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Giants carry air of confidence into Series matchup

Giants carry air of confidence into Series matchup

Giants carry air of confidence into Series matchup
SAN FRANCISCO -- A National League club in existence since 1883 and an American League club that first opened its doors in 1901. They've never met in the World Series.

Evidently, they were due.

But how they got here is a study in contrasts.

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The Giants essentially ran away with the NL West but had to fight through a seven-game League Championship Series to reach the Fall Classic. The Tigers needed a late-September surge to capture the AL Central, but their four-game sweep of the Yankees in the LCS round was as convincing an outcome as you'll see on this postseason stage.

So now we have an object in motion vs. an object at rest. When the World Series begins at 8 p.m. ET Wednesday on FOX in San Francisco, the Giants will be riding high off another incredible effort in elimination games, while the Tigers will be coming off a couple scrimmages against Minor Leaguers.

World Series

"I just know it's different when you're taking BP every day than when you're playing NLCS games down to the last game," Giants lefty Barry Zito said. "Our nerves are at the height of how they can be right now. But don't sleep on these guys. They're an incredible team. They played very well against New York. We're not taking anything for granted at this point."

Three other World Series have featured a club coming off a sweep facing a club coming off a seven-game LCS, and all three went to less-rested club. The Giants will seek to become the fourth, and they'll also look to do something they've yet to do in either postseason round thus far: take a series lead before it gets to a winner-take-all.

A sweep and seven
For just the fourth time since the LCS became a best-of-seven series in 1985, the World Series features one team which had an LCS sweep and one which was extended to a seven-game LCS.
Year ALCS winner NLCS winner World Series winner
2012 Tigers 4, Yankees 0 Giants 4, Cardinals 3 TBD
2007 Red Sox 4, Indians 3 Rockies 4, D-backs 0 Red Sox
2006 Tigers 4, A's 0 Cardinals 4, Mets 3 Cardinals
1988 A's 4, Red Sox 0 Dodgers 4, Mets 3 Dodgers

We've seen no shortage of fight and fortitude from this Giants team, which became just the second team in history (the LCS rounds went to a best-of-seven format in 1985) to win three straight elimination games in consecutive postseason rounds. The 1985 World Series champion Royals were the first.

Maybe the Giants will tempt fate and fall behind again in this best-of-seven. Or maybe, now that they've dispatched the defending champs back to St. Louis, they'll ride that momentum into this matchup.

"We're grateful," said outfielder Hunter Pence, "that we've moved on to the next challenge."

How do the Giants match up? Perhaps not as well as they would have if they had Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong available on regular rest for Games 1 and 2. The cost of going the distance is having to scramble a bit with your arms assemblage. Zito is the expected Game 1 starter, and the Giants will have to decide whether to start Vogelsong on three days' rest or trust Tim Lincecum or Madison Bumgarner in Game 2.

"We'll talk about how we're going to work this rotation," manager Bruce Bochy said after the NLCS clincher. "Right now, I can't answer that."

The Tigers have Justin Verlander rested up for Game 1 and can follow with their prescribed formula: Doug Fister in Game 2, Anibal Sanchez in Game 3, Max Scherzer in Game 4. Together, they've combined for a 1.02 ERA in nine postseason games. And in the LCS round, they strung together a nearly flawless 0.66 mark (two earned runs in 27 1/3 innings) -- the second-lowest ERA ever by a starting rotation in a best-of-seven set.

For the Giants, the starting work simply hasn't been as sturdy. In 14 postseason games, the Giants' starters have posted a 3.87 ERA. And opening such a crucial series with the back end of your rotation, rather than the front, is obviously not ideal.

But the Giants have gotten sturdy work out of their bullpen throughout this postseason, and that goes a long way in this setting. In those 14 games, Giants relievers have amassed a 2.51 ERA. What they lack in a go-to closer they make up for in having a closer-by-committee system that actually works. Right-handers Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla and left-handers Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez create matchup problems for the opposition in the late innings.

The Tigers, on the other hand, have some instability in the ninth, given closer Jose Valverde's struggles in September and October. Manager Jim Leyland will have to continue to navigate his way through those concerns, perhaps continuing to ride a hot hand in Phil Coke. But on the whole, the Tigers' 3.92 relief ERA thus far this October has marred an otherwise solid run to the World Series.

Where the Tigers are most notoriously vulnerable is on the defensive end, but this didn't really show up in the Division Series or LCS rounds. It helped that the Tigers faced an A's team with a high strikeout rate and a Yankees team that struggled to put the ball in play.

The Giants pose a challenge to the Tigers in that regard. They had the fourth-lowest strikeout rate (17.7 percent) in the Majors this season, and they ranked sixth in the game in ground-ball rate (46.5 percent). More balls in play could expose the Tigers' shakiness with the infield glovework.

San Francisco simply outplayed the Cardinals defensively in the NLCS, and that was a big reason why the Giants were able to advance. It could be another advantage in the final round.

Where the Giants simply can't match the Tigers is in offensive starpower in the middle of the order, particularly with Buster Posey struggling to get the ball out of the infield. Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are unmatched as a one-two combo, and Bochy might have to get aggressive in his use of his three lefty relievers -- Affeldt, Lopez and Jose Mijares -- to play the percentages against Prince.

If Delmon Young is hitting the way he was in the ALCS round, the Tigers' lineup takes on an entirely different dimension, because that prevents the opposition from working around Cabrera and Fielder. The Giants will have to ride the wave of confidence accrued by taming a Cardinals team that featured two of the most productive postseason hitters in history in Carlos Beltran and David Freese.

"They have a tough team," Giants first baseman Brandon Belt said of the Tigers. "Tough pitching, tough hitting. It's going to be a battle."

The Giants won't have long to savor their stunning surge to the Series. Looming on Tuesday is a workout day, followed immediately by Game 1, where a matchup more than a century in the making gets under way.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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