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2010 NLCS Preview
San Francisco Giants vs. Philadelphia Phillies

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. 

While 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 nine 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 innings.

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 eight home 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 combined). 

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 four times.

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.

My Prediction

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 Giants baseball…torture.


Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Richard resides in San Francisco, California and can be reached at richard@baseballevolution.com.

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