The 2010 World Series begins tomorrow night as the San Francisco Giants host the Texas Rangers, making their first appearance in the Fall Classic. Much like the Giants’ tussle with Philadelphia, this is a matchup of great starting pitching.
There are plenty of hot hitters in this series, too, including some lesser-known guys that have helped their club get to this stage. I won’t take you through the entire roster, but instead focus on five key players for each team, with notes on various other players as well.
For those of you who haven’t followed these two darkhorse teams, consider this your World Series “Who’s Who” guide. Let’s start with the Texas Rangers:
Cliff Lee, Starting Pitcher
In 2008, things simply clicked for Cliff Lee. Having been wildly inconsistent his first four full seasons in the majors, Lee went 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA in ’08, winning the Cy Young.
The details of the transformation deserve their own study, so suffice it to say that Lee’s been dominant ever since. And that’s why after this World Series, Lee will become the highest-paid player of this free agent class. Whether he stays in Texas, dons the pinstripes, or ends up in some other city will be the most closely followed event of the offseason.
His Game One duel with Tim Lincecum is yet another must-see pitchers matchup of this postseason.*
Josh Hamilton, Outfielder
Hamilton’s rise to glory is even more interesting than Lee’s. The left-handed hitting machine didn’t struggle on the field, however; his problems came off of it. The first overall pick of the 1999 draft (by Tampa Bay), drug addiction derailed his career. Long story short: Hamilton has obviously gotten back on track; he’s a front-runner for the MVP award.
The Yankees started to fear Hamilton to the point where they were intentionally walking him to get to a future Hall of Famer who hit .300 with 29 home runs this year. How the Giants decide to pitch to—or around—Hamilton will be an interesting subplot of this World Series.
|Hamilton is one of the most feared hitters in baseball. (Credit: Keith Allison)
Vlad Guerrero, Outfielder
This is the future HOFer I was referring to. When he’s in the batter’s box, he’s one of the most fun players to watch. He is similar to teammate Jeff Francoeur in that he will swing at anything—the difference between the two is that Vlad will usually make contact.
The question with Guerrero, 35 (at least), is whether he can play the field. He is the Rangers’ DH, but his bat is too valuable to leave on the bench in San Francisco. As long as he doesn’t cost Texas with his limited range, he could actually be a defensive asset—his arm is that good.
Ian Kinsler, Second Baseman
Kinsler missed a good chunk of 2010 due to injury, but his play the last few weeks certainly suggests he is healthy. Kinsler leads the Rangers with nine RBI this postseason. He’s hitting .342 and has swiped two bags.
Kinsler is also fun to watch, but more so because he can do a little bit of everything, which is especially rare for a second baseman.
Nelson Cruz, Outfielder
Cruz also battled injuries this season, otherwise he could have challenged Hamilton for the MVP. Yes, the 30-year-old from the Dominican Republic is that good. He’s slugged a team-high five home runs during the playoffs to go along with a .375 batting average. When Cruz is hitting fifth, you know the lineup is deadly. I expect a big World Series from him.
Best of the Rest: Michael Young is a lifer—this is his 11th season with Texas, the only team he’s played for. An underrated player his entire career, Young has been an important postseason contributor. Neftali Feliz is the 22-year-old closer who came out of nowhere to save 40 games for Texas this season. His fastball often touches 100 mph. Elvis Andrus is another exciting young player. I’m partial to shortstops, but I think Andrus will be one of the best at his position in a few years.
This Rangers team is highly likeable, but it may be even easier to root for the San Francisco Giants. Let’s start with Lee’s Series-opening counterpart on the mound:
Tim Lincecum, Starting Pitcher
The Freak was freakishly bad in August, but found his groove in September and it has carried into the playoffs. Lincecum’s unorthodox windup and nasty movement on his pitches make him an amazing talent to watch.
He threw a complete-game two-hit shutout (14 K’s) to get the Giants’ 2010 playoffs started and set the tone for the NLCS by beating Roy Halladay. I highly doubt he’ll be intimated by Lee or nervous about pitching on the biggest stage.
|Wild hair, crazy delivery, nearly impossible to hit. (Credit: SD Dirk)
Buster Posey, Catcher
I know nobody wants to hear about someone else’s fantasy team, so I’ll keep this brief. Having gone through a handful of horrendous backstops, my co-manager suggested we get Buster Posey. Who? I asked, before figuring why not? If he struggled, that first name would make it easy to criticize the move. But Posey didn’t struggle. The 23-year-old hit over .300 and is a Rookie of the Year contender.
So yeah, I feel a nerdy connection to Posey and I want to see him do well. He shoulders a lot of pressure, not only catching this incredible staff but batting clean-up.
Brian Wilson, Closer
“Fear the Beard” has become San Fran’s playoff mantra thanks to Wilson’s thick, dyed beard. Yes, he went all Walt “Clyde” Frazier and dyed his beard jet black. Hey, whatever works, man. Wilson has yet to give up a run in the playoffs and has recorded five saves.
He made arguably the most important pitch of the season when he replaced Lincecum in the eighth inning of Game Six against the Phillies. With the Giants up a run and the Phils threatening—first and second, one out—Wilson needed only three pitches to induce an inning-ending double play.
Juan Uribe, Infielder
I followed Uribe’s 2010 season somewhat closely (yes, because of fantasy, OK?!) so I know how remarkable it has been. It was fitting that he hit the pennant-clinching homer since he clubbed 24 home runs this season, the most in his 10-year career.
Other than that memorable blast though, Uribe has struggled mightily this postseason. The Giants are counting on him to have a much better World Series.
Aubrey Huff, First Baseman
The Giants were near the top of the league in home runs in part because seven guys were in double digits and four had at least 18. That included Huff, who led the way with 26. But so far in the playoffs, San Fran has gotten all of two homers from guys other than Cody Ross, and Huff did not hit either of them.
The tall, versatile defender had a stellar season after a horrendous 2009, and the Giants can’t afford any regression from Huff at this point.
Best of the Rest: Madison Bumgarner is a critical part of this team. Why? Because no team the Giants have faced has offered a better fourth starter. Texas will be no different. Andres Torres finally got a chance to play everyday and he proved to be a very capable leadoff hitter and centerfielder. He’ll be counted on to jumpstart the Giants offense. Jonathan Sanchez has a little bit of Oliver Perez in him, and that is definitely not a good thing. Even so, the Giants won two of his three postseason starts, and he has the stuff to dominate any lineup.
|AT&T Park in San Francisco is a beautiful venue for baseball. (Credit: Daniel Schwen)
As far as a prediction, I’m not foolish enough to make one. I wasn’t right about too much this postseason, so I’m going to sit back and enjoy what I hope is a seven-game series.
*Of course, I’m going to have to leave home to watch it. Cablevision, a cable television service provider with the largest subscriber base in the metropolitan New York viewing area, is in a contract dispute with FOX and is no longer carrying the network. I note that Cablevision also owns the Knicks, so New York sports fans were not happy with the company to begin with.