Cliff Lee is Human After All: World Series Notes

The big story after game one is that Cliff Lee is human after all. Lee did not pitch well and did not look as sharp as he had in previous outings. Interestingly, his strikeout to walk ratio was still a very good seven to one. The problem Lee had is that the Giants hit the ball well against him. The Giants lineup, because it is heavily right handed and not built around drawing walks or working count, may have been uniquely well matched against Lee. Lee will get another start this series and will likely revert to his usually strong form, so the Giants will need to get a better outing from Tim Lincecum in game five as well.

The most overlooked story of the game is that while neither Lee nor Lincecum had their best stuff, Lincecum pitched a tough 5.2 innings and kept his team in the game, while Lee did not. Lincecum appeared to be unraveling in the first inning, but got it together and settled down enough. It turns out that the long haired pot smoker was able to bear down and tough it out better than the deer hunter from Arkansas.

The Lincecum v. Lee matchup in game one underscores the political and cultural contrast in this series. 2010 is a little reminiscent of the famous 1972, “Hairs versus Squares” World Series where Charlie Finley’s hirsute Oakland A’s played the old school conservative looking Cincinnati Reds. Bay Area baseball fans know the hairs won that World Series and are hoping for a similar result this year.

The political contrast between these two teams can also be seen in their ballparks. Both teams play in beautiful new ballparks, but they were financed differently. The Rangers, consistent with the corporate welfare policies of the Republican Party, financed their ballpark with public money, while the voters of San Francisco, consistent with their liberal principles, refused to fund a new ballpark for the Giants and demanded that big business pay their own way.

The Giants hitting last night probably surprised most fans, but their offense is not as bad as it has been portrayed. Total numbers for the year are a little misleading because two of the Giants’ best hitters, Buster Posey and Pat Burrell missed the first third of the season, while Cody Ross was not really part of the offense until the post-season. Nonetheless, the Giants top three hitters, Aubrey Huff, Burrell and Posey had OPS+ of 139, 132 and 129 during the regular season. This is not Murderer’s Row, but it is comparable to other top offenses like the Phillies (145,128,128 for Jayson Werth, Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz) or even the Yankees (142, 130, 125 for Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher). The Giants have no superstar comparable to Werth, Josh Hamilton or Cano, but they are average or slightly better throughout the lineup, with a fair amount of power.

The Giants don’t look like most great offenses from recent years, because they don’t walk very much, but the impatience and power model has worked in the post-season. Players like Juan Uribe, Andres Torres, Cody Ross and even Pablo Sandoval may be the new market inefficiency. Because they walk so rarely, the value of their power is overlooked, but they can contribute from the bottom half of the lineup. Torres, of course bats leadoff, but his speed notwithstanding is not really a true leadoff hitter.

While Lee’s subpar pitching performance is a real disappointment for the Rangers and their fans, the Rangers got to the Giants pitching more than any other team in the post-season so far. This should provide some solace to Texas. However, the Vladimir Guerrero in the field experiment was a mistake from the beginning given Guerrero’s unimpressive numbers against righties all year (.287/.328/.482), and his defense was rusty at best, so presumably manager Ron Washington will keep Guerrero out of the lineup in game two against Matt Cain another right handed pitcher.

Game two is tonight and while the Rangers are still very much in it, the Giants are one quarter of the way there. The Giants need to keep hitting, but the pitching advantage shifts a little bit to the Giants now who only face Lee once more and have a solid advantage in the pitching matchup in game four and are even at worst, for the other games. However, as Freddy Sanchez and Juan Uribe reminded us last night, they still have to play the games.