and Octavio Dotel, Drew Smyly and Al Alburquerque have yet to allow a run in these playoffs. But the Giants are deeper and have fewer question marks surrounding their bullpen.
The Giants' bench has offered mixed results through the first two rounds of the playoffs, with Ryan Theriot and Joaquin Arias combining to hit .385, while Aubrey Huff and Xavier Nady have contributed just one hit in 12 at-bats. Meanwhile, Jim Leyland worked his bench to perfection in the Tigers' beatdown of the Yankees, always one step ahead of Joe Girardi in terms of matchups. Dirks, Garcia and Berry will likely all be coming off the pine at separate times during the series and Laird could provide some thump, too.