Theres something fresh in the air. For the first time in 10 years, we have a World Series between two teams representing cities that have never been home to a world champion. (The right kind of Angel fan would tell you what to do if you suggested the Halos are merely L.A.s other team.) Whats a fan east of California to make of this pairing? Read on.
¥ INFIELD. The Angels are solid, if unspectacular, around the horn. Might be the first infield in World Series history that merits the grinder description. Little shortstop David Eckstein will surprise you with his range and arm, and hes an instigator with the bat. At the plate, all four members of this group are solid. They each hit at least .286 in the ALCS against Minnesota and former Redbird Adam Kennedy is batting a cool .409 for the postseason.
As for the Giants, theyve got a foursome of professionals. Second baseman Jeff Kent is an underappreciated superstar (though merely average with the glove); shortstop Rich Aurilia has rare power for his position (at least in the National League); third baseman David Bell wont hurt you at the plate or in the field; and first baseman J.T. Snow can pick it with the best of them.
Edge -- Giants. Kent can win games by himself.
¥ OUTFIELD. Longtime Angels Garret Anderson (.306, 29 HR, 123 RBI) and Tim Salmon (.286, 22, 88) are in the Kent category of best players youve never heard of. (How is that possible playing so near Los Angeles?) Theyre more valuable with lumber than leather, but centerfielder Darin Erstad (.283, 23 stolen bases) makes up a lot of ground.
Giant centerfielder Kenny Lofton will make a jaw-dropping grab, only to follow with a ball-dropping misplay. Barry Bonds Gold Glove days are behind him and Reggie Sanders is a liability in right (clumsiest player on either team). What they lack in the field, this trio certainly makes up at the plate. Lofton and Bonds are excited to be in the Series, which means theyre excited about their at bats. This is scary if youre an Angels fan.
Edge -- Angels. Without strikeout kings on the hill, San Francisco needs a better outfield to cool the Anaheim bats.
¥ CATCHER. Anaheim backstop Bengie Molina will be asked to manage the Angel pitchers and minimize mistakes behind the plate. Hes a below-average hitter (.245, 5 HR). Fortunately for the Halos, the only real base-stealing threat the Giants have is Lofton.
Benito Santiagos musical-chairs career has him in the right place at the right time. His two-run homer in Game 4 of the NLCS was the biggest blow in San Franciscos five-game defeat of St. Louis. He plays on the edge, both defensively and at the plate. With his supporting cast on the Bay, thats okay. Hell be challenge enough for an Angel team not afraid to run.
Edge -- Giants. Molina would be a backup on most big-league clubs.
¥ ROTATION. Remember the days (say, last year) when pitching won the World Series? Johnson and Schilling. Clemens and Pettitte. Glavine and Maddux. Wont be the case in 2002. These staffs will do all they can not to lose games.
The Angels Jarrod Washburn is a gamer, and he wont back down from anyone, including Mr. Bonds. Whether or not this is a good thing for Anaheims fortunes, well see. After him, its Kevin Appier, Ramon Ortiz, and John Lackey. Not exactly the 48 Indians.
San Franciscos Jason Schmidt dressed up as Tom Seaver in Game 2 of the NLCS. If hes got the command he did that night, hes a legitimate big-league ace. Kirk Reuter, Russ Ortiz, and Livan Hernandez are all good number-three pitchers. Which just may be enough in this series.
Edge -- Giants. Hernandez remains undefeated (6-0) in his postseason career.
¥ BULLPEN. Arizona proved last year that it is possible to win a World Series without a reliable closer. But thats the case only with a pair of 20-game winners to lead the way.
Troy Percival has been the linchpin for Angel teams good and bad since the mid-Nineties. He was dominant in 2002, saving 44 games with a 1.92 ERA. So why does he feel his jobs in jeopardy? Francisco Rodriguez, thats why. With all of 6 regular-season innings under his belt (13 strikeouts), K-Rod calls to mind the young Mariano Rivera who was so integral to the Yankees 1996 title run. Rodriguez vs. Bonds is the matchup I want to see.
Robb Nen is not quite as dominant as he was five years ago, when he closed games for the world champion Florida Marlins. But as he proved against St. Louis with 3 saves, hes still a money pitcher. Felix Rodriguez, Tim Worrell, and Scott Eyre have been terrific for Dusty Baker.
Edge -- Angels. San Francisco will have nightmares over Francisco.
¥ BENCH. Particularly with four games scheduled in an American League park (where each team will feature a DH), this wont be much of a factor. Shawon Dunston and Tom Goodwin give San Francisco speed and versatility. Anaheims Chone Figgins gives this Series its coolest name.
Edge -- N/A.
¥ INTANGIBLES. Will the Angels pitch to Bonds? Wont they? Giant fans can cry chicken till theyre yellow in the face, but the fact is St. Louis won the only NLCS game in which Bonds homered. The lesson? Pitching scared to this Giants lineup is more dangerous than pitching to Bonds. If Anaheim can keep Lofton off the bases, and control Kent and Santiago, then they should let Bonds have his solo shots. Sadly for Mike Scioscas boys, this is easier said than done.
PREDICTION: Giants in six.