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October 25, 2012 at 12:09 am ET
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Verlander Vanquished: Why Can’t “Dominant” Pitchers Dominate The Giants?

Who could have foreseen Mr. MVP/Cy Young Justin Verlander crapping the bed in Game 1 of the World Series?

“Let’s see how Verlander does on the big stage against the Giants. Roy “Billie” Halladay and Cliff Lee couldn’t live up to their hype in 2010, so maybe we could just hold off on the hagiography of JV for another week or two?”

I suppose I did write that just the day before.  And actually, I’m more surprised about how the Giants beat Verlander than that they beat him.  How amazing is it that the Giants have now essentially played the same game four times in a row?  Starting in St. Louis last Friday, four times in a row they’ve built big early leads with big innings, then tacked on and almost shut out their opposition?

But what most people are amazed by is how could Verlander lose at all — and I have an answer for that.

Folks revel in the hype of a dominant pitcher.  But I don’t believe there’s really that much of a gap between the best five pitchers in the majors and, say, the 56th-60th best pitchers.  A lot of what feeds into dominant pitchers putting up great numbers is a combination of their teammates and their opponents buying into the dominance myth.  When a top pitcher gets on a run, his teammates are more confident and play better; most of his opponents — especially in the regular season — buy in and expect to get dominated.

So how do the Giants —  a  streaky but usually not-that-great hitting team keep beating the likes of Halladay, Lee and now Verlander in the games that matter most?  By October, the confidence of the teams with the dominant pitchers has turned to over confidence; while the Giants get on a run and refuse to believe anyone can dominate them.  All those sluggers figure their invincible ace is on the mound and they won’t need to score more than a run or two, and before you know it Barry Zito has limited them to one garbage run over 5.2 innings.

If you really want to cling o the dominance myth, you might cry about how flukey/lucky Angel Pagan’s rally-starting double off the third base bag was.  But if Verlander was really the second coming of Sandy Koufax, he would have still found a way to limit the damage.  And he probably wouldn’t have given up a two-out RBI single to Zito the next inning to put his team in a 5-0 hole.

The Phillies never really got back in the 2010 NLCS after the Giants beat Halladay, nor did the Rangers after the Giants beat Lee in the World Series. Maybe the Tigers can bounce back, but I’d be surprised.

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