The Detroit Tigers enter the 2012 World Series with a bullpen in tatters, preparing to play up to four games in a National League park where they can’t use a designated hitter. The San Francisco Giants enter the World Series having used their two most effective pitchers in the last two games. These and other issues will have to be addressed by managers Jim Leyland and Bruce Bochy when they fill out their lineup cards for each World Series game.
Games one and two of the World Series, and games six and seven if necessary, will be played in San Francisco’s A T & T park, thanks to Matt Cain shutting down the American league, Justin Verlander not shutting down the National League, and the Giants’ now suspended Melky Cabrera terrorizing AL pitchers in the All Star game last July.
In National league parks, they play by National league rules. This means no designated hitter, and pitchers having to swing a bat unless they’re removed from the game in favor of a pinch hitter. For the Tigers, the first consequence is that Delmon Young will be in left field against both right handed and left handed pitchers. Jim Leyland announced that Young will be in the outfield, and as Kurt Mensching wrote in Tueday’s Detroit News column, the move makes perfect sense, given the fact that he swung the hottest bat in the Tiger lineup and was named most valuable player of the ALCS.
Young in left field means that, against right handed pitching, Quintin Berry moves from left field to the bench, while Andy Dirks keeps his spot in right field and moves back to the second spot in the lineup, while Alex Avila moves up to bat sixth behind Young. That was easy enough when it appeared that the Tigers would be playing the St Louis Cardinals and their four right handed starting pitchers.
Enter the San Francisco Giants. Unlike St Louis, the Giants will have two left handed starting pitchers, pitching games one and two in San Francisco to open the Series. Barry Zito has been named as the starting pitcher for game one. Zito struggled again this season, but has been better than he was in 2010, when he was left off the Giants’ World Series roster completely.
The Giants made it to the fall classic by winning the last three games against the Cardinals, but they used their two most effective pitchers, Ryan Vogelsong in game six, and their ACE, Matt Cain in game seven. Bochy could have started two time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum on normal rest, but Lincecum has been very ineffective this season, with a 10-15 record, and an ERA of 5.18.
Lincecum was pulled from the rotation to start the playoffs, and was effective in the bullpen, so he was given another opportunity against St Louis, but he gave up four runs in 4-2/3 innings as the Giants fell behind three games to one, and were on the verge of elimination.
Lincecum will be replaced by the struggling Madison Bumgarner, who was the Giants’ No. 2 starter behind Cain during the regular season. The Giants’ lefty gave up ten runs in eight innings posting an 11.25 ERA between two starts in the post season, creating an opening for Lincecum to return to the rotation.
The question remains whether the Giants would start Bumgarner, or maybe Lincecum in game six. Cain will only pitch once unless they start Vogelsong and/ or Cain in games six and seven on short rest. Part of that decision may depend on how Bumgarner does in game two.
In another anticipated move, Bochy confirmed that the Giants will not activate would-be batting champion Melky Cabrera for the World Series, saying that other players had picked up their game and played well to get the team as far as they have gotten. The other Cabrera led the major leagues in hitting with a .346 average and was named the MVP of the All Star game, but withdrew from consideration for the batting title when he was suspended 50 games for using performance enhancing drugs.
The Giants could use another bat, especially when the series moves to Detroit for games 3, 4, and 5, where lineups will use a designated hitter, and the Giants don't really have one. In fact, their lineup thins out at the bottom and their bench is even weaker offensively.
Back to the Tigers. The fact that the Giants will throw one, and maybe two left handed starters against Detroit in the first two games doesn’t change things in terms of Delmon Young being in left field. Against a lefty, keeping Young in the lineup is an even bigger no brainer. But the decision who plays in right field becomes more difficult.
Andy Dirks has been far less effective against left handed pitching this season. Dirks hit .330 with an OPS of .890 against right handers, but that drops to .274/ .751 against lefties. Garcia hit .333/ .754 with a .412 on base percentage against left handers, albeit in just 33 plate appearances. One of the two will sit, and Omar Infante will bat second in the lineup.
Another consequence of playing with National league rules is that managers often remove their starting pitchers in favor of a pinch hitter in the fifth or sixth inning of a close game. Two things are patently obvious with the current Tiger team. One is that they have an absolutely dominant rotation. The other is that their bullpen has been a total mess.
Before even getting to the back end of the pen where Jose Valverde and Joaquin Benoit have been serving meatballs to opposing hitters, the Tigers have Rick Porcello and rookie Drew Smyly working in long relief should a starting pitcher be pulled early in the game. If Leyland needs to fill three innings or more with the current bullpen, the Tigers could be in for a rough ride.
The best solution for the Tigers is to get out to an early lead and hope their starting pitchers can stay in the game as long as possible. However, the chances of sweeping the Giants with four complete games aren’t very good. The back end of the bullpen will need to perform no matter where they are playing or who they are playing against.
The Tigers managed to get by with Phil Coke closing out the Yankees and their lefty dominated lineup, with a couple of right handed hitters sprinkled in, but the fact of the matter is that Coke is a disaster waiting to happen against right handed hitters. Add Valverde and Benoit for a possible inning each, and they’re playing with fire. Valverde says they've made adjustments to his mechanics and he's okay now. Bumgarner says the same thing.