SHOCK? GIANTS ONE WIN AWAY FROM ANOTHER TITLE

Here we are, three games into the 2012 World Series, and it’s a rout. The San Francisco Giants are on the verge of winning their second World Series title in three years and, despite what was speculated before the Series, the results thus far were certainly in play. Unbiased analysis of this matchup and the flow of the post season leading up to the Fall Classic clearly revealed that this Giants romp was one of the possible, and maybe even likely, developments.

Let’s start with the Tigers having a lengthy downtime after sweeping the Yankees in the ALCS. 6 days of inactivity, by rights, shouldn’t completely derail the best team in the American League, but history shows that something gets whacked when a team breaks it’s 6-month long rhythm while waiting for an opponent to emerge. The Colorado Rockies were as hot at any team that ever entered the World Series in 2007 and got absolutely stymied by the Red Sox. The same thing happened a year prior, with the Tigers getting shellacked by the Cardinals in 2006 after laying low waiting for a World Series opponent.

Well, with three World Series games’ worth of hindsight available to us, the formula for the Giants couldn’t have been better constructed as they emerged from the NLCS. They needed to win elimination games with their best pitchers, Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain, to outlast the Cardinals. Where did that leave them?

With Barry Zito for a logical Game 1 option in the World Series.

Not long ago, that would have been hilarious. On Wednesday, it was brilliant. A Detroit club coming off of a layoff, looking for its timing on offense after beating a punchless Yankee team, was faced with the calculated junk of lefty chess-player Zito as the Series began in San Francisco.

No contest.

The Tigers couldn’t get it going against Zito while the Giants roughed up Justin Verlander. And that unthinkable scenario destroyed the pundits’ predictions in one fell swoop. Two games later, the Tigers haven’t scored since their 3-run “outburst” in the blowout Game 1 loss.

Two Justin Verlander victories were guaranteed. Mark it down. And after that, the Tigers needed only two more wins from Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer and/or the bullpen. With a Triple Crown winner pacing the offense and only the Giants’ bats to deal with, surely the championship was coming to Motown for the first time since 1984.

A lot of things went wrong from the outset for that sequence to have a chance of playing out. Zito kept the rusty Detroit bats off-balance for 5 2/3 innings while the Giants ran Verlander out of the game after four innings and five ER. A seeming advantage for Detroit in Game 2 didn’t materialize as 2nd half/postseason stalwart Doug Fister faced struggling lefty Madison Bumgarner. Fister held up his end, but Bumgarner rebounded from performing so poorly that his start was skipped in the NLCS to throw seven shutout innings with eight K’s. The 2-0 victory had the Giants up two-games-to-none.

Well, San Francisco just held serve. Let’s see what happens when the Series shifts to Detroit.

What happened tonight was that the Tigers faced Ryan Vogelsong and they got shut out again, 2-0 on five hits, while their starter, Anibal Sanchez, was brilliant in giving up just the two runs over seven innings. That pitching edge that Detroit supposedly had, well, it doesn’t really hold up when the opposing pitcher shuts down your Triple Crown winner and everyone else before the bullpen comes on and slams the door.

So now, on the brink of elimination, the Tigers need another strong performance from starter Max Scherzer while the vaunted batting order needs to get hot and stop failing to cash in with runners on base. With the season on the line, all they have to do is break through against….

Matt Cain.

You see where this is going?

Maybe you don’t. Maybe you live in the eastern time zone and work for a national publication, yet you aren’t up late enough each night to see what goes on in MLB way out in California. It became a state a little over 150 years ago but large parts of this great country still aren’t clear on what goes on out there. The gold rush is, in fact, over, but there are a few reasons why you might want to pay attention to the goings-on in the pacific time zone.

Things like a baseball team firing on all cylinders when it matters most.

If Matt Cain closes this thing out on Sunday, stand by for the pontifications of what a revelation this guy is. If your profession is analyzing baseball and you have an internet connection, you don’t necessarily need to SEE all of the Giants games to know that Cain is eight years into a career that has seen him establish himself as one of the most rock-solid starters in baseball. Is he Justin Verlander? No. Is he a key piece on a team that is a win away from its second World Series title in three years? Yep.

What do you think of that, Bob Nightengale?

It hasn’t happened yet, so maybe I am being presumptuous. I know enough not to guarantee a Series win, or even a dominant outing from Cain. But I’ve seen enough of Cain’s work to know that if the Tigers are going to get their stalled offense going against him, it will be an unbelievably improbable development.

And if Cain comes out flat…?

Bruce Bochy. 

You don’t know about the skills of the puppet-master of MLB managers? Then you’re not paying attention, again, probably because he’s done his 18 years of managing in San Diego and San Francisco. Bochy’s got the magic touch. If Cain struggles, Bochy will juggle his pitching staff and at the end of the night we’ll almost certainly be saying “that was a great move” about one or more of his choices. Bochy won the World Series with the Giants in 2010. He took the Padres to the World Series in 1998.

Let me say that again. He took the PADRES to the World Series in 1998.

Jim Leyland’s a great manager but Bruce Bochy doesn’t have to concede anything to the Tigers’ skipper. Don’t tell anybody on the eastern seaboard, but Bochy’s having a Hall-of-Fame career as a manager.

It may not end Sunday, but the Giants would have to be on the wrong side of overwhelming history to cough up this 3-0 lead. It’s a pretty safe bet at this point to say the Giants will win the World Series. Going in, it wasn’t a popular choice, but what has played out to this point has been undeniable. I wouldn’t have predicted it, but I acknowledged it was possible. I’ve been watching the Giants and I know what they have in their arsenal. It didn’t all come out over the course of the season like it is now. They didn’t pull away in the NL west until the last month and even trailed the Dodgers for most of the first half.

But what they have done in the post season, in elmination games and this World Series, they flashed that all year. Here and there. Ryan Vogelsong was dominant for all but some of his late-season starts. Matt Cain has been the ace for years, though Lincecum got the wins and the awards, deservedly so. Lincecum’s been electric, but Cain’s been an unbelievably reliable workhorse.

The offense? Some of this is a surprise. The Giants’ radio station, KNBR, had a pool going in the second half of the season about when one of the corner infielders would next homer. Pablo Sandoval and Brandon Belt weren’t offering much in the way of the longball and it became an issue.

So, Game 1, Sandoval goes yard three times.

You see what I mean? It’s happening. At this point, don’t ask why. The numbers might not make sense in some instances. But don’t deny what is happening. The Giants have completely handcuffed the Tigers and with San Francisco up 3-0, that isn’t exactly keen analysis. It’s across the board.

But shame on those who annointed the Tigers. Fox commentator Tim McCarver, one of my favorite color announcers (and I know he has a ton of detractors) listed his keys to victory before Game 1 and he gave the Tigers the edge in pitching. McCarver and others clearly gave Detroit a pass for Verlander’s starts. But what happened? The Giants ran him off the mound in his Game 1 start. Now what?

Shoulda thought of that, Bob Nightengale. But you and your colleagues don’t know what goes on way out west so this must be a revelation. Ray Ratto, the dean of Bay Area sportswriting, is emphatic in saying that the lack of national recognition for the Giants is a non-issue. He’s right. His counterparts from the east take comfort in what they see as a superior knowlege that isn’t compromised by anything that happens after 11PM ET.

But what does that matter to fans who are taking time off from work to go to a World Series championship parade in their city?

Once this annoying Fall Classic problem blows over, the east coast writers can dig back into the pertinent matters of baseball analysis, like who’s A-Rod dating these days?

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