And yet here we are. Both teams were stretched in the Division Series -- Tampa Bay took Texas to five games, Atlanta played San Francisco as close as possible in a four-game set. Pitching carried the day for both clubs in the first round. The Braves had no answer for Tim Lincecum or Jonathan Sanchez and Cliff Lee made two dominant starts against Rays ace David Price to carry the Rangers to their first ever win in a postseason series.
From there, neither team missed a beat. The Rangers pummeled the Yankees' suspect pitching staff and Colby Lewis and Lee combined to shut down the Yankees' big bats three times in six games. The Giants got a surprising jumpstart from Cody Ross's two home runs against Roy Halladay in Game 1 and a thrilling, last at-bat win in Game 4 to build a 3-1 series lead. With a pitching staff that was arguably the National League's best in the regular season, that was simply too much for even the mighty Phillies to overcome.
FanHouse TV: Phillips' Analysis | Game 5 Wrap | Postgame Video | Looking Ahead
And so we're left with a World Series that no one expected, but also one about which it is hard not to be excited. Both teams have gotten great pitching performances and big hits from expected and unexpected sources. They're playing great baseball, and now they get to play it against each other.
World Series Schedule
|Oct. 27||Giants 11, Rangers 7 | Box | Hickey | Fletcher | Price | Krasovic||FOX||7:57 p.m.|
|Oct. 28||Giants 9, Rangers 0 | Box | Price | Hickey | Fletcher | Krasovic||FOX||7:57 p.m.|
|Oct. 30||Rangers 4, Giants 2 | Box | Hickey | Fletcher | Price | Krasovic | Piliere||FOX||6:57 p.m.|
|Oct. 31||Giants 4, Rangers 0 | Box | Price | Hickey | Fletcher | Krasovic | Moore||FOX||8:20 p.m.|
|Nov. 1||Giants 3, Rangers 1 | Box | Fletcher | Krasovic | Hickey | Price | Moore||FOX||7:57 p.m.|
Why the Rangers Will Win
It shouldn't take much to explain why the team that beat both the Rays and Yankees can beat anyone, but let's start with Lee. He will definitely get the ball in Game 1 for the Rangers and could take the ball in Games 4 and 7 as well, if Ron Washington feels it's necessary. Lee's made three playoff starts this year, pitching 24 innings, striking out 34 and walking just one hitter. He's only given up 13 hits and a total of two earned runs. Since the start of the 2009 postseason, Lee's made eight playoff starts, averaging more than a strikeout an inning in his 64 1/3 innings along with an insane K/BB ratio of 9.57 and a 1.26 ERA to boot. He hasn't just been good or phenomenal, he's been otherworldly in the playoffs the last two seasons. He's the best pitcher in the playoffs, and it's not close. That's really saying something given some of the other pitching performances we've seen in the postseason this year.
But Lee can't win the series by himself, even if he makes three starts. That's why it's important that Lewis (who started two of the Rangers' wins against the Yankees and held the mighty Yankees lineup to just nine hits in 13 2/3 innings) is pitching well and C.J. Wilson is just a couple of starts removed from a brilliant turn against the Rays in the ALDS. It's why it's important that Neftali Feliz finally hit a groove against the Yankees and that Derek Holland had a great series out of the bullpen as well. Lee is great, but the Rangers have more than enough depth in their rotation and bullpen to win in a long series.
Of course, none of the Rangers' pitchers were named ALCS MVP. That honor went to Josh Hamilton, who torched the Yankees for six homers in four games, hitting .350 in the ALCS and getting on base more often than he didn't. His ribs were a concern coming into the playoffs, and he struggled in the ALDS, but there's no questioning his health now. The likely AL MVP is on fire. He's not alone, either. Nelson Cruz has five homers so far in the postseason and a 1.294 OPS. Elvis Andrus is getting on base at a .358 clip in the playoffs. David Murphy and Mitch Moreland both had OBPs of over .400 against the Yankees. The Rangers shouldn't have much trouble scoring for their excellent pitchers.
Rangers Official Roster
|Elvis Andrus (SS)||Matt Treanor (C)||Cliff Lee (LHP)||Neftali Feliz (RHP)|
|Michael Young (3B)||David Murphy (OF)||C.J. Wilson (LHP)||Darren O'Day (RHP)|
|Josh Hamilton (CF)||Mitch Moreland (IF)||Colby Lewis (RHP)||Darren Oliver (LHP)|
|Vladimir Guerrero (DH)||Andres Blanco (IF)||Tommy Hunter (RHP)||Alexi Ogando (RHP)|
|Nelson Cruz (RF)||Jeff Francoeur (OF)||Derek Holland (LHP)|
|Ian Kinsler (2B)||Mark Lowe (RHP)|
|Bengie Molina (C)||Michael Kirkman (LHP)|
|Jorge Cantu (1B)|
|Julio Borbon (LF)|
Why the Giants Will Win
Lee may seem unstoppable, but that's what everyone thought about Roy Halladay after his no-hitter and that didn't stop the Giants from rolling right into Citizens Bank Park and stopping Doc and his Phils, setting a tone that would change the course of the NLCS. The reason they could do that? Tim Lincecum. The two-time defending NL Cy Young Award winner turned in a start against Atlanta that was arguably every bit as impressive as Halladay's no hitter (a 14-strikeout, one-hit shutout), then went toe-to-toe with Halladay and the much more imposing Phillies lineup twice. Lee has never lost a playoff start, but he's never pitched against Lincecum in the postseason either.
As good as the Rangers' supporting staff is around Lee, it can't match Jonathan Sanchez, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, and the excellent Giants' bullpen. Cain and Sanchez have both turned in great playoff starts, and Bumgarner has been much better than Tommy Hunter, the Rangers' fourth starter. Bruce Bochy, meanwhile, has done a great job utilizing his bullpen, especially in using Javier Lopez against the Phillies' tough lefties and using Sergio Romo and Brian Wilson to get big outs every game. Lee may be without peer right now, but not even the Phillies' trio of Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels could out-pitch the Giants.
The Giants' offense is obviously a bit suspect, but with a pitching staff like theirs, sometimes all it takes is a few timely hits. Cody Ross has obviously been huge for the Giants in both rounds, but Buster Posey has been right there as well, coming up with big hits when the Giants needed them. They'll need more than just that, though, to win a World Series against the Rangers. Players like Freddy Sanchez, Pablo Sandoval, Andres Torres, and Pat Burrell are all capable of getting hot for a few games. If just one or two of them can while Posey and Ross keep hitting, the Giants will be hard to beat.
Giants Official Roster
|Andres Torres (CF)||Mike Fontenot (2B)||Tim Lincecum (RHP)||Brian Wilson (RHP)|
|Freddy Sanchez (2B)||Nate Schierholtz (OF)||Matt Cain (RHP)||Jeremy Affeldt (LHP)|
|Aubrey Huff (1B)||Aaron Rowand (OF)||Jonathan Sanchez (LHP)||Sergio Romo (RHP)|
|Buster Posey (C)||Travis Ishikawa (IF)||Madison Bumgarner (LHP)||Javier Lopez (LHP)|
|Pat Burrell (LF)||Eli Whiteside (C)||Guillermo Mota (RHP)|
|Juan Uribe (SS)||Edgar Renteria (IF)||Santiago Casilla (RHP)|
|Cody Ross (RF)||Ramon Ramirez (RHP)|
|Pablo Sandoval (3B)|
With two excellent pitching staffs lining up, the most important question as this World Series begins rests on the offenses. Who can get enough hits to ride their excellent pitchers to victory? The Rangers' hitters aren't nearly as potent as Texas offenses of the past, but they have plenty of weapons with Cruz, Guerrerro, and a scorching-hot Hamilton. The Giants have had trouble scoring all year, but they've seemingly found a big hit every single time they've needed one in this postseason.
It's impossible to count on that to keep happening, though, especially against a pitching staff that includes Lee. The Giants looked great in knocking out the two-time defending NL Champs, but riding Ross to playoff victory gives their run a feel of transience. It seems like at any second, the clock could hit midnight on Ross, and the Giants could be left holding a pumpkin when they need a big hit. The Rangers, meanwhile, beat the defending champs and seemed like the much better team in doing it. The Giants' pitching staff makes things interesting, but ultimately it's just not enough. RANGERS IN SIX.