With the heroic charge through the playoffs we’ve seen from the Texas Rangers, it’s easy to forget that there’s another plucky underdog here, too. The NL was widely seen as Philadelphia’s to lose, and they managed to do just that, falling to the San Francisco Giants in six games. And now that we’re here, it’s easy to fall back to the old standby that the AL is better, no matter which team is involved.
But picking Texas to win is the easy way out, I think. It means we haven’t learned anything from the playoffs so far. We’ve seen plenty of trends over the first two rounds, so why would we suppose that they’ll stop now that we’re in the World Series? By my count, here’s what we (should) have learned so far:
1. Pitching matters.
Honestly, I can’t stress this enough. In both championship series, the team with the better pitching won the series. And yes, Phillies fans, I mean what I said. The Phillies’ rotation is probably the best in baseball, but when it mattered, the Giants’ rotation was just a little bit better. Take a look at the pitching lines from the four teams in the second round and see if you can guess who won.
In both cases, the team with better pitching (ERA, hits allowed, BB/9, you name it) won the series. What’s especially remarkable to me, though, is how similar the Rangers’ and Phillies’ pitching was. Sure, the Rangers have excellent pitchers (including Cliff Lee, who you may have heard about), but so did the Phillies, and the Giants didn’t seem to have any problems scoring enough runs to win off of them. Which brings us to the second thing we learned.
2. The Giants don’t need to score much to win.
Take a look at that chart again and focus on the runs column. The Giants outscored the Phillies by just two earned runs in the NLCS (and the total is even closer, since there were a few unearned runs). San Francisco doesn’t need to blow you out to win games. Instead, they chip away at you slowly and grind out close win after close win. Even the tremendous pitching of the Phillies wasn’t enough to stop them. After all, even elite pitchers give up a run or two every game. That’s all the Giants need to win, because their pitching keeps them in every game they play.
3. The Rangers, however, do need to score a lot to win.
Let’s take this with a grain of salt, though. The Rangers actually did better in one run games than the Giants did this year. But in the playoffs, the Rangers have needed to score a lot to win their games. They won their seven playoff games so far by scores of 5-1, 6-0, 5-1, 7-2, 8-0, 10-3, and 6-1. Their losses were scores of 6-3, 5-2, 6-5, and 7-2. Looking a bit closer at those scores shows us that when the Rangers score 5 or more runs, they’re 7-1 in the playoffs. When they score 4 or less, they’re 0-3.
That sound you’re hearing is giddy Giants fans jumping up and down and giggling to themselves, because they know that their team has only given up 5 runs three times this postseason, and they even won one of those games.
4. Home field advantage doesn’t matter.
This is another big one to consider. It won’t matter whether games are played at AT&T Park or Rangers Ballpark, the better team will end up winning. The home team is 10-17 so far in the playoffs, so it’s almost as though home field is a disadvantage. So if Texas takes one of the first two games in San Francisco, don’t fool yourself into thinking that the Rangers can just cruise in Arlington. The better team tends to win, no matter where the game is.
I’m already on record as saying that the winner of the NLCS was going to win the World Series as well, mostly because of Lesson #1. I’m not going to go back on that here. I think the Giants are tremendously underrated, and it kills me as a Rockies fan to pick them to win a title. But there’s a reason they’ve come this far. The Rangers are going to give them a run, and I imagine we’ll see a pair of blowouts in the series that shakes everyone’s confidence in the Giants. After wins of 10-1 and 8-2, the doubters will say that they always knew the Rangers were the better team and that the Giants never really had a chance.
Let them doubt.
The pick: Giants in six