Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander wanted to put on a show at the All-Star Game and came out trying to light up the radar gun. But as it turned out, the National League All-Stars lit up Verlander and the American League en route to an 8-0 victory.
San Francisco Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval delivered the big blow in the first inning, swatting a three-run triple off Verlander to jump-start the NL in securing home-field advantage for the third consecutive World Series.
Verlander and Sandoval will square off again tonight in Game 1 of the World Series at AT&T Park in San Francisco. And, as three-time World Series champion Curt Schilling said, the furthest thing from Verlander's mind during the Fall Classic will be the Midsummer Classic.
"At the end of the day from a home-field advantage perspective, home field is inherent to your starting pitcher," said Schilling, an analyst on ESPN's Baseball Tonight. "Justin Verlander has home-field advantage whenever he takes the ball. He has home-field advantage over whomever he is pitching against and whatever the opposing pitcher is."
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How home field might affect the World Series is just one of several storylines. The Giants have gone 6-0 in elimination games this postseason, Barry Zito is pitching like a former Cy Young winner and the offense has scored 5.89 runs a game in the playoffs.
The Tigers, meanwhile, are rested after closing out the ALCS on Thursday, their starters have been strong in October, and the offense is potent with Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and 30-homers, 100-RBIs man Prince Fielder in the middle of it.
What's working for the Tigers: Detroit swept New York in the ALCS, and has had time to rest and regroup for the World Series. The time off has allowed the Tigers to set up their all right-handed rotation as they'd like with Justin Verlander followed by Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer. The rotation has been stout this postseason, posting a 1.02 ERA, and left-hander Phil Coke has helped stabilize the bullpen with seven scoreless outings. The offense has produced with the help of unlikely stars such as Jhonny Peralta and Avisail Garcia.
Cause for concern: Jose Valverde. The Tigers closer has allowed seven runs in 21/3 innings this postseason, and lost his job to Phil Coke in the ALCS. As former teammate Curt Schilling said, "He's out of gas. He's throwing the ball without command inside the strike zone. I can't see him coming in to get the big out." Setup man Joaquin Benoit also has struggled, which could put more pressure on the starters to go deep. Finally, Detroit needs to make sure the rest doesn't make it rusty. The Tigers had a similar break before the 2006 World Series and made several fielding errors that helped the Cardinals win.
What's working for the Giants: San Francisco has shown resolve when its back is against the wall. There have been six games in which the Giants could have been eliminated this postseason, but they have won all of them. Catcher Buster Posey credited "want" and "willpower." Marco Scutaro, the NLCS MVP, has proven to be one of the biggest additions at the trade deadline, as well as UT Arlington's Hunter Pence, who had two hits and two RBIs in Game 7 of the NLCS. And closer Sergio Romo has allowed only one run over 72/3 innings, and closed out all four Giants wins in the NLCS.
Cause for concern: Ace Matt Cain pitched in Game 7 of the NLCS and Ryan Vogelsong was used in Game 6, which means the Giants won't be able to use them until the series shifts to Detroit. Another pitching concern has to be lefty Madison Bumgarner, who has an 11.25 ERA this postseason. Offensively, San Francisco has a predominantly right-handed lineup, which could play in the favor of Detroit, which will start all righties. The Giants will need to get more production out of Aubrey Huff (.125 average in the playoffs), who is expected to serve as the designated hitter in Detroit.
Prediction: Detroit's rotation has been red-hot in the postseason and it always comes down to pitching, especially in two pitchers' parks like San Francisco and Detroit. The Giants have shown resiliency in coming back from deficits against Cincinnati and St. Louis the past two series. However, Detroit will be able to close the door on San Francisco in five games.