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October 25, 2010

On the Beat

Relishing the Underdog Role

by John Perrotto

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The Giants have seemingly been fighting an uphill battle forever. They were six games out of first place on August 28 in the National League West before chasing down the Padres for the division title. They were then underdogs in the National League Championship Series but upset the Phillies in six games.

The Giants now find themselves as the underdogs again in the World Series. Oddsmakers have installed the Rangers as the favorites in the Fall Classic, which begins Wednesday. However, Giants closer Brian Wilson says it is time to quit worrying about how others perceive his team.

"It's time to start believing," he said.

Wilson insists he and his teammates are not bothered by being underrated. In fact, he says they relish the fact that they keep beating the odds.

"Apparently, we're playing the best team every round," Wilson said. "We're getting overlooked a lot. That's just fine. You don't want to be the No. 1 seed. All you can do is lose and disappoint everybody. You want to be the underdog. That's what's happening every series."

The Giants keep being installed as underdogs based on a so-so offense that was ninth in the NL and 17th in the major leagues with an average of 4.30 runs scored a game during the regular season. However, the Giants' strength is run prevention, as they were second in the majors with 3.60 runs allowed per game.

The Giants held the Phillies to 20 runs in six games and a .216/.314/.321 slash line in the NLCS. The Phillies were third in the NL and eighth in the majors with an average of 4.77 runs a game this season.

"Our team is not based on who scores the most runs," Wilson said. "The way we've been playing, it's who gives up the least amount of runs."

The Giants have not won a World Series since moving from New York to San Francisco in 1958, losing to the Yankees in 1962, the Athletics in 1989, and the Angels in 2002. The franchise's last world championship came in 1954 when the Giants swept the Indians, who had gone 111-43 during the regular season. Of the major leagues' original 16 teams, only the Cubs (1908) and Indians (1948) have gone longer without winning a World Series.

"We've got a chance to win, and we like our odds," Wilson said. "We're the real deal. It's time to start believing."

---

So much has been made of the Rangers' new-found culture of pitching since Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan took over as the club president prior to the 2008 season. The Rangers did finish fourth in the American League in runs allowed for the second time in as many seasons this year, giving up 4.86 runs a game.

However, lost in all the talk about the improved pitching, is that the Rangers are still a very capable offensive team. They may not be the bashing club of the late '90s that won three AL West titles in four years, but the Rangers figure to be a formidable challenge for the Giants' pitching staff in the World Series. The Rangers were also fourth in the AL in runs scored and fifth in the major with an average of 4.24 a game.

"I really believe this team has a relentless pursuit of scoring one more run than the opposition," Rangers hitting coach Clint Hurdle said. "They find opportunities and they make the most of them."

That was evident in the Rangers' clinching 6-1 victory over the Yankees in Game Six of the American League Championship Series. The Yankees scored their lone run in the top of the fifth to tie the game at 1-1. The Rangers responded with a four-run outburst in the bottom of the inning to take the lead. All the runs came with two outs as Vladimir Guerrero hit a two-run double and Nelson Cruz followed with a two-run home run that made it 5-1.

The inning started when rookie Mitch Moreland beat out an infield single then moved to second and third on consecutive ground outs. Guerrero's big hit followed an intentional walk to Josh Hamilton.

"There is no way to hold us down," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "You can walk Josh to get to Vlad, or you can walk Vlad to get to Cruz, or walk Cruz to get to me, and all the way down the line. You can pick your poison, but we are going to get you. There is no doubt that we always expect Vlad is going to come through."

Hamilton led the Rangers with a .346 Total Average in the regular season and the underrated Cruz had a .320 mark. Moreland (.291) and Kinsler (.290) also had higher TAvs than Guerrero (.289) in the regular season, but the Rangers were happy to see the 15-year veteran at the plate in what turned out to be a pennant-winning situation.

"Every one of us is comfortable with Vlad being up there every time with men on base," Hurdle said. "We're in a good place when Vlad is up there in that situation."

---

The Phillies' vision from the first day of spring training was a third straight NL pennant and the World Series trip that goes with it. They thought they were stronger than ever after trading for Blue Jays right-hander Roy Halladay and signing Tigers infielder Placido Polanco as a free agent to play third base in the offseason.

The Phillies felt they solidified their chances by trading for Astros ace Roy Oswalt in late July to add to Halladay and left-hander Cole Hamels at the top of the rotation. Yet the Phillies were sent home one step short of the World Series despite having a 97-65 regular-season record that was the best in the major leagues.

"It's definitely a huge disappointment," left fielder Raul Ibanez said. "It's tough, tough, for sure. There's a little bit of a sense of shock because what we expected of ourselves was so high."

Offense did the Phillies in during the NLCS. In addition to being held to 3.33 runs a game, they managed to go just 8-for-45 (.178) with runners in scoring position.

"I know our guys and we can definitely hit better than that," manager Charlie Manuel said. "We're capable of putting up more runs, having high on-base percentages and the whole works. That would probably be the downside of our club this year. We were very inconsistent in our hitting."

The Phillies' offense was inconsistent throughout the season despite having a former All-Star at every position but catcher. The Phillies were shut out 12 times in 171 games, including the postseason.

"We obviously could have been better with getting big hits; I put myself in that group," Ibanez said. "I should have done more. I put myself in the front of the line. It goes for the entire season. We didn't get it done."

With that in mind, the Phillies' season had a rather fitting ending. First baseman Ryan Howard took a called third strike from Wilson for the final out of the 3-2 loss in NLCS Game Six.

"That's the spot everybody dreams about being in—full count, game on the line," Howard said. "This time, I came up short."

---

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman admittedly has much on his list this offseason, including three members of the Core Four being eligible for free agency in shortstop and captain Derek Jeter, closer Mariano Rivera, and left-hander Andy Pettitte. Yet Cashman says his first order of business in the aftermath of the Yankees' loss in the ALCS is to address manager Joe Girardi's situation.

Girardi's contract expires at the end of the month and Cashman said, "He's absolutely coming back." There had been speculation that Girardi might want to jump to the Cubs and his home state of Illinois, but that possibility was scuttled when interim manager Mike Quade was hired as the permanent replacement for Lou Piniella.

Jeter insists that he hasn't thought about the idea that he can become a free agent after spending his entire 16-year career with the Yankees. He also claimed it did not dawn on him during the final moments of the Game Six loss that he could possibly be playing his last game in pinstripes.

"You're trying to come back, trying to win the game," Jeter said. "It would have been unfair for me to be thinking about it."

Rivera just smiled when asked if he considered the possibility of playing the last game for the only team he has known in his 16-year career, saying "I don't want to talk about it."

Pettitte admits that he really has no great motivation to continue his 16-year career. Yet he also wasn't ready to confirm speculation that he is going to retire.

"There's nothing more that I want to achieve in this game," Pettitte said. "But I'm a man, and you want to work and do stuff and this is all I know. I don't want to shut it down and regret not playing. That's my biggest fear. I know now that if I'm healthy I can pitch for a while. My decision will be solely on my family."

---

MLB Rumors & Rumblings: Put Curt Young at the top of the list of candidates to become the Red Sox' next pitching coach after he decided not to return to the Athletics. The Red Sox are looking for a replacement for John Farrell, who is expected to become the Blue Jays' next manager. … The Pirates reportedly are down to three for their manager's job with one in-house candidate, bench coach Jeff Banister, joining Braves bench coach Carlos Tosca and former Diamondbacks third base coach Bo Porter. … Believed to still be candidates to become the next Brewers' manager are White Sox bench coach Joey Cora, former Mariners and Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin, Dodgers Triple-A manager Tim Wallach, Angels bench coach Ron Roenicke, and Nationals third-base coach Pat Listach.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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