It's always interesting to look at a World Series team and wonder how the Hell it got here. Neither the Tigers nor the Giants entered the postseason as favorites. Both teams feature potential league MVPs, but are also full of players who were liable to soar or plummet in productivity in any given month. They're baseball teams, you see.
Since they're baseball teams, and since this is the postseason, it's impossible for me to predict a winner with any significant degree of confidence. This season, the Giants finished 94-68, the fifth-best record in baseball. The Tigers were 11th at 88-74. But even if the 98-64 Nationals or 95-67 Yankees had reached the World Series, would they have necessarily received a leg up by virtue of their record? All y'all who have been paying attention for a while, say it with me: nope.
Since the start of the wild-card era, the World Series winner actually averages a slightly worse regular-season record (.588) than the loser (.595). Within this 17-season span, the team with the worse regular-season record has won the championship. Watching the World Series is like watching a hyper-dramatic coin flip that takes 10 days to hit the ground.
At least, though, we can take a look back and see how their seasons went. Presumably, the Tigers will roll with a four-man rotation of Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez. Here is what their 2012s looked like:
In case you're unfamiliar with the "game score" statistic, our Astros blog, The Crawfish Boxes, has a terrific explanation here. To give you a rough idea, if a pitcher achieves a game score of 50 for a given start, he has given his team an approximate 50-percent chance of winning the game. If a pitcher has a great start, his game score ought to be 65 or higher.
Verlander, to nobody's surprise, has been consistently great this season. Scherzer rebounded after a rough start, and Sanchez finished strong after a difficult summer. For all four pitchers, things really came together in September, and the upward trend has spilled into the postseason.
The Giants, meanwhile, have trotted out five starters so far this postseason: Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong, Madison Bumgarner and Barry Zito. It's safe to assume that a five-man rotation is not in the cards, but let's take a look at all five seasons:
Lincecum, who won two Cy Young awards before his 26th birthday, suffered the first bad season of his career in 2012. As such, Cain has been the staff's ace this season.
Unlike the Tigers' game scores, these are all over the place, particularly at the end of the season. We have sample-size issues to thank for that, but I included the postseason game scores for the purpose of identifying who has stepped it up: Ryan Vogelsong. He's certainly had an interesting career. The Giants drafted him in 1998, and he spent the first act of his career alternating between starter and relief man. At age 28, he left the Major League Baseball for Japan, and didn't return to the bigs until five years later.
This is his Vogelsong's first-ever postseason, and he's certainly making the most of it: through three playoff starts, he's allowed only three earned runs in 19 innings.
Let's take a look at the bats.
In 2012 the Tigers achieved a .757 OPS, good for seventh-best in baseball. Their best offense came in August, during which Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder hit the Hell out of the ball, and the Tigers saw significant spikes in productivity from Delmon Young and Omar Infante.
Cabrera, of course, has been the rock of Detroit's lineup. After hovering around a very-good .900 OPS during the first couple months, the Triple Crown winner caught fire in June and never let up.
Once again: the postseason component of this graphic is a total mess thanks to the crippling limits of sample size. I decided to include it because it at least offers us a look into who has stepped up this October: Jhonny Peralta and Delmon Young. Both men have a considerable amount of playoff experience, but neither has played in a World Series.
Now let's look at the Giants' hitters.
Similarly, the month-over-month OPS of Giants hitters have been all over the place. Buster Posey ought to be considered the National League MVP front-runner. The rest of the team is like, well, most baseball teams: full of individuals who are liable to go hot or cold at any given time. Hunter Pence, the team's midseason acquisition, has had an especially rough time this postseason: he's 9-for-48 with two extra-base hits and one walk.
This figures to be a fun Series. We'll see top-tier hitters in Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Buster Posey, and the best pitcher in the game in Justin Verlander.
The numbers I graphed above tell a story more than anything. They aren't terribly predictive, I don't think. So here's a prediction: Tigers in five.