ABILITY TO GET ON BASE: Texas is very balanced up and down the lineup. Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz in the middle are on-base machines, due to the propensity of pitchers to work around them. Surrounding the big two are a cadre of hitters who aren't great, but are all consistent. Elvis Andrus and Michael Young will be vital in the 1-2 slots. Rookie first baseman Mitch Moreland can cause problems at the bottom of the order. Ian Kinsler and David Murphy can do damage in between. The only weak spot is catcher Bengie Molina.
San Francisco has a similar profile. Andres Torres and Freddy Sanchez are steady, if unspectacular at the start of the lineup. The middle trio of Aubrey Huff, Buster Posey and Pat Burrell are all patient power hitters and take their walks when they don't get a pitch to hit. Cody Ross is solid at the bottom. The weak spot is Juan Uribe and the wild-card is third baseman Pablo Sandoval or backup shortstop Edgar Renteria, whichever plays. Sandoval's been underachieving all year and needs to step it up, particularly when the series shifts to Texas. With the DH in effect, Bruce Bochy can't put the struggling third baseman on the pine. Another difference between the teams is that while the middle of Huff-Posey-Burrell is good, it's not at the level of Hamilton and Cruz.
POWER: Hamilton and Cruz each have the ability to put a team on their back in a short series and are the best two position players in the Series. And just like getting on base, Texas has balance throughout. Kinsler and Moreland each have power, and Vlad Guerrero showed in the ALCS that it's still dangerous to pitch around Hamilton to get to him. Texas skipper Ron Washington faces a big decision regarding how to handle his designated hitter tonight and tomorrow (as well as Games 6 & 7 if the Series comes back to the Bay). Guerrero's bad knees make him a liability in the field and with no DH, can Washington keep him in the lineup? Molina isn't a power hitter, but he did hit the home run that decisively swung the ALCS in Game 4.
Discussion of San Francisco starts with their power trio of Huff, Posey and Burrell. Just as was the case above, they are good, but behind their Texas counterparts of Hamilton and Cruz. They have an edge at the top of the lineup where Andres Torres has good pop for a leadoff man, and at the bottom, where Cody Ross is dialed in. He's eaten up Atlanta and Philadelphia pitching in the playoffs thus far. At the bottom of the order, Uribe hit 24 home runs, and hit the shot that won the pennant in the eighth inning of Game 6 in Philadelphia. But he's not a consistent slugging threat when it comes to producing power in the alleys and if he's not hitting home runs he's not likely to contribute.
STARTING PITCHING: It shows how short of memories media people can have that Tim Lincecum has managed to be almost completely overlooked. The San Francisco ace has won the last two Cy Young Awards and then hurled a 14-strikeout gem to start the postseason against Atlanta. Yet all the talk before the NLCS was about Roy Halladay and now it's about Cliff Lee. While those two are worth the accolades, Lincecum can match up. Behind him, Frisco has Matt Cain, who actually had a better year than Lincecum this season and threw a Game 3 shutout at the Phillies. #3 starter Jonathan Sanchez is similarly solid, although he struggled in two NLCS starts, most notably in Game 6 when he made an early exit after clearly losing his composure. Madison Bumgarner, the 21-year old who would presumably start Game 4 has adjusted to the postseason a little better.
Texas starts with the inestimable Lee, and comes behind him with C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis. The latter was brilliant in two starts against the Yankees, winning both. Wilson has pitched very well in two of three postseason starts. In the #4 spot, Texas has their own talented young pitcher struggling with the pressure of October. Tommy Hunter won 13 games with a 3.73 ERA in the season, but has been chased early against both Tampa and New York. It's hard to even see him getting the ball if Texas is trailing 2-1 when we get to Game 4.
BULLPEN: This area has been a strength for San Francisco all year long, and it was so again in the NLCS. It can be tough to make depth work for you in the tight confines of a short series, but the Giants did it. The won a battle of the bullpens in Game 4, and again in Game 6. Sergio Romo, Jeremy Affeldt and Ramon Ramirez are the setup men. Closer Brian Wilson is one of the game's best, and he was at his best against Philadelphia.
Texas' pen was a strength all year, but has cause jittery nerves in the playoffs. Lefthanded setup man Darren Oliver is struggling with his control, and righthanded submariner Darren O'Day has been inconsistent. The Rangers have gotten a huge boost from Derek Holland, the #5 starter in the season, but working relief in the playoffs. He was outstanding in the ALCS. The closer, Neftali Feliz, is a rookie with electric stuff. Most of his innings have been mop-up work. He wasn't a part of Texas' Game 1 meltdown against New York, and the four wins were so decisive, they weren't high-pressure save spots. We don't know how the rookie will do with real pressure, but it may help that he's been able to gradually get acclimated to the pressures of October.
NOTEBOOK PICK: Before making the pick, I'm going to echo the words of Fox's Ken Rosenthal--if you say you're tired of the Yankees and Red Sox on TV all the time, make sure you watch this Series. These are two good teams and they're pretty evenly matched. This is not a fluke matchup by any stretch. And speaking as a Red Sox fan, I'd add that if you value having a strong league up and down and not just in a few markets, tune into these games and let the networks know you'll watch good baseball wherever it's played.
This is just a really tough Series to pick. It's not Texas hitting vs. San Francisco pitching, as the media storyline would have you believe. The Rangers can pitch, and the Giants can hit, as this breakdown demonstrates. Texas' key edge lies in the ability of Hamilton and Cruz to take an individual game over at any point. San Fran's edge comes in the bullpen in a tight game. For more intangible factors, Texas has the American League factor--the AL has dominated interleague play in recent years, and one has to wonder how good any NL player's numbers would look if they switched leagues. Burrell was a notable bust when he played for Tampa Bay before being released this April. But on the flip side, most of the AL's damage this year came against the very worst teams in the National League, a circumstance obviously not applicable here. And Frisco does have homefield. On the other hand, the mere existence of the DH works to the AL's benefit--they get an extra pinch-hitter in the games it's not used, and the National League team can only insert an utility man into their everyday lineup when it is.
San Francisco is a slight underdog in this series, but I'm going to go with the bullpen and say that swings a couple games, which in turns swings the Series. A hard-fought six-game set goes to the Giants, who win their first title by the Bay.
Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily MLB playoff coverage and game analysis in college football and the NFL. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.