It’s nice to know the regular season still means something.
The 2012 Detroit Tigers were 11th in offense, ninth in pitching, 11th in wins (88) and made the playoffs only by winning the worst division in baseball. Sound familiar? That’s the team which showed up for the World Series. (Either that or it was the ’66 Dodgers, who scored two runs, went scoreless for the final 33.1 innings and were swept by the Orioles.)
The Tigers who swept the Yankees in the ALCS apparently fulfilled potential they didn’t have. Because the World Series showed there was no real late-season growth spurt by the Tigers; they were no bigger than their 88-74 record said they were.
The world champion Giants, whose title was their second in three seasons, weren’t the team they were in 2010 (or even on Aug 15, the day .346-hitting outfielder Melky Cabrera was suspended). No one is, of course, but it’s the degree of the turnover, and how few contributors to the first title were a part of the second that’s startling.
Only nine players who played in the 2010 triumph partook of 2012’s World Series; three position players (Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Aubrey Huff) and six pitchers (11 and 8 if you count relievers Javier Lopez and Guillermo Mota, who pitched in the 2010 Series, and are still on the team but didn’t appear in the 2012 Series). That’s turnover old football coach George Allen would be proud of, and Giants GM Brian Sabean should be credited for.
Series MVP Sandoval homered on his first three at-bats this October; that’s all the playing time he saw in the 2010 Series, unable to unseat Jose Uribe, a career .251 hitter; Huff, a mainstay of 2010, had just one at-bat in 2012.
The pitching staff was thrown bigger curveballs — 2010’s ace, Tim Lincecum, was 2012’s middle reliever; 2012’s closer, Sergio Romo, was 2010’s cameo; 2010’s expensive extra man, Barry Zito, was 2012’s Game One winner. None of the role-switching impeded the Giants any more than the heart of the Tigers’ order.
Once the Giants started winning, the playing proved easier than the planning. Like the 2004 Red Sox, the Giants overcame a big deficit in the league championship series and didn’t lose again. Whether that’s because the Tigers reverted to form or the Giants reverted them is a moot point.
The Giants won with Gregor Blanco, a career fifth outfielder, starting in left field and catching everything; Brandon Crawford, a career .235 hitter, manning shortstop instead of 2010 Series MVP Edgar Renteria; and Marco Scutaro, rescued from Colorado after being exiled by Boston, hitting .362 in 61 late-season games. To the astonishment of Phillies’ fans everywhere, Hunter Pence was a midseason acquisition for a championship team, though a summer too late.
This Series was over any time a manager went to the mound and waved a hand at the bullpen. Though the Giants hit better, fielded cleaner and ran faster, their bullpen dominated.
It was fitting the final game ended in extra innings, decided by relievers. Tigers relievers pitched 11.2 innings and gave up nine hits, five walks and five runs; Giants relievers pitched 11.2 innings and gave up two hits, three walks and two runs, and both of those by George Kontos in mopping up a Game 1 win.
Giants relievers finished the Series with a combined 8.2 no-hit innings after replacing Kontos. While the Tigers’ Drew Smyly pitched as if he had trouble with the wind in Game 2 and Phil Coke lost Game 4, Giants’ relievers retired 19 of the final 23 batters they faced (one reached by error), fanning 12.
Brian Wilson, 2010’s closer, was lost for the season in April. The Giants’ answer? Don’t Worry, Baby. They had an ever better closer with a full, dark beard: Romo retired all nine batters he faced, in the Series, fanning five, and saving the final three games.
The Giants’ dominance leaves them with only one question: How much of a World Series share to vote for Melky Cabrera? Melky is only lucky his soon-to-be ex-teammates will be in a good mood when they decide.