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October 31, 2010
World Series Prospectus
Game Three Analysis
One game might only mean ignominy deferred. It might only be the beginning of a replay of '87, reconfirming the convictions of those who want to invest everything in full faith and confidence in the benefits of home-field advantage. Heck, achieve that, and "the All-Star Game means something" might even win a few converts.
Or, it could just be one ballgame, and a reminder that one of the Rangers' first big moves once the calendar flipped figures to be one of their biggest causes for celebration at season's end. Lewis once again cruised through a critical start, just as he had in his LCS-completing killshot of the Yankees, allowing just five baserunners through the first six innings, but wearing down enough to allow seventh- and eighth-inning solo shots to narrow the margin. While the Giants had a shot at putting him into some sort of trouble in the opening frame by getting two on with two out, that was as close as they came to a big-inning opportunity, and by striking out Pat Burrell the first of three times*, it was clear that Lewis wasn't having any of it.
Against that, the Rangers got to dance with Jonathan Sanchez's incremental, start-by-start acquisition of an Oliver Perez-sized rep for an especially gauche brand of lefty flakiness. He put the leadoff man aboard in three of his five innings, and if not for getting a fifth-inning double play before Josh Hamilton's lead-enhancing homer, he was en route to even bigger trouble. That he only gave up four runs can be taken as good news of a sort, but if this series goes to seven games, we may not see Sanchez starting it. Logistically, that might mean Madison Bumgarner on short rest, with Lincecum and Sanchez available for stretches, but as Bruce Bochy demonstrated in his NLCS, everything goes onto the menu when a single win's left to be won.
Mitch Moreland's delivery of his Earl Weaver special in the second inning was important on several levels, not just because it was the game-winning blow. First, it owed a lot to Moreland's increasingly apparent ability to extend his at-bats until he gets his pitch. After taking a tough second strike, he expanded his zone and kept flicking low pitches foul, until he finally got Sanchez to move just that little bit extra up in the zone. It's the sort of brilliant batsmanship that the Rangers can use more of. It also reconfirmed the wisdom of not getting hung up on Moreland's brief bit of struggle against big-league lefties. The youngster's performance against lefties at the lower rungs of the system suggests he's no platoon player, so even with Jorge Cantu as the unappealing alternative, it's to Ron Washington's credit that he's kept running with the rookie. Less happy is having him hit ninth in the AL venue after hitting him eighth in the San Francisco; maybe this sort of night is going to get him elevated in the order, especially after Washington's lineup order took the bat out of Moreland's hands in Game Two. Whether they sit Vladimir Guerrero in the sixth or seventh games, the right-leaning Rangers need Moreland's power and pitcher-exhausting patience closer to their more likely baserunner-rich opportunities.
To bring this back to Lewis, it would be easy to suggest from this outcome that perhaps a star is being born, but Lewis' workmanlike brand of dominance isn't cut from the same cloth as Tim Lincecum's or Cliff Lee's. Clutch defines the performance, if not the performer, and he remains now what he was in September, a reminder of the Rangers' layered risks and sufficient successes from among them to get themselves here. Whether with the example of Japanese leaguer re-importation or the successful transmogrification of C.J. Wilson from sporadically dominant ace reliever to quality rotation regular, the fact that both have been critical components to the Rangers' rotation should make for an interesting source of inspiration in the monkey-see, monkey-do world of the Hot Stove League.
In the meantime, there's tonight's matchup to ponder, because between the defense-dependent Tommy Hunter and the increasing suspicion that Madison Bumgarner is a blue-chipper worthy of his cerulean status, it would be safe and somewhat easy to favor the Giants. But I don't think it's going to be quite so easy as all that, because while there's reason to believe Hunter is all BABIP-generated good times, it's important to remember that his performance against right-handers this season (.231/.273/.435) suggests he might be a tough matchup for a Giants' lineup that lists heavily to the right, perhaps as much as the Rangers have their issues against lefties. As I suggested in the World Series preview, I'm anticipating more of a pitcher's duel in Game Four, especially if Hunter keeps the Giants as hack-happy as they were against Lewis in Game Three. The outcomes of the at-bats of Andres Torres and Aubrey Huff figure to be the most important early on, because if Hunter fails to execute against them, the game will get away from the Rangers early.
*: Pat the Bat gold-tinted that sombrero in the ninth with the aid of Neftali Feliz.