For once, the World Series will truly be special because there will NOT be a traditional baseball power, or traditional rival/fan base, involved. It will be a contest between upstart Texas (no prior World Series experience in its 49 years existence as a franchise going back to its day in Washington, D.C.) and San Francisco (never a World Series winner while located, since 1958, in the city by the bay).
Somebody new will get to celebrate in a couple of weeks and that’s good for baseball.
No doubt people watching come Wednesday will see the greatest living ballplayer – Willie Mays – throw out the first pitch in AT&T Park. Mays was on the last Giants team to win a World Series, when Mays made the greatest fielding play in baseball history in the 1954 Series against Vic Wertz of the Cleveland Indians. Yes, it’s been THAT long ago and it involves THAT much history (at least for one of the participants).
For Texas, it ends decades of frustration and ridicule from the rest of the baseball world. Its greatest living player is now the man who runs (and partially owns) the franchise – Nolan Ryan. In fact, it will end a year of amazing ups and downs for one team – going from contender to bankrupt to a midnight auction in a federal courthouse … to this. It’s actually a fairy tale script on both benches, which will make this matchup so delicious.
When Wednesday rolls around, both teams will have their pitching plans in fine shape. San Francisco will roll out its top two starters – Matt Cain and two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum to go against Texas’ Cliff Lee (also a former Cy Young recipient when at Cleveland) and C.J. Wilson or Colby Lewis. That is a dead-even matchup favoring neither team – something that will be said in comparing rosters. The bullpens rank evenly (both have performed very well in postseason play) and each possesses a “lights out” closer (Brian Wilson and Neftali Feliz).
On paper, the Rangers’ starting eight is superior to San Francisco, who has only one individual, catcher Buster Posey, who could honestly crack the Texas lineup. But the game isn’t played on paper; and the Giants’ “pick and pull” roster has produced its strong September pennant drive and vaulted them past Atlanta and Philadelphia into the World Series.
It might well be decided by little things – an error here, an errant pitch there, the lack of a designated hitter or the way a certain ballparks is shaped and how it plays.
Talent-wise, San Francisco has no Josh Hamilton, the likely American League most valuable player for 2010, and no young emerging shortstop like Elvis Andrus. The Rangers also did a nice job of acquiring mid-season talent, notably Lee (as a rental) and catcher Bengie Molina, from San Francisco of all places (when Posey’s mid-May arrival made the veteran catcher expandable).
However, most of Texas’ other trading deadline moves didn’t really pan out (Jeff Franceour and Jorge Cantu have made little impact). The last Giants transaction, getting outfielder Cody Ross from Florida, produced the NLCS MVP.
Because of the maneuvering, this leaves San Francisco with a better bench than Texas. Manager Bruce Bochy will be more comfortable and have more room to play National League baseball (meaning no designated hitter for four of the seven games) to make lineup changes during the games. He has more versatile players like Pablo Sandoval, Aaron Rowand or Mike Fontenot to weave in and out when making pitching changes. This is not something Rangers’ manager Ron Washington is accustomed to; without the DH, a manager must be careful when going to the bullpen.
And there is the issue of the DH itself. For Texas, it has been Vladimer Guerrero all season long, leaving the Rangers’ outfield fairly well intact (Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and David Murphy). In San Francisco, somebody sits and who will it be? Do you play a slower Guerrero in right, forcing Cruz to move to left field and leaving a better glove (Murphy) on the bench? Or put Guerrero out-of-position at first base? When the Giants come to Arlington, they can use Pat Burrell as DH and strengthen their outfield defense.
Then there’s the matter of AT&T Park … considered the hardest stadium to hit home runs in the majors. It has strange and deep power alleys and at twilight, when the games will begin for the World Series, the air will be thicker coming off the bay and the temperature will be much, MUCH colder than in North Texas. Of course, the old saying goes that the coldest winter anyone can spend in a summer in San Francisco, but I degress…
Giants hitters will find the Ballpark in Arlington friendlier to their hitting style because the baseball flies out of that yard when stroked into the power gaps.
Texas defeated the hardest mental block (the Yankees) to advance and the Giants defeated the most talented team (Philadelphia) to reach this point. As noted, the pitching (really the deciding factor in a short series) is even and each team has proven itself. San Francisco has shown it can win close games and Texas has shown it can bust open close games.
So … my prediction? It goes six games and home field will prevail. Giants – they just have this aura about them…
On a sidenote: I continue to be amazed at the acrimony shown by Texas fans to former Ranger Alex Rodriguez (now on the Yankees). He won an MVP as a Ranger, played his ass off for the franchise and never publically bitched about the lack of support.
A-Rod was traded to New York (for Alfonso Soriano); he didn’t walk away as a free agent. He was the most talented player EVER to wear a Rangers uniform (present company included), but the fans’ expectations with him in Arlington was freakishly overreaching. It takes a team, not just one player, to become champions in baseball; you continue to BUILD around a cornerstone player – not just stand pat.
All hatred should be directed at former owner Tom Hicks; it was Hicks who proposed the contract, Hicks who overpaid for the likes of Chan Ho Park, Kevin Millwood, and the late Ken Caminiti (just to name a few) to wear a Texas uniform; it was Hicks who canned Doug Melvin and brought in John Hart to be general manager; and it was Hicks who then shut the purse strings and nearly choked the franchise to death.
Which means Hicks will probably toss out the ceremonial first pitch for Game 3.