Five ways Giants can surprise Tigers in World Series - NBC Sports

Five ways Giants can surprise Tigers in World Series
San Francisco's rotation, bullpen and Bochy's savvy moves will play big roles
If Tim Lincecum is used effectively as a reliever against the Tigers, it could be one of the things that swings the World Series in San Francisco's favor, writes Tony DeMarco.
October 24, 2012, 2:10 pm

But there is a set of events - none of which are much of a stretch - that could lead to the San Francisco Giants' second World Series title in three seasons. Five things that have to happen for a Giants' series win:

Manager Bruce Bochy's wizardry continues
From his late-inning, mix-and-match bullpen mastery, to the delicate massaging of the bruised egos (and ERAs) of Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner, to carefully easing the transitions of Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford from young players to every-day regulars, Bochy arguably has done the best job of his 18 big-league seasons.

There also were the usual assortment of injuries, and the loss of Melky Cabrera, who was leading the NL in hits when he was suspended in late-July for performance-enhancing drug use. But nothing deterred Bochy's third pennant.

"Bochy has been unbelievable,'' pitcher Barry Zito said. "He gets a lot of credit, but I think he should get even more. What I always talk about is how he's handled the bullpen. For a team to go out there without a definite closer for most of the season, it's unreal what's been going on.

"It's much easier on a manager when you have a definite seventh, eighth and ninth-inning guys. Bochy didn't have that luxury.''

The Giants essentially have gone the entire season without their closer, as Brian Wilson pitched only two games in the first week before being lost to Tommy John surgery. No problem. Six different relievers earned saves, with Bochy funneling right-handers Santiago Casilla and Sergio Romo into the primary closer spot at different points of the season.

"It starts with the pitchers involved,'' Bochy said. "They have to buy into it. That's the only way it works. They have to say, 'I'm here to help the club win'.''

The left-handed side of the Giants' bullpen is as dominant as you'll see, with Javier Lopez, Jeremy Affeldt and Jose Mijares all capable of handling key left-handed hitters late in games.

And Bochy's lefties have a definite target in this series: left-handed hitter Prince Fielder. So look for Bochy to take the bat out of Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera's hands as much as possible, and sic his lefties on Fielder.

The Giants rotation, especially Zito and Madison Bumgarner, must step up
As dominant as the Tigers' rotation has been this postseason, matching it in this series won't be easy.

But the Giants can put together a series worth of quality efforts from their starters, then turn games over to the bullpen, where they have an edge.

Cy Young Award candidate Matt Cain pitched a perfect game and started the All-Star Game. Nobody in the Giants rotation currently is pitching better than Ryan Vogelsong, so much so that he is lined up for a potential Game 7 start.

And Zito's unexpected renaissance season at age 34 took off in the second half - a 2.35 ERA in his last seven regular-season starts, plus an NLCS-turning Game 3 victory in St. Louis. It will be Zito's enviable task to face Tigers ace Justin Verlander in Game 1 on Wednesday.

"I couldn't be happier for him,'' Bochy said about Zito. "(How Zito has rebounded) says a lot about his mental toughness. For him to keep grinding, and trying to get better, I was proud to tell him that (he's starting Game 1). WIth all he's been through, and how he's handled it.''

Added Zito: "The circumstances swirling around shouldn't be a factor. It's my job to focus in on what matters.''

After being skipped over in the NLCS, Bumgarner will go back into the rotation for Game 2, in front of Vogelsong and Cain. The Giants feel pitching coach Dave Righetti has helped Bumgarner iron out some mechanical issues that had limited velocity and movement.

"He's had a nice break, which we wanted to give him,'' Bochy said. "He got off his good mechanics a little bit.''

Tim Lincecum, stealth reliever?
As much as the Giants feel Bumgarner has worked through mechanical issues, the other side of this decision is Lincecum's versatility and potential affect on multiple games out of the bullpen, rather than as a starter.

You can't do this during the regular season. Not with Lincecum making $20 million per year. But at this point in time, it's the way to go.

No, his fastball velocity hasn't jumped back up to 94-95 mph. It's more like 90-92. His season ERA was 5.17, and he didn't get through five innings of his NLCS start.

But he's fearless, and only needs about 15 pitches to get loose. He's resilient enough to pitch back-to-back days, and he can face one hitter, or throw multiple innings.

And best of all, Lincecum says he has made the mental transition from starter to reliever.

"I went into (the post-season) open-minded, with the thought of being positive either way,'' he said. "I'm pretty comfortable in both, to be honest. It's up to (Bochy).''

Score just enough to win
The Giants have made a habit of that all season, and their offense has picked up markedly in the second half, when not coincidentally, Marco Scutaro and Hunter Pence were added through trades.

Fittingly, those two were pivotal in the NLCS, which Scutaro dominated as MVP with a 14-or-28 stretch at the plate and several outstanding defensive plays. And Pence's freakish, spinning RBI single on a broken-bat soft-liner that eluded shortstop Pete Kozma helped break open a decisive five-run fifth in Game 7 on Monday.

This even could be one of those series where the Tigers win a blowout or two when their bats explode, but the Giants could scratch out four wins despite being outscored in the series.

When all else fails for the Giants, just get into an elimination game
The Giants have won six of those in their last two series - three over Cincinnati after trailing 0-2, and three over St. Louis after trailing 3-1.

"You think you've seen it all in this game, but there's always something else,'' Bochy said. "What these guys have done to get to this point . it's right at the top for me. You're going against all odds in those two series.

"But it says a lot about the character of the club and how determined they were not to go home. Good things happen when you do that.''


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