by Richard Van Zandt, BaseballEvolution.com
October 16, 2010
A lot of people seem to feel that the Giants have no chance
to beat the Phillies in the 2010 National League Championship Series beginning
Saturday in Philadelphia. Well, I give them a chance, and it’s even better than
a snowball’s chance in you-know-where at that. The reason is simple: pitching
and lots of it.
much has been made of the chances of beating
Philadelphia in a playoff series with Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels
leading the charge, the Giants' less-heralded big three of Tim Lincecum, Matt
Cain, and Jonathan Sanchez allowed the Braves just one earned run in the NLDS,
while rookie Madison Bumgarner delivered the win against Derek Lowe in the
deciding Game 4 by allowing just two earned runs in six innings.
While Halladay may have tossed the first no-hitter in the
post-season since Don Larsen was perfect back in the 1956 World Series, the
Giants will counter in Game 1 with two-time reigning Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, who gave up just
two hits and no runs in a 14 strikeout, complete game
gem of his own against Atlanta.
Lincecum, who made his big league debut against
the Phillies, has a 3.17 career ERA versus Philadelphia. When he faced them
this year in San Francisco, he allowed just two runs on three hits
with 11 strikeouts in 8.1 innings, ultimately getting a no-decision when his
bullpen failed him. Halladay, on the other hand, has faced the Giants three
times in his career and has a 0-2 record with a 7.23 ERA to show for it. The
Giants even handed him his first loss of this season in that same series back in
April, touching him for five runs on 10 hits in 7 innings.
Game 2 will feature the matchup of Oswalt against Sanchez.
The Giants will flip-flop Sanchez and Cain in the rotation in order to go
righty-lefty-righty-lefty instead of R-R-L-L as they did in the NLDS. During
the regular season, Sanchez went 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts against the Phillies and lifetime he is 3-1 against them with a 2.86 ERA. The change in
order will also allow Sanchez to pitch at Citizen Bank Park, where in two career
starts he has a 1.29 ERA with five hits allowed and 15 strikeouts in 14 innings,
including a gem back in August when he carried a one-hit shutout into the 9th.
Oswalt, meanwhile, lost three times to the Giants this season
alone while still in an Astros uniform. True, he beat the Giants in Philly in
August and in four starts this year he posted a very respectable 3.33 ERA in 27
innings against them, but he is only 6-8 in 17 career starts against San
Francisco and that is something you can bet the Giants are keenly aware of.
Confidence is vital to success in baseball, and the Giants go into this series
with the confidence of knowing that they can beat Oswalt.
Game 3 starter Cole Hamels went 4-0 with a 3.97 ERA
in his career versus the Giants prior to this season, but in 2010, he went just
0-2 with a 7.36 ERA in two starts against the Orange and Black, surrendering
runs and 16 hits in 11 innings of work. Cain, on the other hand, has
mostly lacked success against the Phillies in his career, posting a 6.23 ERA while
going 0-3 in five starts against Philly.
However, the flip-flop with Sanchez also allows the Giants
to use Cain at home, where he has a career 3.19 ERA, instead of at CBP where he
is 0-3 lifetime with a 5.29 mark. Cain has surprisingly faced the Phillies in
San Francisco just twice, the most recent coming way back in 2007 when he lasted
only three innings while giving up seven runs, but in 2006, he faced them at AT&T and
gave up just one hit and one run in six very strong innings. Hamels has faced the
Giants in San Francisco four times in his career and has a 6.12 ERA in 25
Philadelphia’s Game 4 starter, Joe Blanton, won
8-of-his-last-9 decisions in 2010 and had a nice outing at home in August
against the Giants in which he allowed just two runs in 6 1/3 innings. Prior to this season,
however, he had been just 1-3 with a 5.08 ERA in six career starts
versus San Francisco. With Blanton having formerly pitched across the Bay in
Oakland, he is someone the Giants are quite familiar with, which is something
the Phillies cannot say about Bumgarner, against whom they go into the game
having never previously faced. Lack of familiarity often favors the pitcher. Bumgarner had also never faced the Braves prior
to his Game 4 NLDS start, and the 21-year old responded with a very composed
outing in which he struck out five and walked only one.
If this all paints a rosy picture appearing to give the
Giants the advantage, well it does, but it’s done so intentionally and with a
purpose. However I should also make clear that in no way will it be as easy as
I’ve made it sound. Halladay, for instance, is the front runner to take the Cy
Young Award away from Lincecum after winning 21 games in 2010 with a 2.44 ERA.
Oswalt went 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA for Philadelphia after he was acquired from
Houston prior to the trade deadline in late July. Hamels went 5-1 with a 1.63
ERA in his last 8 starts of the regular season before he
delivered a five-hit, nine-strikeout shutout performance against Cincinnati in the NLDS.
Even Blanton comes in on a roll, posting a 3.48 second half ERA after
putting up a 6.41 mark in the first half.
But where the Phillies have the clear advantage is at the
plate. Philadelphia finished second in the National League in runs scored
(772), placed fourth in both team OPS (.745) and stolen bases (108), and their
84% stolen base success rate topped the majors. From leadoff hitter Shane Victorino (54 XBH, 34 SB) to 8-hole hitter Carlos Ruiz (.302/.400/.447) and
everywhere in between, the Phillies are loaded for bear. Chase Utley (.832 OPS),
Ryan Howard (31 HR, 108 RBI), and Jayson Werth (46 2B, 27 HR) lurk menacingly
in the middle.
The Giants, meanwhile, are a team who have lived and died by the long ball of
late, having scored over 62% of their runs in September via the home
run. They were in the middle of the pack this season in the senior circuit in
on-base percentage (.321 – 9th) and runs (697 – 9th) and as a team they drew the
fourth-fewest walks (487). You can bet they won’t score a lot of runs in the NLCS after batting just .212 with a .583 team OPS against the Braves
- not if key
hitters such as leadoff man Andres Torres (2-for-16), Freddy Sanchez (2-for-16),
Juan Uribe (1-for-14), and cleanup hitter Aubrey Huff (0 XBH, 1 RBI) continue to
struggle. Even rookie Buster Posey, who led the team in September with
runs, had just one extra-base hit against Atlanta despite an otherwise impressive
6-for-16 (.375) performance.
The Giants will be counting heavily on their pitching staff
to replicate what the Reds pitchers did in their NLDS when Cincinnati held the
Phillies to a .212 batting average and a .574 OPS. The Giants will need to
continue to keep Victorino off the bases (.286 OBP in the NLDS), to keep
Howard cold (0 XBH, 0 RBI, 5 K), and they’ll need similar results to those the
Reds achieved against Werth, Placido Polanco, and Jimmy Rollins (4-for-32, 1 RBI
The magic number to look for is 3. These Giants were
65-23 (.739) when allowing 3 runs or fewer and just 23-58 (.284) when scoring
three or fewer. From September 5-24, they allowed three or fewer in 18 straight games.
They have given up four runs or more just four times
in their last 30 games (including the four games against Atlanta), losing all
Perhaps the biggest key to the series will be the
performance of each team’s bullpen. The Giants had the second-lowest team
bullpen ERA (2.99) in the league this year with the highest overall save
percentage (78%), while the Phillies' pen ranked tenth (4.02) in ERA and save
percentage (68%). San Francisco also entered the post-season with the hottest
pen in all of baseball, having collectively allowed just eight earned runs in 80
innings (0.90) over the final month, with six of those earned runs coming in just
one aberrational contest at mile high altitude. However, it was the Phils' pen
that allowed just two walks and one hit in four scoreless innings against the Reds
while the Giants relievers allowed five runs (4 earned) on seven hits in nine innings of
work against Atlanta, including a blown 4-1 lead in Game 2. How these two teams
perform out of the pen will go a long way towards determining who represents the
National League in the 2010 World Series.
The Phillies are appearing in their third straight NLCS,
attempting to become the first National League team to reach the World Series in
three straight seasons since the St. Louis Cardinals did so from 1942-44. The
1906-08 Cubs and the Giants of 1911-13 and 1921-24 are the only other NL teams
in history to appear in the World Series in at least three straight seasons, and
it’ll be the 2010 Giants that keep these Phillies from replicating that feat.
It won’t be easy for either the team or their fans; however the Giants will win
this series, doing so in no less than seven agonizingly close and hard fought
games. Why am I so certain it will go seven games? Because folks, that is
Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Richard resides in San Francisco, California and can be reached at email@example.com.