On paper tonight’s pitching matchup isn’t anything to get excited about. In Justin Verlander vs. Barry Zito we have the reigning (and should be repeat) American League Cy Young Award winner versus a guy that hasn’t posted a sub-4.00 ERA in the past six years. In terms of pure numbers, Verlander is nearly the best possible candidate to start a World Series game (64 ERA-), and Zito is just about the worst case scenario (110 ERA-) when it comes to playoff starters.
If you played a full season’s worth of games with these two pitchers facing each other, I would be very confident saying that Verlander’s team would win well over 100 games. But this isn’t going to be a best of 162 series between Zito and Verlander. This is going to be one game, and when it comes to one game in baseball, nearly anything can happen.
Verlander is going to be dominant – I won’t allow myself to consider the alternative – but the Detroit can’t allow Zito to skate through the game with little damage against him. The Tigers are going to have a starting pitching advantage overall, but they have a huge starting pitching advantage in Zito-Verlander matchups. But in order to fulfill that advantage, the hitters will need to take advantage of run scoring opportunities.
That’s certainly been an issue at times this season. #TigersThreatenButDoNotScore was a common Twitter hashtag whenever runners reached scoring position – particularly with less than two outs – and failed to push a runner across. That seemed to happen far too often. Rick Porcello had a four game stretch in late August and early September in which he allowed an ERA of 3.97 (not great, but pretty good), but lost each game simply because the offense gave him ZERO runs of support while he was in the ballgame.
That simply cannot happen tonight. Worst case scenario (other than Verlander struggling, but we’re not allowing that to enter in the discussion) would be Verlander going seven or eight innings and leaving the ballgame with the team trailing by a score of 2-0 or 2-1 or 1-0. That would be a wasted opportunity, and that’s not how one wins a World Series.
Really what I’m saying here is “the Tigers need to score more runs than the Giants to win the game”, which is obvious, but what’s not included in that statement is “Verlander’s only going to give up one or two runs”, and “doing something, anything, against Zito means you pretty much win”.
No, the Tigers don’t NEED to win Game One to win the series, but letting the Giants off the hook when they’re throwing out Barry Zito against Justin Verlander doesn’t sound like a particularly good strategy.