Tigers 'Big Two' vs Giants 'Blockbuster' World Series
SAN FRANCISCO - The Detroit Tigers may have the best pitcher in Justin Verlander and best all-round hitter in Miguel Cabrera, but the Giants have 'Blockbuster' on their side in the World Series starting in San Francisco on Wednesday.
A fascinating Fall Classic match-up could come down to the marquee names with Verlander and fellow Detroit starters lined up against perfect game pitcher Matt Cain and his Giant cohorts, with catcher Buster Posey measuring MVP credentials against Cabrera, the first hitter in 45 years to win the Triple Crown.
Or it could hinge on a role player such as Marco "Blockbuster" Scutaro, a well-traveled, singles-hitting infielder who came to San Francisco in a quiet mid-season trade that helped transform them into the comeback kings of 2012.
The 108th edition of the World Series pits teams with strong starting pitching, recently juggled bullpens and lineups capable of running up the score, but the paths the league champions took to the final round could not have been more different.
Detroit motored past the New York Yankees in a four-game American League Championship Series sweep, while the Giants had to climb out of a 3-1 hole with three wins to take the National League series against the 2011 champion St. Louis Cardinals.
That challenge was already old hat for San Francisco, who were also forced to win three in a row against Cincinnati after losing the first two of their Division Series, giving the never-say-die Giants six must-wins in two rounds of the postseason.
Detroit, hurt by a long layoff before the World Series in 2006 when they lost in five games to the Cardinals, scrimmaged against minor leaguer prospects this past week in order to try and stay sharp.
An even better antidote against a bumpy start could be the luxury of giving the ball to Verlander for Wednesday's opener.
Verlander, who in 2011 won the Cy Young as best pitcher and claimed the league's MVP award as well, has been virtually unhittable.
The hard-throwing right-hander is 7-0 in his last seven starts with a 0.69 earned run average. He and Doug Fister, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez pitched to a 0.66 ERA in shutting down the Yankees.
Cain was literally unhittable when he spun a perfect game earlier this season, but San Francisco's Game Seven winner against the Cardinals has been merely human of late although he came up big in Monday's 9-0 Game Seven victory.
The most effective starter in the NLCS was Ryan Vogelsong, who notched two wins, with Giants manager Bruce Bochy having to decide how to arrange his rotation from among Barry Zito, two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, who has battled through a down year, and inconsistent Madison Bumgarner.
Closing games has been a challenge for both teams.
Sergio Romo emerged as the primary closer after a season-ending injury to relief ace Brian Wilson, though the Giants deploy a bullpen by committee depending on match-ups.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland has put his longtime closer Jose Valverde on the shelf after back-to-back ninth-inning implosions in the playoffs, and given the ball to unheralded Phil Coke to finish games but that formula is still being tested.
On offense, Detroit possess a classic one-two punch with Cabrera, who led the league with 44 home runs, 139 RBIs and a .330 batting average, followed by free agent slugger Prince Fielder and Delmon Young, who has thrived in the playoffs.
San Francisco counters with chunky third baseman Pablo Sandoval, swinging a hot bat, and Hunter Pence sandwiched around Posey with a healthy helping hand from Scutaro.
While rivals added high-priced talent in their pennant push, Scutaro made the critical difference, leading his grateful new team mates to call him "Blockbuster."
Playing for his sixth team in an 11-year major league career, Scutaro batted a lofty .362 after joining the Giants in July, and the smooth fielding second baseball claimed the MVP trophy after hitting .500 with 14 hits against St. Louis.
"I think he was the rock for us," Pence said. "He's carried us and it's pretty incredible."
Cain said the trade for Scutaro, who will be playing in his first World Series, was the key. "That's the best thing that's ever happened so far. That's why he's the 'Blockbuster.'"
Bochy also gave thanks for Scutaro. "He was just determined to get to the World Series. He led us there."
As for the Venezuelan, who will turn 37 in a week, he could barely believe the run he and the Giants have been on.
"Can you wake me up? I think I'm sleeping still," a champagne-drenched Scutaro said in the joyous locker room after the Game Seven win.
On Wednesday, the bell goes off for the last and most important round of the 2012 Major League Baseball season.