Cliff Lee will match up with Tim Lincecum in what will be a few of the most exciting games this October (and November. I hate that the playoffs run into November. Start the season earlier, cut down on Spring Training, whatever. Just award the Commissioner’s Trophy before Halloween.) Lee’s been absolutely ridiculous this season, putting up a 2.58 FIP and 7 WAR between the Mariners and Rangers. He also walked 18 batters in 212.1 innings. Not much else needs to be said. The man’s insanely good. In three playoff starts, he’s allowed 2 runs in 24 innings.
Lefty C.J. Wilson will likely start game 2 for the Rangers. Wilson has followed up on an extremely strong 2009 out of the bullpen with another great season, this time in the starting rotation. Like I’ve said before, I have a ton of respect for Wilson’s versatility and his ability to be effective in whatever role the team needs him to fill. He logged a 3.56 FIP and 4.4 WAR this season. Wilson had two good starts in the postseason before getting drilled in game 5, allowing 6 runs (5 earned) in 5 innings.
Colby Lewis, who will start game 3, has quite an interesting story behind his appearance in the World Series. Before this year, his last MLB season was a pretty crappy 2007 campaign with the A’s, when he put up a 5.79. Lewis caught on in the Japanese NPB with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp. Lewis was one of the best pitchers in Japan for two years before coming back stateside and putting up a 3.55 FIP and 4.4 WAR in 201 innings this season. What’s the difference? His fastball has made a huge jump, going from slightly below average in his first stint in MLB to 7.6 runs above average this season. More importantly, however, he’s begun to use his slider (12.6% of pitches in 2007, 27.2% this year) instead of his much weaker curve ( 22.5% in 2007, 9.1% in 2010) as his main secondary pitch. Lewis’ curve has been steady at about 4 runs below average, but he’s honed his slider and it is now the strongest pitch in his arsenal, at 13.6 runs above average.
Tommy Hunter hasn’t been nearly as good as many think this year. His ERA is a strong 3.73, but his 4.99 FIP makes him clearly the 4th best pitcher in this rotation. In two playoff starts, Hunter’s gone only 7.1 total innings and allowed 6 runs (5 earned). He doesn’t strike anybody out (4.78 K/9), and he doesn’t have any particularly good pitches (his cutter, his best pitch, is 2.9 runs above average). Among the fourth starters, I’d say Bumgarner (or Sanchez if he pitches game 4) will have the clear advantage on the mound.
Rookie closer Neftali Feliz has been strong, putting up 1.8 WAR in 69.1 innings. He strikes guys out (9.22 K/9) and was third in the AL with 40 saves this season, the highest saves total by any rookie in the history of baseball. While that might be as tied to opportunity as actual skill, any time somebody sets an MLB record you kinda have to take notice. Feliz throws his 96 mph fastball 82% of the time, and with good reason; it’s been 19.3 runs above average this year. He’s been good in the playoffs so far, allowing one run in 4.1 innings (5 appearances),
Other notables include Darren Oliver, who put up a 2.64 FIP in 64 appearances this season, and Frank Francisco, who had a 3.12 FIP in 52.5 innings while striking out 10.25 per nine. Derek Holland is also likely to appear in this series. He’s allowed 3 runs in 10.1 innings so far in the playoffs.
The Rangers have been a decent defensive team this season, with an 18.1 team UZR in the regular season. That’s deceptive, however, as it includes Julio Borbon’s 1095 innings of 8.9 UZR ball in center. Borbon hasn’t gotten a start since game 2 of the ALDS, so that’s kind of a moot point. Nelson Cruz’s 7.7 UZR in right is the only 3+ UZR for a starter in the position they’ll be starting in for the World Series. The Rangers essentially are a collection of fielders who are just about average for their positions, with Michael Young’s –5.4 UZR at third the worst score of any player on the team. While they’re not outstanding defensively, there are no huge holes that will really hinder the Rangers.
Andres Torres will lead off for the Giants, providing a counterpoint to Andrus’ speed with some giddy-up of his own. Torres’ 6.0 WAR this season has been fueled largely by his outstanding defense, and he’s OBP’d only .343 for the second straight season, but “Andres the Giant” has swiped 26 bags despite starting the season on the bench.
Buster Posey, likely NL ROY and a fantastic all-around catcher, has been a revelation for the Giants this season. He’s put up a .368 wOBA, second among catchers with over 400 at-bats. Seriously. The only catcher with a better wOBA than the rookie in more than 400 AB’s in Joe Mauer. Suffice to say, the kid is special. His high walk rate hasn’t transferred from the minors, but no one’s complaining, as Posey put up a 131 wRC+ and 18 homers in 108 games.
Aubrey Huff has had a serious turnaround year. Huff was the second worst player in baseball last year, his –1.4 WAR beating out only Yuniesky Betancourt. This year, he’s bounced back in every facet of the game, putting up 5.7 WAR with strong defense and a 145 wRC+. He led the Giants with 26 home runs and, after 9 years in the league without being involved in a playoff race, Huff looks like he’s having the time of his life. He’s both a great hitter and a fun guy to watch, especially since the acquisition of Pat Burrell.
Burrell and Huff played together at the University of Miami, so they go way back. Burrell’s been fantastic with the Giants as well, with 2.7 WAR in 96 games (after –0.4 last year and –0.2 this season with the Rays). Giants GM Brian Sabean picked him up off the scrap heap after Burrell was DFA’d by the Rays, and Burrell has responded. He’s had a 133 wRC+ with the Giants, and he’s also played some surprisingly good defense in left.
Finally, we have to talk about Cody Ross. Ross has a career .340 wOBA and .788 OPS. In the playoffs so far, he’s put up a Ruthian 1.189 OPS, hitting 3 home runs in the NLCS to win the series MVP. He had a hit in every game of the Phillies series, including an extra base hit in every game besides game 3. “The Boss” may never hit this well again, but if he can lead the Giants to the promised land, he’ll be remembered in the Bay Area forever. He was claimed off waivers on August 23rd, probably more to prevent the Padres from getting him than anything else, but he’s done more for the team than Brian Sabean ever could have imagined.