The San Francisco Giants eye their second World Series title in three years, as they kick off the 108th edition of the Fall Classic against the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday at AT&T Park.
Amazingly, these two storied franchises have never met in the World Series, despite this being the 19th trip for the Giants and the Tigers' 11th appearance. However, this is only the fifth time the Giants will be playing in this round since the team moved from New York to San Francisco.
Of course, the Giants' last trip to the World Series resulted in the franchise's first title since 1954, a five-game victory over the Texas Rangers in 2010.
This time around San Francisco enters the Fall Classic with a ton of momentum following a thrilling seven-game win over the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS, which saw it rally from a 3-1 series deficit.
In Monday's clincher, Matt Cain (2-2) scattered five hits and one walk over 5 2/3 scoreless innings and even drove in a run during the 9-0 rout, while Hunter Pence drove in a pair with a fortunate broken-bat double during a five- run third inning. Fellow midseason acquisition Marco Scutaro capped his MVP performance with his sixth multi-hit game of the series.
"We played with more heart and more determination than any club I've seen," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said during the trophy presentation. "They didn't want to go home."
Resiliency has been the Giants' calling card this October, as they also became the first team in NL history to rally back from an 0-2 hole and win a Division Series with a five-game win over the Cincinnati Reds.
Not to mention the team had to overcome the loss of Melky Cabrera, who was suspended for violating baseball's Drug Policy on Aug. 15. The Giants didn't skip a beat, though, and went an NL-best 30-14 after that and turned a one- game deficit in the NL West into an eight-game lead and a division crown.
With their sixth straight win in the face of elimination on Monday, the Giants became only the second team to win three in a row to close out postseason series twice in one session, matching the 1985 Royals -- who rallied against the Blue Jays in the ALCS and then the Cardinals in the World Series.
San Francisco won in 2010 thanks to an incredible pitching staff. That rotation seems to be finding itself again at the right time entering this series, as the Giants closed out the Cardinals by allowing just one run over the final three contests.
Lefty Barry Zito started the remarkable comeback with a sensational effort in Game 4 that saw him throw 7 2/3 scoreless innings. He'll likely get the call in Game 1, as the Giants have won in each of his last 13 trips to the hill.
Bochy has some decisions to make for Game 2. He could opt to go with Ryan Vogelsong on short rest and have two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum ready to go in relief, a role he has flourished in this postseason, or he could start Madison Bumgarner, who won 16 games during the regular season, but has pitched to an 11.25 ERA in his two postseason appearances.
Then again, Bochy could just go with Lincecum, who is coming off the worst season of his pro career. The Freak lost 15 games and pitched to a 5.18 ERA and was hit hard in his only start this postseason. But, in 8 1/3 innings of relief he has surrendered just one run.
There is no confusion for Game 3, though. Cain will be the guy. He was the team's ace all season and pitched like one in Game 7 against the Cards. In four starts this postseason, he's 2-2 with a 3.52 ERA.
The Giants offense was paced in the regular season by MVP candidate Buster Posey, who was the NL's leading hitter at .336 with 24 home runs and 103 RBI during the regular season. However, he is hitting just .178 with six RBI in the playoffs. Four of those RBI came with one swing of the bat, as his grand slam helped the Giants finish off the Reds in Game 5 of the NLDS.
Pence was acquired near the trade deadline to help the Giants' woeful lineup, but has struggled mightily this postseason, batting a mere .188. He has become the team's inspirational leader, though, with fiery clubhouse speeches, as his "look into each other's eyes" speech has become a rallying cry for the team.
With those two struggling, the Giants got a huge contribution from Scutaro, who was 3-for-4 in Game 7 and batted .500 (14-for-28) with six runs scored and four RBI despite suffering a strained left hip when Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday took out the second baseman with a vicious slide in Game 2.
The Giants' bullpen suffered a big blow when animated closer Brian Wilson was done for the season with a right elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. But, their relievers have been lights out in the playoffs and have combined for a 2.63 ERA in 41 innings, with a 2-0 record.
"It's a little want and a lot of willpower," said Posey. "I think to do it, guys actually have to believe it can happen."
Detroit, meanwhile, has been idle since finishing off a four-game sweep of the New York Yankees in the ALCS on Thursday. Its road here may not have been quite as difficult as the Giants, but they are back in the Fall Classic for the first time since 2006.
After beating the Oakland Athletics in five games of the ALDS, the AL Central- champion Tigers had a much easier time than anyone would have thought against the Yankees, as they took the first two games in the Bronx before sealing the series with two straight wins in Detroit, including an 8-1 thrashing over CC Sabathia in the clincher.
Detroit's last World Series appearance ended with a five-game game loss to St. Louis and the franchise hasn't won it all since besting the San Diego Padres in 1984.
Also, this is just the fourth time that a team who swept a series and one who went all seven games will meet in the World Series since the LCS expanded to a seven-game format in 1985. Each time, the team going the distance won the World Series, including the 2006 Cardinals, who took out the Tigers.
"I think they're going about it the right way," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "I'm not too excited about it, myself, to be honest with you, but I think they're taking it the right way. They know they need to see some pitching and in-game conditions. They're doing it business-like. I won't say they're all giddy about it, but they're doing it business-like, and that's the purpose of it.
"I told them why we're here, what the plan was, why we have the plan that we have. There are a couple guys here from the team in 2006, so I explained to them why we're doing it and what happened in 2006."
History may not be on the side of the Tigers, but they must still like their chances with perhaps the best pitcher on the planet in Justin Verlander, who will start Game 1 on seven days' rest and could potentially throw three times if needed in this series.
If there was a knock on the great Verlander it was that his postseason success hadn't matched up to his regular-season production. Well, the few detractors he may have had are going to have to find something else to complain about because he has been terrific this postseason.
The AL's reigning MVP and Cy Young Award winner was sensational again in the regular season, but has taken his game to yet another level this October, going 3-0 with a 0.74 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 24 1/3 innings.
It hasn't been just Verlander this postseason either. The Tigers' starters as a whole have been tremendous, as righties Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer have combined with Verlander to post an amazing 1.02 ERA in nine postseason starts.
An interesting wrinkle here is that it was actually Verlander who helped give the Giants home-field advantage in this series, as he surrendered five first- inning runs and took the loss for the AL in the All-Star Game. It was a pair of Giants who contributed to his loss in that game, as Cabrera scored the game's first run and Pablo Sandoval smacked a bases-clearing triple.
"I keep telling everyone, 'God, if I hadn't given it up, we'd be at home,'" Verlander told USA Today over the weekend.
Offensively, the Tigers are paced by maybe the best 1-2 punch in the league in the middle of the lineup in Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and slugging first baseman Prince Fielder.
With a batting average of .330 along with 44 home runs and 139 RBI, Miguel Cabrera led the American League in all three categories and finished tops in both leagues in homers and RBI. It's the 14th time in major league history that a player has accomplished the feat.
The 29-year-old set career highs in homers and RBI and had the second-best batting average of his career, trailing his .344 mark from the 2011 season.
After only driving in one run and batting .250 against the A's, Cabrera got himself righted a bit in the ALCS, as he hit .313 with four RBI.
Cabrera isn't the only masher in the Tigers' lineup. He moved over to third base this year to accommodate Fielder, a free agent addition who enjoyed his first year in Motown by hitting .313 with 30 home runs and 108 RBI.
Fielder, though, hasn't been able to get it going in the playoffs and is hitting just .211.
The Tigers did get a lift from ALCS MVP Delmon Young, who hit .294 with two home runs and eight RBI against the Yankees. He's primarily been the team's designated hitter, but should see some time in left field over the first two games of this series in San Francisco.
"Our pitching carried us," said Young. "We didn't need to go out there and score five, six runs every game to win the ballgame. With the zeros they were putting up, one to two runs with them was a lot, because they were hot going into every game and pitching deep into the ballgames."
Leyland does have some concerns, specifically a bullpen that has seemingly removed Jose Valverde from the closer's role. After Valverde blew big leads against both Oakland and then New York in Game 1, Leyland opted to go with a closer by committee, but lefty Phil Coke seemed to be his go-to-guy against the Yankees.
Leyland hasn't stated if Coke will be used as his closer against the Giants, but he hasn't allowed a run in 7 1/3 innings this postseason and saved two games in the ALCS. Fellow bullpen mates Octavio Dotel, Drew Smyly and Al Alburquerque have also yet to allow a run in these playoffs
"I'm going to play it by ear," Leyland said Monday. "We're going to try to do everything we can to win a game."
Valverde, meanwhile, has allowed seven runs in just 2 1/3 innings.
PROGNOSIS: History has told us that a team that is well rested does not do well in these situations. But the extra rest is going to help the Tigers, especially Verlander, who admitted after his ALCS win that he is close to running on fumes. Having him go maybe three times is enough to give the Tigers the edge before you even factor in Cabrera. And if you don't think the extra rest is an advantage here, look at how Bochy has to handle his rotation the first two games. The Giants are at a point where Zito is their best option. Plus you have to wonder just how much is left in the tank of San Francisco? Six elimination games in two rounds is an awful lot. Either way it should be an entertaining series. The Tigers were my World Series pick at the start of the season. No reason to change now.
Prediction: TIGERS in SIX