Sportswriter Jeff Beresford-Howe takes you through five erroneous assumptions you may have before this year's World Series begins.
1. 'The Freak' vs. the Left-handed Greg Maddux.
It’s the lazy man’s World Series story line.
Tim Lincecum is “The Freak.” He looks about 15, he has long hair, he’s been busted for pot, he famously learned to pitch from his father, who to this day is his only real pitching coach, and his motion is so idiosyncratic that the only word scouts and pitching coaches agree on to describe it is “violent.”
Cliff Lee, on the other hand, is the current holder of the Greg Maddux Chair in Blue-Eyed Soul. Certain kinds of fans gush about how he wins “without great stuff,” how clever, steady and accurate he is.
They’re both nice stories. It’s just that they’re wrong.
Lincecum first: the man is most famous among his teammates as a shark, ruthlessly dedicated. He’s been several steps ahead of his competition at every level, so much so that he only started 13 games in the minors (62.2 innings, 26 hits) before the Giants said to hell with it and brought him up to The Show in 2007.
He’s been in the majors for more than three and a half years, and during that time, he’s had 21 good months and one bad month. On a staff full of talent, he’s the Dave Stewart or the Tim Hudson figure, i.e., if you have to win a game, he’s the guy you throw out there. He does all this with only one of what scouts call a plus pitch: his slider, which is the best in the game. Otherwise, his fastball is good but not great and his curveball is problematic if he throws it too much.
Lee on the other hand, has a career that looks like it was put together by someone who has issues. He was drafted three times before he’d sign. He played at two colleges. He’s been in five major league organizations already (he’s 31), four of them in the last two years. At a time when starting pitching is the rarest and most valuable commodity in baseball, teams dump him almost as fast as they pick him up.
He’s been high (a Cy Young for Cleveland in ’08 and a 7-1, 1.26 ERA in eight post-season starts) but he’s also been low: godawful seasons in ’04 and ’07 (Cleveland sent him back to the minors at the age of 28 in that one), a temper which has led to a reputation as a headhunter, and he’s never put good seasons back-to-back.
When Lee arrived at Texas this past July, he was greeted as the savior. But the Rangers went 6-9 in games he started, and if the hapless Oakland A’s had been able to put together any kind of run at all in the last two months, Lee and his teammates would be looking at Greatest Flop of All-Time stories instead of dining out at Gary Danko this week.
If one of these guys is going to crack under the pressure, look for it to be Lee, not Lincecum.
2. The Rangers Will Outhit the Punchless Giants.
You’d think so, wouldn’t you? The Rangers scored 90 more runs than the Giants, they’re stronger at every position except catcher and first base, and they have a hot Josh Hamilton, who is by a huge margin the best player in this series.
Except that four of the games are scheduled for twilight starts in San Francisco, a television concession which has driven west coast players and fans crazy for two generations now. It means that for the first four or five innings, hitters are going to struggle mightily to see the ball off the hands of Lincecum, Lee, Matt Cain and C.J. Wilson. Whoever wins the last four innings will win those games. Advantage Giants, because while the Texas bullpen is good, the Giants pen is superhuman.
Plus, no Bad Vlad Guerrero in the line-up at DH for the Rangers for the games in San Francisco because, you know, it’s vital to national security that we watch guys who haven’t swung a bat since high school try and hit in NL ballparks.
3. The Bengie Molina Rings.
When you hear about Bengie Molina, the catcher who began the year in San Francisco and is now starting for Texas, it’s likely to be because of a freakish coincidence: he’s guaranteed a World Series ring and a winner’s share no matter who wins.
What matters is that Bengie Molina is the oldest and most experienced of the Catching Molina Brothers (Yadier in St. Louis, Jose in Toronto) and he’s renowned for guiding pitchers through the weak parts of a hitter’s swing.
He spent the last three-and-a-half years with the Giants and it’s fair to say that no one on earth knows the strengths and weaknesses of Giants pitchers and (and probably hitters, too) better than he does. Every Texas batter will step to the plate better prepared than any previous batter in World Series history.
4. Playing 'National League Baseball.'
Every time the Rangers hit and run, or try and steal a base, or bunt a runner over, you’re going to hear Joe Buck and Tim McCarver wax rhapsodically about how the Rangers and their manager Ron Washington are playing “National League Baseball.”
Leaving aside that the American League is a much better league with a much more diverse pool of talent and styles of play – the Giants wouldn’t have had a prayer of making the playoffs in the AL – it’s a comment which is particularly ill-suited to these two teams.
Texas is very active on the bases and plays in a division with the Oakland A’s, Seattle Mariners and Angels of Anaheim, all of whom specialized in “National League ball” this past year. It’s the game they know best and play against most often.
San Francisco, on the other hand, is old and slow. They’re station-to-station all the time, except for Andres Torres, who is reasonably fast and stole 26 bases this year. (On the other hand, only four men stole successfully against Cliff Lee all year; the Giants are unlikely in the extreme to add to that figure.)
5. Nolan Ryan Is The Heart and Soul of the Rangers.
Dude, I like the Ryan Express as much as anybody. Boy howdy, he could throw hard. I was there for one of his no-hitters. Good fun.
I’ll try and ignore it every time they show him in Arlington sitting next to W – hey, that makes me just like Republican candidates for office! – but he bought the team at a rather dubious auction a few weeks ago. He isn’t the majority shareholder. Cliff Lee has been pitching for the Rangers longer than Ryan has owned them. Ryan’s barely more responsible for the Rangers organization than you are.