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A series of interesting questions

Giants, Rangers worthy of study

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / October 26, 2010

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Javier Lopez, mild mannered while with the Red Sox as a situational lefthander, now has facial hair and looks like one mean hombre when he races out of the Giants’ bullpen.

He’s developed that swagger that many of the San Francisco players have, reminiscent of that 2004 Red Sox “Idiots’’ thing, which wasn’t easily quantified, but it was there — and it was an asset.

The World Series starts tomorrow night — yeah, sure, we all picked San Francisco and Texas — and many are wondering whether the Giants are a team of destiny.

But the Rangers would like to make their case.

Now this is a story. This is a team that went bankrupt under owner Tom Hicks. The manager, Ron Washington, failed a drug test because of cocaine use. The star player, Josh Hamilton, is a former drug addict. The star pitcher, Cliff Lee, thought it was “too hot’’ to pitch in Texas after the Rangers acquired him from Seattle. The co-owner, Nolan Ryan, hasn’t been to a World Series since he was a 22-year-old pitcher with the “Amazin’ Mets’’ in 1969. The new owner, Chuck Greenberg, has only had the team since August. The general manager, Jon Daniels, had people snickering at some of his early deals. The team’s second-most effective pitcher, Colby Lewis, played in Japan last year. Nobody wanted designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero except the Rangers.

The Giants can counter with a few good stories of their own.

Cody Ross, the Most Valuable Player of the National League Championship Series, was claimed on waivers late in the season. Pat Burrell, never one of the most popular players in baseball, was released by the Rays. This is a team that has disappointing pitcher Barry Zito and outfielder Aaron Rowand accounting for $30.5 million of its $96 million payroll. The Giants traded Bengie Molina to the Rangers, for whom he’s the starting catcher, but San Francisco had talented rookie Buster Posey to take over the position.

Why the Giants can win

They have a great pitching staff.

The Giants led the National League in ERA (3.36) and strikeouts (1,331). As much as many of us thought the Phillies — with Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels — would outpitch them, the Giants really held their own, especially righthanders Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain.

Lefthander Jonathan Sanchez imploded in Game 6 of the NLCS, but manager Bruce Bochy got him out in the third inning and relied on his bullpen to do the rest.

If 21-year-old rookie Madison Bumgarner gets a Game 3 or 4 start and shines, he’ll get more national recognition.

The Giants bullpen is solid, with Lopez likely to be brought in to get Hamilton for a tough out late in the game. Bochy also isn’t afraid to use eccentric but talented closer Brian Wilson for four or five outs.

The Giants really didn’t hit that well against the Phillies, but the Phillies’ offense was awful in the NLCS. The Giants at the top of order need to get on base, as Andres Torres really has been a non-factor so far. We may see more of Rowand in center field and at the top of the order.

The Giants need continued heroics from Ross, Burrell, Posey, Aubrey Huff, and Juan Uribe, whose homer won Game 6.

If Pablo Sandoval gets it going, he is capable of carrying the team — but he was also benched for Game 6.

Bochy is a strong point; you won’t see better postseason managing than what he turned in in the NLCS. Every move he made turned to gold. Bochy really has a great handle on the strengths and limitations of his players, and that is one big reason the Giants are in the Series.

Finally, the Giants have home-field advantage by virtue of the National League winning the All-Star Game, and that could be the deciding factor.

Why the Giants can’t win

If the Giants pitchers and Posey can’t control the Rangers’ running game, then it might be a short series. The Rangers like to create momentum by forcing the issue on the bases. They take risks, and the Giants have to be ready.

Hamilton was the American League Championship Series MVP with four homers, seven RBIs, eight walks, and a .350 average, so the Giants must contain him — or at least make sure he comes up much of the time without runners on base.

Also, the Rangers, with Guerrero at designated hitter, have a distinct advantage over anyone the Giants may use in that role.

Why the Rangers can win

Texas led the majors with a .276 average, and the Rangers didn’t just beat the Yankees in the ALCS, they beat on them, tacking on extra runs in most of their wins.

Hamilton, Guerrero, Michael Young, Nelson Cruz, and Ian Kinsler really can mash. One problem is what the Rangers will do without the DH, and Washington has indicated he will get Guerrero time in the field to make sure his bat remains in the lineup. While Guerrero, who hit .300 with 29 homers and 115 RBIs in the regular season, hasn’t been real hot in the playoffs, he did drive in three runs in Game 6 of the ALCS to help the Rangers clinch the series.

Lee has been the best pitcher in this postseason (and is 7-0 with a 1.26 ERA in his career), so it stands to reason that if he pitches three times the Rangers have a great chance of winning. Of course, he is overdue for a stinker. He will have had eight days off before he pitches tomorrow night, but that should be more benefit than hindrance.

“I’m excited, anxious to get it started,’’ he said. “It’s the Giants, they’ve got a good team. It’s going to be a good challenge. I feel like if we pick up where we left off these last couple series and play the game the way we’ve been playing, then we’ll be all right.’’

It’s imperative the other Rangers starters do well. Obviously Lewis greatly exceeded expectations against the Yankees, and he and C.J. Wilson and Tommy Hunter need to keep it up. The Rangers have a young bullpen (except for 40-year-old Darren Oliver), and one never knows if some of them will wake up and realize where they are, but against the Yankees they only allowed one run in their last 14 innings. This is a big spot for closer Neftali Feliz.

Molina is in the unique position of having caught the Giants’ pitchers earlier in the season. We’ll see how valuable that is.

Why the Rangers can’t win The Rangers’ offense has been very good, but Lincecum and Cain are capable of sending any team into a funk — especially some of the key righthanded hitters of the Rangers.

Also, the Rangers need to put an end to the Giants’ karma. And not to say that Washington will be a detriment, but he’s going up against Bochy, who has the advantage in the managerial matchup.

The Rangers have won five of six games on the road in the postseason, but facing four potential road games could be tough.

The verdict Giants in six.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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