Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
While Hurricane Sandy was battering the East Coast with pouring rain and strong winds this weekend, the San Francisco Giants were laying a similar smack-down on the American League Champion Detroit Tigers.
The Giants unlikely playoff run marked the team's second World Series title in three seasons. It was also the first sweep by a National League team in the World Series since the Cincinnati Reds blanked the Rickey Henderson-led Oakland A's back in 1990.
This year's Fall Classic was loaded with an overwhelming amount of talent including three former Cy Young winners, a Triple Crown winner and an MVP. Yet somehow, the best player on the field ended up being a pudgy third baseman nicknamed after an animated Jack Black character.
Pablo Sandoval, affectionately referred to by Giants' fans as "The Kung Fu Panda" (or simply just 'Panda'), put on his hero mask in Game 1 and he didn't take it off for the rest of the series.
The 2012 Fall Classic MVP opened the series by bashing home runs in each of his first two at bats against Tigers' ace Justin Verlander. He added another bomb later in the game for good measure, making him just the fourth hitter in World Series history to record three blasts in one game.
Fox's Joe Buck referred to Verlander (3-0 with a 0.74 ERA in the first two rounds of the playoffs) as "the best pitcher on the planet" before Game 1. Four innings and 98 pitches later, the 2011 AL Cy Young winner was already out of the game.
It was Verlander's shortest outing in over a year. Welcome to Planet Sandoval, Justin.
Though he didn't homer again after Game 1, Sandoval hit .333 for the rest of the series to finish the postseason with a spectacular .364 batting average. That's the highest average by a San Francisco hitter in the playoffs since Edgardo Alfonzo hit .529 in 2003. The six home runs Panda crushed were the most by a Giants player since Barry Bonds smacked eight long balls during the 2002 postseason.
Sandoval's third inning single in Game 4 was his 24th hit of the playoffs. No Giants player has ever recorded that many hits in a single postseason. J.T. Snow held the old record with 22 hits back in 2002.
Panda's breakout performance in the World Series wasn't a fluke. At age 26, the Venezuela native is just entering the prime of his career. He hit a solid .283 during the regular season and for his career, Sandoval is hitting .303 in 571 games played.
In fact, if you take out his miserable 2010 season (.268, 13 HR, 63 RBI), Sandoval is hitting .315 with 63 HR and 247 RBI.
Sandoval has been particularly effective at San Francisco's home stadium, AT&T Park. Though most would consider AT&T a pitcher's park, Sandoval is hitting a beastly .328 with 37 HR and 160 RBI in 281 career games at that location. On the road, he's hitting a mere .278.
The only thing holding Sandoval back has been his health. In 2012, Sandoval endured two trips to the disabled list and was limited to 108 games. A broken hand caused Sandoval to miss 45 games the season before that, meaning that Sandoval has only been on the field for 69 percent of the Giants' games over the past two seasons.
Sandoval bounced around in the batting order a bit this season but now it seems that he's found his niche as San Francisco's No. 3 hitter. That's where he hit all postseason and for his career, Sandoval is a .299 hitter from that spot in the order.
Outside of Miguel Cabrera and Adrian Beltre, third base is not a deep position in fantasy. Over a full 162-game season, Sandoval has averaged 22 HR and 88 RBI. If Sandoval had produced those numbers this season he would have finished eighth among major league third baseman in homers and seventh in RBI.
Another good thing about Panda is that he has been relatively slump proof throughout his career. Sandoval has hit below .250 in a month just once over the past two seasons. That came during a 12-for-57 (.211) slide this past August.
The 2012 season just ended but it's never too early to start thinking about next year. Make sure the Kung Fu Panda is in your fantasy plans for 2013.
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