San Fran take Giant leap towards World Series glory

Just a few days ago I was predicting that the Detroit Tigers would win the 2012 World Series in six games over the San Francisco Giants.

I was far from the only person tipping the Tigers either. The Old English D dominated the prediction table on ESPN.com, for example.

Detroit earned the tag of being favourites by sweeping the New York Yankees in the ALCS and they’ve got the talent to get back into the series despite trailing 0-2 thanks to the Giants’ 2-0 Game Two victory in the early hours of Friday morning.

However if they are going to live up to my ‘win in six’ prediction they’ll have to take the next four games and that’s going to be a big ask against a surging Giants team.

The lively home crowd at AT&T Park filed away from the stadium knowing that while there’s still plenty of work to do, their team has put themselves in a great position to capture a second World Series in three years.

They have benefitted from some good breaks in winning the first two games of the series – the fortunate bounce off the third-base bag in Game One and Gregor Blanco’s bunt that stayed fair in Game Two, in particular – but the old saying that you make your own luck comes to mind.

Pablo Sandoval wasted little time banishing his personal disappointments of the 2010 World Series with his three homer onslaught in Game One. It didn’t matter where the pitch was, the Kung Fu Panda was more than happy to stick the ball over the fence.

Then in Game Two Madison Bumgarner rebounded from his disappointing recent form by making some adjustments to his pitching mechanics with pitching coach Dave Righetti. The hard work paid off in spectacular style as the Giants’ starter reeled off seven scoreless innings, limiting the Tigers to just two hits and two walks whilst striking out eight.

Bumgarner’s sole mistake came at the start of the second inning when a pitch got away from him and hit Prince Fielder.  It looked like it would prove costly when the next batter Delmon Young stroked a double down the left-field line; however the Tigers’ third-base coach Gene Lamont decided to be aggressive and waved Fielder around third, only for the hefty slugger to be thrown out at home plate.

In fairness to Lamont, Fielder was only just out thanks to some excellent defensive work by Marco Scutaro – acting as the emergency cut-off man when the ball sailed over shortstop Brandon Crawford – and catcher Buster Posey. The gamble nearly paid off, but there’s no doubt that it was a major gamble considering Fielder’s lack of speed and the fact that the Tigers would have still been set for a good inning with runners on second and third and no outs recorded.

Baseball Prospectus’ Run Expectancy matrix shows that in 2012 teams scored 1.9 runs (let’s call it 2 for the sake of practicality) from that position compared to 0.65 with one out and a runner on second.  Jhonny Peralta and Avisail Garcia were retired in order by Bumgarner to end the inning with no damage done and he may have escaped even if Fielder hadn’t been waved around third, but the Tigers definitely made things harder for themselves in that spot.

It could be, and indeed has been, argued that Jim Leyland also made things harder in the seventh inning when he decided not to bring the infield in and effectively conceded a run on a groundball to turn a double play.

Josh Chetwynd on BBC 5 Live Sports Extra’s commentary expressed his reservations about the strategic move and – rightfully, as it turned out – the dangers of conceding a run late on in a tight game. In the context of the game, on balance I would have to agree with Josh rather than Jim because the potential impact of allowing that run was very significant.

However, it could have gone wrong either way Leyland had played it, as bringing the infield in increases the odds of a groundball getting through to the outfield and potentially leading to a big inning. It was a ‘Second Guess City’ situation; whichever way you play it as the manager you’ll be second guessed if the result doesn’t go your way.

My thought at the time was that Leyland was concerned with the way his offence was misfiring on the night and that giving up more than one run would be fatal.  That was confirmed by the Tigers’ manager after the game when he stated, “we felt like we played double-play depth because we felt like we couldn’t give them two runs … to be honest with you, we were absolutely thrilled to come out of that inning with one run”.

The logic behind the call is easily understandable. Perhaps the question then is whether that logic showed Leyland being pragmatic (we’re not swinging the bats well and this will at least give us another chance) or negative (if I bring the infield in we might not get the out and then we’ll be in real trouble etc).

However you want to view it, the moment is gone now and the Tigers head back to Detroit hoping that the Comerica Field crowd can inspire a comeback from their 0-2 series hole.

As a neutral I’m hoping that the Tigers can make a series of it. Meanwhile, Giants fans will be more than happy if the season only has two more games to run.

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