The conventional wisdom in Major League Baseball is that the American League is the vastly superior group of teams. When considering that deep clubs like the Angels, Rays and White Sox didn't make the playoffs, while the Dodgers were the only notable NL team to come close without getting in, it's not a difficult argument to make.
The interleague record clearly supports this assertion, as well, with the AL having bested the NL for the past nine seasons now — including a 142-110 mark in 2012. At this point, we can consider this sample size plenty big enough to make some assumptions about which half of baseball is of the higher caliber.
But throw it all out when it comes to the World Series.
Over the past five Fall Classics — including the Giants' 2-0 triumph over the Tigers on Thursday night — American League teams are just 3-11 in National League ballparks, a lopsided figure that clearly can't be accounted for by home field advantage. Likewise, the NL has taken three of the past four World Series, and looks to make that four of five with the Giants' 2-0 advantage heading to the Motor City on Saturday.
So how is it that a supposedly inferior league has been able to exploit an advantage to such a huge extent? Well, it's a different ballgame, folks.
Like the Yankees in the ALCS, it's actually pretty impressive that all the Tigers' bats seem to have gone cold at once. However, like the Yankees, the Tigers are a team that's largely built on power rather than athleticism — much more common in the AL — and thus will always be at the whim of streaks and trends. Small ball may not be optimal, but teams that manufacture runs aren't as tied to their big hitters getting timely knocks.
There's also intrinsic strategy differences that heavily come into play — take Justin Verlander's Game 1 start, for instance. Through four innings, the reigning MVP yielded five runs and threw 98 pitches. Though that's a large number, but Verlander has shown he isn't exactly a mere mortal, and under different circumstances likely would have stuck around for at least another inning.
However, due up third in the top of the fifth, manager Jim Leyland pinch hit for his ace, and Verlander was out. While Verlander was clearly not at his best for Game 1, he's also someone who is known to get stronger as the contest wears on, and is capable of finding himself in an instant. But instead of having their best on the hill, the Tigers turned to a bullpen which continued to bleed runs.
Of course, when Verlander left the game he was down 5-0, but the Tigers did end up scoring three times in the later innings, and there's an undeniable difference facing a two-run deficit as opposed to the five runs they eventually lost by, 8-3. Would that have made a difference? Who knows, but it's not debatable that the game would have played out (at least slightly) differently if Leyland's hand hadn't been forced by NL rules.
Gregor Blanco's seventh-inning, Game 2 bunt single was another example of the National League advantage. In a close pitcher's duel, the Tigers continued to wait for a big hit which never came, while San Francisco already had the personnel in place to manufacture a run. Blanco executed beautifully, and although Brandon Crawford would follow him by hitting into a double play, that RBI-less run would be all the offense the Giants would need.
Moreover, NL pitchers are much more practiced in hitting, evidenced by the fact that Giants pitchers notched RBIs in four consecutive games, a streak that ended on Thursday. Tigers pitchers, meanwhile — and AL pitchers in general — are not only near-automatic outs, but generally incapable of doing the little things (read: get down bunts) that help teams win close ballgames.
There's also the fact that AL teams are often times forced into playing suboptimal defenses, as seen by Delmon Young's presence in left field. Generally considered one of the worst defensive outfielders in baseball before moving to full-time DH midseason, Young's been forced back into action — and managed to throw a ball directly into the ground in Game 1.
Either way, whether it's this supposed National League advantage, general home field advantage, the Tigers' post-ALCS layoff or just good, old-fashioned momentum, the Giants seem as comfortable as can be, while the Tigers look like the baseball equivalent of a typically awkward middle school dance.
Down 2-0 but finding AL rules back on their side come Saturday, the Tigers better find a way to turn the tables and sweep the three games in Detroit, or San Francisco baseball fans could soon be dancing in the streets for the second time in three years.