The San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers, who square off in Game 1 of the World Series starting on Wednesday, are not exactly two teams filled with household names. Due to their location — both teams are their league’s respective West divisions and play many of their games in the Pacific Time zone — many fans across the country have little exposure to what these teams offer.
And while the storylines, like the Rangers’ Josh Hamilton‘s and Ron Washington‘s admitted drug use and Giants closer Brian Wilson‘s complete insanity, are entertaining enough, it’s the teams’ play on the field that ultimately is the most intriguing aspect of this series.
The Rangers are an amazing story. In a season where the team faced imminent bankruptcy and an almost certain transfer of ownership, Nolan Ryan‘s group was able to somehow salvage the franchise. They’ve made it to the World Series with a $55.3 million payroll — only three MLB teams spent less this year. Better yet, Texas made several key moves throughout the season, despite being financially hamstrung, and acquired many of the important players that will be on the team’s World Series roster come Wednesday.
And while the additions of Jeff Francoeur, Bengie Molina and Jorge Cantu have all played a part in the Rangers making the Fall Classic for the first time in franchise history, it has been Cliff Lee that has effectively taken an entire franchise on his back and into the promise land.
Texas traded for Lee on July 9, and he hasn’t looked back. He’s 3-0 with a 0.75 ERA in the postseason, threw a complete-game shutout against the Yankees in the Bronx to give his team a lead in the ALCS, and he’s the most feared pitcher in baseball – pitching for the Rangers in Game 1 of the World Series.
Lee is the horse of a steady rotation, but it’s the Rangers’ offense that provides the spark night in and night out. The lineup, from top to bottom, has a strong core of power, speed, patience and solid fundamentals. There are the young, like 22-year-old shortstop Elvis Andrus, and the old, like future Hall of Fame outfielder Vladimir Guerrero (35).
And for a team that has never even smelled postseason success (1-9 in playoff history entering this year), the Rangers have looked like they belong in 2010.
Meanwhile, the Giants are a team that seemingly thrives off being a group of unknowns — though fans in San Francisco will tell you the players are full of personality.
The team is essentially a combination of budding young stars and an eclectic group of baseball nomads, drifting veterans who have been around the block and are looking for another chance, or possibly their first, at glory.
Pat Burrell and Cody Ross are the two most obvious cases, but they aren’t alone. Burrell, who was one of the intricate members of the Phillies’ 2008 World Series run at the end of his nine-year career in Philadelphia, faded into oblivion soon after. He had a miserable 2009 season with the Tampa Bay Rays, and was designated for assignment on May 15 of this year. For all intents and purposes, he was unemployed.
But on June 4, the Giants decided to give the 34-year-old (then 33) a shot, and he hasn’t disappointed. Burrell smacked 18 homers in 96 games for San Francisco, and his .873 OPS was a major cog in the lineup.
Ross is a similar story. Three weeks ago, nobody had even heard of the eight-year veteran. Heading into the World Series, he’s hit four postseason homers and won the NLCS MVP Award for his outstanding performance against the Phillies last week. He’s the biggest hero in San Francisco since Jerry Rice.
Juan Uribe, Edgar Renteria, Aubrey Huff, Freddy Sanchez and Javier Lopez all fit the same model as Burrell and Ross. They’re all veterans with something to prove — and they’re doing it together.
The real reason they’re even playing for the World Series and the biggest reason to watch them in the next week, is the small core of young talent.
Tim Lincecum is the best two-time defending Cy Young Award winner that too many people haven’t heard of. Maybe it’s his unimposing 5-foot-11 frame or his punk-rock hair that covers most of his face, but Lincecum has never seemed to enjoy the same kind of fanfare that other of the game’s best pitchers have received.
And if he’s obscure, then Giants pitchers Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez, both aces in their own rights, are relatively anonymous.
But if there’s one kid the entire world is starting to know, it’s 23-year-old San Francisco catcher Buster Posey.
Posey has the demeanor of a grizzled veteran, the plate discipline of a Hall of Famer, and best of all, he’s the leader and cleanup hitter of a World Series team.
The stage is set for an exciting Fall Classic. The ratings might not be up to par in previous years, but the fans who do decide to tune in will be in for a treat.
Game 1′s pitching matchup is Lee, already proclaimed the best playoff pitcher of all-time by many analysts, against Lincecum, whose resume speaks for itself.
If you can’t get into this, you can’t get into baseball.
Do you think this year’s World Series matchup between the Giants and Rangers is an intriguing one? Leave your thoughts below.