It's here. Justin Verlander will look to get the Tigers off to a good start tonight against Barry Zito and the San Francisco Giants.
Time/Place: 8 p.m., AT&T Park
Ticket info: World Series tickets can be found at TiqIQ
SB Nation Blog: McCovey Chronicles
Media: FOX, Tigers Radio Network
Zito took a hypothetical chainsaw to the "worst contract in baseball" tag that he has worn for the better part of a decade with a masterful performance in Game 5 of the NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals. Zito pitched 7 2/3 shutout innings, allowing just six hits and one run. He wiggled out of a serious jam in the 2nd inning -- runners on 2nd and 3rd with no outs, if you weren't watching -- and turned the tide for the entire series with his RBI bunt single in the 4th inning. From then on, it was nothing but weak contact and off-balance swings from the Cardinals, who only scored one run in the last three games of the series.
Zito last faced the Tigers in June of 2011, when he pitched six shutout innings in a 15-3 Giants win. This was before he rediscovered his curveball this season, which Brisbee detailed in our Q&A with him last night. As a whole, the Tigers' offense was slightly worse against left-handed starting pitchers this season, hitting .262/.332/.415 compared to .270/.336/.426 against right-handed starters. Expect some awkward swings tonight from the Tigers' free-swinging hitters; Zito got opposing batters to swing at over 30% of pitches outside of the strike zone this season.
Verlander struggled in the ALCS, earning an ERA that was almost double the figure that he posted during the ALDS. OK, so maybe "struggled" was a bit of an overstatement. JV allowed one run in his 8 1/3 ALCS innings for an ERA of 1.08 (compared to 0.56 in the ALDS), bringing his career postseason ERA down to 3.80. Against the Giants, Verlander might get into trouble if he tries to pitch for strikeouts. As a team, the Giants only struck out in 17.7% of plate appearances this season, tied for 4th best in baseball. This was largely thanks to an 8.6% swinging strike percentage, one of the lowest figures in the MLB.
If Marco Scutaro stays this hot, I will break things
He hit .500 in the NLCS, for crying out loud. Five. Hundred. I think this is punishment for me showing little enthusiasm when his name was strewn about the Tigers rumor mill recently. Regardless, expect at least one excellent defensive play from him tonight.
Rain, rain, stay the @* away!
While Mother Nature hasn't wreaked havoc on Verlander's postseason agenda quite yet, there's a chance she may make an appearance this evening. I won't give a weather forecast (because, as the old saying goes, it will change in five minutes), but there has been plenty of discussion about the threat of rain in the Bay Area this evening. Advantage: Giants. By a mile.
Zito presents all of the typical soft-tossing lefty issues that may or may not have plagued the Tigers in recent years, but with a giant, nasty, looping curveball. If he is placing it anywhere near the strike zone, I'd expect at least five strikeouts from Tigers hitters on that pitch alone. The key tonight will be getting out to an early lead. Even the best pitcher in baseball will have trouble navigating this lineup at times, and being behind won't help. Still, the Giants haven't faced a pitcher anywhere close to Verlander's caliber this postseason. Tonight could be a bit of a wake up call for them.
The Tigers win Game 1 behind another strong outing from Verlander and some timely hitting in the early innings.