The Texas Rangers' foe in their first-ever World Series is of course the San Francisco Giants - who completed their improbable pennant run by defeating the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLCS in six games.
San Francisco made their run to the NL West crown on the arms of its prized pitchers. If anything, that the Giants are in the World Series helps prove the notion that good pitching beats good hitting when push comes to shove - though that can be debated until the 2110 World Series.
If the Rangers are to beat the Giants, they'll have to beat a slew of quality arms and perhaps the most dominant pitcher of the past three years.
The Giants, of course, are led by right-handed ace Tim Lincecum. San Francisco drafted Lincecum as the No. 10 overall pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. Lincecum slid to No. 10 despite winning the Golden Spikes Award because of questions of his durability. En route to winning the Golden Spikes Award as a Washington Huskie, Lincecum struck out an astounding 14.29 batters per nine innings.
Lincecum's small frame, generously listed at 5'11," 170 lbs, coupled with his unorthodox delivery led scouts to question his durability as a starting pitcher. Baseball America said at the time of the 2006 draft that, "His delivery, resilient arm, size and stuff remind many scouts of Angels set-up man Scot Shields, and most scouts think Lincecum will thrive in a relief role." Some wondered if Lincecum would be the dominant closer that would replace Robb Nen.
Of course, San Francisco left Lincecum as a starting pitcher and the results were magnificent. In his first two full seasons, Lincecum won the National League Cy Young award. Lincecum's attempt at a third straight Cy Young award will come up short thanks to a dismal August, but he still had an excellent year nonetheless, leading the National League in strikeouts for a third consecutive season - something that hasn't been done since Randy Johnson was a Diamondback. Lincecum is a rare, rare case where a prospect lives up to his ace potential if not exceeds it.
Lincecum went 16-10 for San Francisco this year while striking out 231 in 212.1 innings. Lincecum as aforementioned was awful in August, going 0-5 in five starts with a 7.82 ERA. This led much of the media to announce that Tim Lincecum is no longer Tim Lincecum.
Wrong. He returned to his Cy Young form in September, going 5-1 with a 1.94 ERA and striking out 52 in 41.2 innings while only walking nine. Lincecum ended the season with a 3.43 ERA and a 3.15 FIP. Not too shabby for a down season. He also posted a WAR of 5.1 which was good for fifth best in the National League. Again, not bad for a guy who had a down year.
Lincecum throws four pitches: fastball, curveball, slider and of course, the devastating changeup. His fastball velocity up and down this year but he'll sit between 91-93 and can still get it up to 94-95 when he needs to. He posted a wFB of 9.6 this season, which was actually better than it was in 2009 when he won his second Cy Young award. Of course, Lincecum's best pitch is his changeup - a pitch he threw 23% of the time in 2010. It was once again an effective pitch as he posted a wCH of 16.9. Amazingly, his curveball was below average this year at -7 wCB. Coming out of college, his curveball was his plus pitch and it has always been an above average pitch in the Major Leagues prior to this season.
Lincecum stacks up very well against Rangers ace Cliff Lee. If not for an awful August which Lincecum corrected, he could have very well put his name into the hat for a third straight Cy Young award. Game 1 and Game 5 (if necessary) should be excellent baseball games for any fan to watch - but they could be a very nerve-wracking games for Rangers and Giants fans alike. One run might be enough for either starting pitcher to win - we've seen both Lee and Lincecum churn out gems in the postseason already. Lincecum pitched one of the best postseason games in history in Game 1 of the NLDS - a two hit shutout while striking out 14 Braves - good for a game score of 96. It's the second highest game score in postseason history for nine inning starts.
San Francisco is led by Lincecum but there are quality arms behind him. San Francisco's No. 2 pitcher Matt Cain had the best season of his young career in 2010. Cain was a first round pick out of Houston High School in Germantown Tennessee in 2002. He was a first round selection and was taken 25th overall by the Giants.
Before Cain become a regular on the Giants staff, he was rated as the Giants best prospect according to Baseball America in both 2005 and 2006. The knock on Cain in the minor leagues was his command - something Cain didn't really begin to put together till this year. Baseball America went as far to say that he would be the Giants face of the franchise after Barry Bonds retired - and that may have happened if not for Tim Lincecum.
Cain posted a 1.08 WHIP and 3.14 ERA for the Giants this year despite a mediocre win-loss record that stands at 13-11. Cain tied for the 13th best WAR in the National League at 4.0 with Mat Latos of the Padres and Brett Myers of the Astros.
Cain also posted career bests in WHIP, BB/9 and FIP this year with the Giants. Cain uses a fastball that sits in the low 90s - his average on the season was 91.5 mph - as well as a curveball, changeup and to a much lesser extent, a slider. Cain's changeup is much more effective than his curveball: his wCH rated at 5.2 whereas his wCB was a meager 0.6.
Cain is a very good pitcher but he is not a No. 1 starter. He is not going to overpower the Rangers in the World Series but if he locates his pitches and uses them properly, he can pitch effectively as he did this year. He is a very good No. 2 pitcher to have behind Tim Lincecum and should match up comparably to his Game 2 counterpart CJ Wilson, who posted a 4.4 WAR for Texas this year.
Jonathan Sanchez will start Game 3 for San Francisco as the series shifts to Arlington. Sanchez was a 27th round selection by the Giants in 2004, taken as the 820th player in the First-Year Player Draft. His highest ranking in the Giants farm system by Baseball America was No. 2 in 2007 - with No. 1 being Tim Lincecum. The slight on Sanchez as a prospect had much to do with his arm angle and repeating his delivery - something that may still play a part today with his bouts of wildness.
Sanchez posted some sexy numbers this year, pitching to the tune of a 3.07 ERA and struck out 205 batters in 193.1 innings of work. On the surface, it looks like his best year and that Sanchez is a better pitcher than Colby Lewis. Sanchez posted a lower ERA and had more strikeouts in fewer innings - and is a lefty - so the Giants have the advantage in Game 3, right?
Wrong. Sanchez's statistics are somewhat deceiving. He did post an awesome K/9 of 9.41 and does have that nice ERA. Sanchez's control was a problem this year - as it has been in his career - as he walked 96 batters. Sanchez's FIP this year was 4.08, a solid but not spectacular number. In fact, it wasn't even as good as it was in 2008 for Sanchez. In ‘08, Sanchez posted a 3.85 FIP yet had an ERA of 5.01. Sanchez also posted a 2.8 WAR in 2008 compared to his 2.6 mark in 2010 - despite throwing 35.1 fewer innings in ‘08.
Sanchez is a three pitch pitcher. His fastball, which registered as a 20.8 wFB, sits in the low 90s. His average velocity for the entire 2010 campagin was 90.6. After that, Sanchez offers a slider and changeup and neither are terribly effective - his wSL was 1.0 and his wCH was even worse at -1.4 making it a below average pitch.
Sanchez when he puts everything together is capable of greatness. He threw a no-hitter in 2009 against the San Diego Padres. He enjoyed a solid 2010 season with the Giants but it wasn't spectacular or as good as his numbers on the surface indicate.
The Rangers will counter Sanchez with Colby Lewis, who was a far superior pitcher to Sanchez this year. Game 3 is a game that Texas must win.
Assuming Giants manager Bruce Bochy doesn't revert to a three man rotation, the Giants Game 4 starting pitcher will be Madison Bumgarner. Bumgarner was taken with the 10th overall selection by the Giants in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. He was drafted out of South Caldwell High School in North Carolina.
Bumgarner rated highly in the Giants farm system for three years. He was rated as their third best prospect in 2008, best prospect in 2009 and second best to Buster Posey in 2010. Bumgarner, still just 21 years old, only lost his rookie eligibility this year when he logged 111 innings for the Giants.
Bumgarner split his time in 2010 between AAA and the MLB. While he was in Triple A, he went 7-1 with a 3.16 ERA and 3.43 FIP while posting a 6.42 K/9 rate and 2.4 BB/9 rate in 82.2 innings. Bumgarner pitched similarly for the Giants. His ERA sat at 3.00 for the season with a FIP of 3.66 while having an improved K rate of 6.97 and a lowered walk rate of 2.11. Bumgarner actually pitched better in San Francisco than he did in Fresno. Part of that was due to his slow start where he was still looking for his velocity. While in AAA in April, Bumgarner was torched but pitched brilliantly in May and well enough in June to earn a midseason promotion to San Francisco.
While the scouting reports coming into 2010 said that Bumgarner pitches into the mid 90s, he only averaged 91 mph on his fastball for San Francisco this year. His fastball while in San Francisco was actually below average, rating as a -3.5 wFB. Bumgarner, however, only threw his fastball 57% of the time with the Giants. His best pitch is his changeup (wCH of 5.5) which he threw 10% of the time. Bumgarner also throws a slider (wSL of 1.7) and curveball (wCB of 3.1).
For a 21-year-old, Bumgarner pitched extremely well for the Giants. He posted a WAR of 2.0 in only 111 innings pitched. An argument could be made that Bumgarner - not Sanchez - should start Game 3 for San Francisco.
If the Rangers are going to win the World Series, they'll have to hit some very, very talented starting pitchers. Ron Washington might be well served bucking the trend of hitting Michael Young second and Vladimir Guerrero fourth in the lineup since Young has the propensity to strike out while Vlad will swing at anything. Both have the potential to be rally killers in a series where runs look to be at a premium.
This season has already been dubbed the "Year of the Pitcher" by many. It's only fitting that in the Year of the Pitcher, San Francisco, who led the NL in ERA, would make the World Series. It's only fitting that we as fans would get to see Lincecum battle Lee and Cain go up against Wilson.
Enjoy watching pitching brilliance for the last time in 2010, Rangers and baseball fans.