One: Cliff Lee
The Giants don’t have to find a way to beat Cliff Lee, but if they can, it will do wonders for their chances to come out as winners in the Fall Classic. Everyone knows how good Lee is. I do, I wrote about it. Everyone else does, too, Fangraphs and a host of others wrote about him in the past 24 hours and in the last couple of weeks following his crusades through the postseason. If the Giants have to face him twice, and this seems very likely, if they could find a way to just beat him once, it’d be huge. They don’t even have to beat him while he’s in the game. If they can get into the middle relief corps before Feliz emerges, put up a crooked number, and pitch effectively – this will be up to Timmy – bravo. It will be difficult, but I don’t know what hasn’t been difficult about the Giants’ season thus far.
Two: Rangers’ Speed
The Rangers are fast, they know how to run the bases and swipe them too, and they know it. This can and will be a huge factor in the series; either to the detriment or the benefit of the Giants if they’re able to combat this Texas advantage. They stole 123 bases in the regular season, 7th best in MLB. But, they were successful only 72% of the time which isn’t incredible. The Phillies, on the other hand, were successful 84% of the time. The Giants’ pitchers don’t hold runners particularly well – see Tim Lincecum – but ever since their rookie catcher Buster Posey arrived, they have done much better. That’s because Posey has an excellent arm and threw out 37% of attempted base stealers. Their most threatening runner will be leadoff hitter Elvis Andrus (and shortstop extraordinaire) who is really fast and swiped 32 bags in 2010. His OBP was league average at .342, but hopefully the Giants can do a better job of keeping him off the bags.
Aside from stolen bases, however, the Rangers do a great job of stealing bases on balls in play as well. There were two instances in one game against the Rays with David Price on the hill in which the Rangers were able to literally steal runs by scoring from second on ground balls in the infield. This is exactly the type of the thing the Giants need to be aware of and, if they are sharp, they can actually create outs with. After all, seven game series’ are won by the team that plays better, not necessarily the better team.
Three: Josh Hamilton
Avoid, avoid, avoid. The Giants know a great deal about this particular tactic – especially Bruce Bochy who had to face Bonds several times a year while skippering the Padres. Josh Hamilton was the best hitter in the American League in 2010 and will likely take home an MVP trophy for his efforts. He was slow in the Rays series, but caught fire against the Bombers as he hit four homeruns. Remember: Ross did what he did because he caught fire. Hamilton did it because that’s what he does.
Hamilton terrorized AL pitching all season long. He’s a swinger at heart, as he walked 7.5% of the time. But, he still managed a .411 OBP by hitting .359 with 32 homeruns. He slugged a silly .633 with an isolaTed Power (ISO) of .274. His wOBA (weighted on base average) was best in baseball at .447 – a metric which concludes a hitter is excellent at .400 and above and average at around .335 or .340. Along with the power and average, he only struck out roughly 18% of the time which is very reasonable for this type of hitter. There’s no doubt he benefited from his average on balls in play with a mark of .390, but his career mark of .344 isn’t all that far off. To make matters worse, he has plenty of speed and thus isn’t the greatest double play candidate. Injuries have significantly derailed his running game the past few seasons but in the World Series I have to assume it’s no-holds-barred.
Like I said: avoid, avoid and avoid. Bochy was hesitant to waL. Bonds when he managed the Padres, so it’ll be extremely interesting to see how he goes after Hamilton. As great as Hamilton is, he’s nowhere near the hitter than Bonds was in his peak years – that type of player simply doesn’t exist. Perhaps Bochy will rethink his strategy given what’s at stake as well as the fact that the hitter behind Hamilton, Guerrero, is perceived to be a hitter you can pitch to right now. Maybe more so when he’s having to use his energy to chase down balls in the cavernous outfield of AT&T.
Stats provided by Fangraphs