After euthanizing the geriatric Yankees in the ALCS, the Rangers take their youth movement to another veteran team in the San Francisco Giants tonight. Entering their first World Series in franchise history, it’s not quite fair to call either team the prohibitive favorite to win it all since both teams beat the prohibitive favorites in their championship series. Who’s the favorite when both teams are Cinderellas? The World Series slipper will be fitted for one of the two, whether or not anyone watches it.
In order for the Rangers to come out on top, they’ll have to keep performing like the team everybody saw in the ALCS, not the one that skirted by the Rays in the ALDS. Here’s what has to happen:
Josh Hamilton has to keep producing. I would be tempted to say this is the most important thing the Rangers need in the Series if not for the importance of starting pitching. But since they probably won’t win that matchup against the Giants, they’ve got to make sure their offense can put up some crooked numbers on Lincecum, Cain, & Co. The way to do that is to make sure the engine that makes their offensive locomotive go is the biggest offensive threat in the game. Hamilton did a great job harassing the Yankees in every way during the Championship Series through big hits, home runs, and intentional walks. His production sets up the rest of the offense.
Vladimir Guerrero has to recapture his youth. For one week, Vlad needs to be the guy he was during the first half of the season. He made the Yankees regret walking Hamilton one too many times in Game 6 of the ALCS, and he’ll get ample opportunities against the Giants in the World Series. The bottom of the order picked up the slack against the Yankees with significant production from guys like Matt Treanor, Bengie Molina, and Mitch Moreland. Although those guys will probably be Tim McCarver’s favorite players, you can’t continue to count on their abnormal production on a regular basis, especially against a team with pitching like the Giants have. Vlad, and the middle of the order, will have to pick up the slack.
The rotation has to hold up. As recapped yesterday, the Rangers rotation minus Cliff Lee was mediocre against the Yankees. Facing a significantly weaker Giants lineup, C.J. Wilson, Tommy Hunter, and Colby Lewis match up more favorably. On the other hand, Halladay, Oswalt, and Hamels matched up even better, so who knows what to think anymore. When Cody Ross is just as much a threat as Josh Hamilton, you just don’t know what to expect. On paper, the Rangers can take solace in the fact that their rotation made it out of New York no worse for the wear, but in reality, the rotation may be just as unpredictable as the Giants offense. If Wilson can pitch like he did in Game 1 at least once in the World Series, the Rangers will have a good shot to take it. Anything else they get from Hunter and Lewis is gravy.
The bullpen has to maintain. They don’t have to maintain the 0.56 ERA that they held after The Meltdown in Game 1, but the bullpen will have to at least keep playing respectably and hold the leads their offense gives them. 24 year-old Derek Holland, a favorite of manager Ron Washington, will probably do some heavy lifting once again in the World Series.
Ultimately, it’s tough to figure out what to expect from the Giants. By all rights, nobody really expected them to be in the playoffs, much less the World Series, but here they are. Against a hot team that’s on a roll like San Francisco is, there may not be much the Rangers can do to stop them if it’s their year. But if Texas can replicate what they did against the Yankees: pressure the starters, feast on the bullpen, and hold down the opposing offense with their bullpen, the Rangers will still walk away with the World Series trophy no matter what.
The Giants clearly have a rotation edge, and have a more reliable closer in Brian Wilson than the Rangers have in their young, uses-more-gas-than-a-Hummer closer Neftali Feliz, who looked shaky at times against the Yankees. Many Giants veterans know this could be the last and only shot they’ll get at a championship. Most importantly, though, while the Rangers have question marks after Cliff Lee, the Giants have Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, and Jonathan Sanchez behind Tim Lincecum. Given a choice between the two rotations, I’d pick the Giants’, but they both performed admirably against the most explosive offenses in their respective leagues.
The Giants have shown no reason for someone to pick against them so far, but will continue to be the underdog against Cliff Lee and the aptly-named Rangers in the World Series. Bottom line: if the Rangers play the way they did against the Yankees and the Giants play the way they did against the Phillies, the Rangers will win. In order to complete their Cinderella run, one of these teams will have to step it up again. I didn’t give the Rangers enough credit the first time around, so when I make a mistake, it won’t be that one again.
But make no mistake: if the Giants fall in the World Series and no one’s there to watch, the Rangers still get the trophy.
The Pick: Rangers in 6.