- Tim Kurkjian, MLB reporter
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It is TV's worst series, but it is a terrific matchup for those who want to see new faces in new places in the postseason. Neither the Texas Rangers nor the San Francisco Giants were supposed to get this far, but each team deserves it: The Rangers thoroughly outplayed the Yankees; and the Giants, without style points, outplayed the Phillies. Now the Giants will go for their first world championship since 1954, and the Rangers will go for their first world championship ever. The fanbases in each city have never been louder. That will continue.
Here are five questions about the series:
1. How good is Cliff Lee?
He is ridiculously good. In eight postseason starts, he is 7-0 with a 1.26 ERA. Only Sandy Koufax and Christy Mathewson have a lower ERA among pitchers with at least five starts in the postseason. Lee is the first pitcher ever with three straight postseason games of at least 10 strikeouts. He has five 10-strikeout games in his postseason career; one more and he'll be the only one ever with six (Randy Johnson also has five). Lee had 30 strikeouts in between walks, another postseason record. There have been eight postseason games in history in which a pitcher has struck out 10 and walked none; Lee has four of them. He locates his fastball as well as any pitcher in the game, works the inside part of the plate as well as any pitcher, and has a great curveball and a cutter from hell. Every hitter knows he will be around the plate with every pitch, and no one can hit him. Lee will be on more than full rest for Game 1. But can he go on short rest if he has to?
The Giants' starting pitching is very good, also, with one warning: Jonathan Sanchez lasted only two innings in Game 6. If he gets too complicated with his many release points, he again will have trouble throwing strikes. That was not a problem with the Rangers' No. 3 starter, Colby Lewis, who beat the Yankees twice in the ALCS.
2. What do we make of the Giants?
They are not a good defensive team. They aren't a patient team at the plate. They don't steal bases. They can hit home runs from No. 1 to No. 8 in the order, but otherwise, they aren't a particularly good offensive team. So, how do they win? They are a tough, gritty team that is all about character, diverse personalities and great starting pitching. Outside of their rotation, they are a collection of misfits, outcasts and waiver claims. "We've got some crazies on this team," reliever Jeremy Affeldt said. "But that's good." They don't get many hits, but the ones they get, really count, as has been shown in their winning six games by one run in this postseason, tying a record for the most one-run wins in one postseason. They are, said third-base coach Tim Flannery, "a bunch of street fighters."
"We are resilient," closer Brian Wilson said. "We're always in for the battle."
3. How explosive are the Rangers offensively?
In this postseason, they have hit 17 home runs and stolen 16 bases. They have hit a home run in 11 postseason games in a row, one short of the record set by the 2004 Astros. They beat the Yankees four times by at least five runs, the second team ever to do that in a seven-game series. The Rangers scored 59 runs in 11 postseason games, very impressive given the quality of pitching they've seen. Shortstop Elvis Andrus runs seemingly wherever and whenever he wants. He steals third base, and he can score from second on an infield out. "Their speed intimidates pitchers," one scout said. "I've seen it. The pitcher pitches differently because of that speed. And then he doesn't concentrate enough on their mashers." Main masher Josh Hamilton hit four home runs in the LCS. Nelson Cruz has hit five homers in this postseason. The Rangers have a better offensive team in every way than the Giants.
4. Is NLCS MVP Cody Ross the symbol of the Giants?
It's possible that something special is going on with the Giants. Sometimes when a team gets enough little breaks -- see: the perfect hop off the wall to center fielder Andres Torres in Game 6 of the LCS, preventing Jimmy Rollins from scoring from first on a two-out double -- you start to wonder whether it's a team of destiny. Destiny? Take Ross. He was claimed on waivers because the Giants didn't want him to go to the rival Padres. He drove in seven runs in 73 at-bats with the Giants, trying to find playing time on a team that had enough outfielders without him. Then he hit four home runs (two in one game off Roy Halladay) and drove in eight runs and slugged .794 in the postseason. There is no explanation for this except this: It is baseball. These stories don't happen in any other sport nearly as often as they do in baseball. There's no way the 11th man on an NBA team ends up as the best player in any playoff series. But in baseball, it happens all the time. Ross wanted to be a rodeo clown as a kid. He once batted against Phil Mickelson in a minor league game ("I'm guessing he threw about 65 mph," Ross said) and is one of those rare everyday players who throws left-handed and bats right-handed. But he can hit, and he has gotten a lot of big hits for the Giants in October. He crushed fastballs down and in, but he also hit .362 against changeups.
5. Which team has the better bullpen?
Each team had an excellent bullpen in the regular season. The Giants' 'pen held up a little better in the postseason. Wilson became the fourth pitcher to win or save four games in one postseason series. His ability to locate his fastball down in the zone and throw his breaking ball for a strike (ask Ryan Howard) was very impressive. Lefty specialist Javier Lopez was sensational (ask Howard again) against the Phillies, and Affeldt gives the Giants another lefty in the pen. The Rangers also have left-handers and closer Neftali Feliz, who throws in the upper 90s. The key will be the right-handed setup guys for the Giants, Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla and Ramon Ramirez. They were all very good in the regular season, but, by the end of the NLCS, they were a little unsteady, so much so that Giants manager Bruce Bochy pitched Tim Lincecum in the eighth inning of the clincher in Game 6.
PREDICTION: RANGERS IN SEVEN
Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book "Is This a Great Game, or What?" was published by St. Martin's Press and is available in paperback. Click here to order a copy.
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