Who needs ratings in October?

Posted: Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I might be the only one that feels this way, but this year's World Series is shaping up to be one of the better Fall Classics in recent memory.

So what if it's not New York and Philadelphia, or Boston and the other New York for that matter, this matchup is a stat geek's dream.

Full disclosure, I was born and raised in Texas and the Rangers have been bad for almost all of my 25 years. They've only made three playoff appearances in franchise history and never even won a series until this year. So watching Texas closer Neftali Feliz catch former Ranger Alex Rodriguez looking at the plate to earn the franchise's first-ever World Series bid was as appropriate an ending as you'll ever see.

And make no mistake about it, Texas dominated the Yankees in almost every aspect of the series, so it's not like defeating the evil empire was a fluke. Had it not been for a complete bullpen meltdown in Game 1 by the Rangers and a last stand at home from New York ace CC Sabathia in Game 5, the series had the potential to be over much more quickly in an ALCS that was clearly one-sided.

The Rangers' offense has been explosive for years now in a batter-friendly ballpark in Arlington, Texas, but it has never been this balanced. And now it has truly caught the attention of the baseball-watching public in the October spotlight.

Texas leads all postseason teams in runs (59), hits (107), home runs (17), runs batted in (55), batting average (.281), on-base percentage (.337), slugging percentage (.478) and stolen bases (15). In short, nearly every major offensive statistical category. And in most cases it's not even close.

But enter the buzzsaw that is the Giants' pitching. As impressive as the Rangers' offense is, the San Francisco staff is equally as dominant. Statistically speaking, it is the best Major League Baseball has to offer.

A rotation headed by two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, No. 2 Matt Cain and No. 3 Jonathan Sanchez, and bookended by the dyed beard of closer Brian Wilson, shut down opponents with a league-leading earned-run average of 3.36.

Opponents hit just .236 against San Francisco all season and for those who argue the Giants came out on top of an offensively challenged National League West, hitters are struggling just below the Mendoza line this postseason against the Giants. So it's strength versus strength in the World Series and like I said, it's a stat geek's dream.

But it's the subplots that make this season's World Series even better. Most fans are aware of the well-chronicled trials and tribulations of Texas outfielder Josh Hamilton, or Rangers' coach Ron Washington making the most out of a second chance after his admission to cocaine use as a manager, but perhaps the biggest story flies under the radar.

Back in late May, Texas filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in hopes of spurring the completion of the sale of the team. This was a team funded and supported by Major League Baseball at one point, yet it still managed to pull off a mid-season trade with Seattle to acquire postseason phenom Cliff Lee.

And here the Rangers are under the ownership umbrella of Nolan Ryan and partner Chuck Greenberg, preparing themselves for Game 1 of the World Series in what will be a must-see pitcher's duel.

But in the other dugout, one look at the Giants' lineup and the average fan - or at least fans east of the Mississippi - might have to strain to find someone they recognize.

Aubrey Huff, Pablo Sandoval, Cody Ross and Juan Uribe are hardly the household names that Hamilton and Vladimir Guerrero are - not to mention Michael Young, Ian Kinsler and the powerful Nelson Cruz - but they fit this team's mold as well as any. The Giants don't have the budget of the Yankees or Red Sox, and they certainly don't have the exposure of either, but they thrive on pitching and breaking open tight games with big hits. Just ask the Phillies about Uribe.

There's no question who draws the biggest ratings in baseball, and it's certainly not the Rangers or the Giants. Even Texas versus New York - in Game 3 of the ALCS at Yankee stadium - was outdrawn by Monday Night Football, featuring the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars in arguably the worst Monday-night matchup of the year. By the way, I blame this on fantasy football - unless you own Maurice Jones-Drew, watching the Jaguars is unbearable.

It will be up to the fans to prove baseball is still America's pasttime before professional football takes the moniker away for good. Neither team has a country-wide following, nor a winning tradition. Texas has never won the World Series, and the Giants haven't won since Willie Mays roamed center field and the team played home games in New York, but this matchup will be one to remember.

So as Lincecum and Lee take the mound tonight, remember baseball is a purist's sport. Forget about the ratings the Phillies would have brought, and forget about the aura and mystique of the Yankees. At its most basic form, this will be baseball at its best.

As for my prediction, the Giants better hope their pitching staff is in top form against the Texas offense, but I believe it's San Francisco offense that has to pick it up. Texas will score runs - it's inevitable. And as good as the Rangers are in the batter's box, their pitching staff is underrated and doesn't get the attention it deserves. Because of that, I think Giants will be faced with more than they can handle in a long series, and Lee will defeat Lincecum in a Game 7 for the ages.



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