We're a couple hours away from the start of Game One of the 2010 Major League Baseball World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Texas Rangers. I meant to post this last night, but better late than never. I had a chance to exchange some questions with Bretty Perryman of SB Nation Dallas. He was kind enough to provide some interesting insight into his Rangers, while I did my best to provide a Bay Area perspective on the Giants. Check out SB Nation Dallas for that Q&A.
Fooch: As much as the Rangers are known for their bats, their starting pitching has been quite solid this year. We all know Cliff Lee is a monster in the postseason. Looking at the rest of the rotation, Colby Lewis sort of came out of nowhere (or least from Japan) and is pitching well. C.J. Wilson has converted into an effective starter. And there's Tommy Hunter (I got nothing). After Lee, can you discuss whether you're confident in the remaining three starters, and why (or why not)?
Brett: C.J. Wilson is somewhat of a redemption story. He was probably a little misunderstood by teammates and fans early in his career, but a couple of silly run-ins landed him the label of a pot-stirrer. During a difficult 2008 for him on and off the mound, it's safe to say that he was generally unpopular here, outside of pockets of readers of Lone Star Ball and the Newberg Report, and social networks. He asked the team for a chance to start in 2009 and was rebuffed, as he hadn't shown efficiency or reliable command out of the pen. He asked again after the 2009 season, and Nolan Ryan and Jon Daniels told him that he could come to spring training and compete for a spot, but that he would have to be one of the club's top two starters for the club to deem him valuable enough to remove him from his late relief role.
When we saw him in March, he was a different pitcher. He was a master of three or four pitches, rather than a tinkerer with five ore more, and his cutter became a serious weapon. He threw 203 innings, up from a career high 73.2 in 2009, and many expected him to falter as the season went on. His second-half line essentially matched his first-half numbers, though, and he settled in as the team's #2 starter in the postseason. The big question for Wilson is still command/control. He led the AL in walks, and his September and October regular season starts averaged around five innings. I don't know what to expect from Wilson. We saw his very best in G2 against the Rays and for most of his G1 start against the Yankees, but his control completely left him in G5, as he allowed four walks, two home runs and six runs in five innings and even threw a ball away in the field for an unearned run. Wilson has the stomach to pitch well in a world series, but we'll have to see whether he has the command.
Like Cliff Lee, a light seemed to come on for Colby Lewis in 2008. For Lee that meant a 22-3 record, an All-Star appearance, and a Cy Young. For Lewis it meant a bit of financial security, but in a foreign land. Lewis was a highly regarded fireballer in the Texas system who was overused and overexposed by Buck Showalter in his first stint in Arlington. He spent his mid-20s attempting to recover from a torn rotator cuff while hoping to establish himself as a major league pitcher. Instead, he evolved into a AAAA guy who jumped from organization to organization, never finding any major league success. He never did regain all of his arm strength, but in Japan he not only learned effective variations on his slider, he learned how to pitch. He matched or outperformed guys like Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hiroki Kuroda, but, presumably because his name is Colby Lewis and not Colbyashi Saito, he managed just a two-year, $5 million contract - with a club option - from the Rangers.
If you go by stats like WAR (4.4, 9th) and xFIP (3.93, 14th), Lewis was number one starter caliber in the American League in 2010. He was unlucky with run support, but the guy threw 201 innings and exceeded all expectations - aside from some statistical systems that incorporated his phenomenal Japanese performance. On the surface C.J. Wilson was the #2 starter for the Rangers, Cliff Lee's (left-handed) right-hand man, but statistically it's probably been Lewis. Inefficiency shortened his first two postseason starts, but it's hard to argue with the overall results. He's managed 18.2 innings in his three starts, allowed just three runs, and of course finished off the Yankees with a semi-dominating performance. Like Lee, Lewis can be gotten to early. He does tend to settle down as he gets to the third inning and as he finds his breaking stuff. From the Rangers' perspective, Lewis may represent a better matchup for Jonathan Sanchez than most realize. He may, in fact, be the best opportunity for Texas to gain a starting pitching leg up.
Tommy Hunter is the big question mark for the Rangers. Though his end results rivaled what Wilson, Lewis and even Lee did during the regular season for the Rangers, his secondary numbers and good-but-not-great stuff foretold his postseason struggles. His two playoff starts have been curious. He's managed a 12:0 K:BB ratio, but he's been hit hard enough to last just 4.0 and 3.1 innings, allowing five total runs, as Ron Washington used a quick trigger in both starts.
Derek Holland is his de facto tandem starter, as he has relieved Hunter in both games and outpitched him. The Rangers decided to keep Hunter in the G4 starting role for this series, presumably for two reasons. First, even if Hunter struggles, they have Holland in their pocket and can go to him early and for several innings. If the roles are reversed, they can't be sure that Holland will give them more with the pressure of starting or that Hunter will be effective in relief. Second, using the pair this way gives them the versatility to use Holland elsewhere in the series. He was used an additional time in each series and was effective for two tight innings in G1 of the ALCS.
To summarize, I expect Lewis to do quite well. I don't completely trust Wilson, but I'd say he's about 70/30 to be fairly dominant or to really struggle his way through five or so innings, so I'd probably predict one game of each from him. And I expect more of the same from Hunter and Holland: Hunter will probably trudge through 4-5 innings and give up around three runs, and Holland is likely to do well in relief of him.
Fooch: If the Giants and Rangers pitching both hold up like they've done thus far, this could turn into a battle of bullpens. Neftali Felez has been rock solid as the closer. Do you have any concerns about the youngster under the bright lights of October? Can you tell us more about the rest of the bullpen beyond age-less wonder Darren Oliver?
Brett: This is probably the greatest concern going into the series for Texas. It definitely was leading into the ALCS, but after Texas setup men completely blew G1, the offense was able to pile on runs against New York's pen, and Texas relievers were able to wiggle out of a few jams.
Feliz has to feel better about himself now than earlier in the playoffs. He was really shaky both in the Tampa series and early against New York, but he seemed to shake out some jitters later on, and I think that the Rangers are fairly confident in him now. Still, he didn't have to save a game against the Yankees, so he really hasn't been tested. It's all about throwing strikes for him.
The Rangers lack a viable playoff caliber setup man from the right side. Frank Francisco would have been their best option, but he's not healthy. Alexi Ogando had evolved into that role late in the season and is the one guy with the talent to excel, but some evolving control issues completely spooked Washington, and he's been relegated to a garbage role in the playoffs - looking pretty shaky even there.
Darren O'Day has taken the role by default, but, as Giants fans likely know, despite his stellar regular season numbers, he's a low arm-angle, specialty guy. He has been alright statistically against lefty bats, but Rangers fans should be trembling if he finds himself facing an Aubrey Huff in a high leverage situation. With O'Day and Oliver, the Rangers have two setup man without dominant stuff - a scary proposition in a world series.
Beyond those guys and Holland, you can expect to see some combination of Michael Kirkman and Clay Rapada from the left side and Dustin Nippert and Mark Lowe from the right side in the final two spots. Kirkman has a lot of upside but very iffy control. Rapada was used as a Cano-silencer in the ALCS, to dire results. Nippert and Lowe throw hard but are boxes of chocolates.
Fooch: Ron Washington is a Bay Area favorite from his time with the Oakland A's. At this point for A's fans choosing who to root for in this series (if anybody) the Rangers seem to be getting the nod because they're managed by Ron Washington and they're not the Angels. Washington seemed to be on the hot seat early in his time with the Rangers. What has led to this turnaround with the team and with Washington. Does his game managing inspire confidence?
Brett: First of all, Washington's turnaround certainly has been remarkable. Most fans wanted his head throughout 2008 and 2009, despite steady on-field improvement and miraculous improvement in the team's clubhouse from Buck Showalter's tenure. Then came the admission of cocaine use this spring. Two things saved him, in my opinion. He had earned the respect of his players to the point that they went out of their way to show support for him after his admission, and he had won a fan in Nolan Ryan.
With a long awaited return to the playoffs and the first two series wins in franchise history, you now hear talk from radio hosts and in newspapers about his in-game style being central to the club winning in the playoffs - the two primary pieces of evidence being G5 of the ALDS and G2 of the ALCS. For the average die-hard fan, the folks who watch most games and have some idea of the trade-offs involved in aggressiveness on the basepaths and running into outs, I would estimate that he does not inspire confidence with his in-game maneuvering, but, really, how many managers these days do? Washington has a significant ace-in-the-hole who isn't talked about much in bench coach Jackie Moore. In my opinion we saw a noticeable strategical improvement when Moore was hired to consult Washington during games.
Fooch: We know plenty about Cliff Lee, Josh Hamilton, Vladimir Guerrero, and Michael Young. Outside of those four, what players (pitching or hitting) could you see stepping up in this series and potentially putting together an MVP performance for the Rangers?
Brett: Offensively, Nelson Cruz is the second key for Texas. He's been terrific in the playoffs, hitting .375/.419/.875 with five home runs, and he would have been a second MVP caliber guy for them if he had played more than 108 games. The third important guy and the other guy who is red hot right now is Ian Kinsler. Like Cruz, he actually has better overall numbers in the postseason than Hamilton. I would add this: with these three killing it from the three, five and six spots in the order, the key for me from the Giants' side is that they need to keep Young and Hamilton from getting their acts together. Both hit a little in the ALCS, but they still look like fairly easy outs right now. If you can't get them out, you're probably going to have all kinds of trouble getting through the Texas order.
The keys for Texas on the mound are obviously Wilson, Lewis and Feliz. But if I have to pick one of those three to actually step up and win Texas a key game, I have the most faith in Lewis.