The Philadelphia Phillies prepare to face the San Francisco Giants in an NLCS that, while it may be short on rivalry, is certainly not at all lacking in interesting matchups. The first and most obvious of these, is the battle of what most people would say are the two best starting pitching rotations in the majors.
The Phillies will go with (in order of appearance) Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels, and Joe Blanton. The Giants counter with Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez, Matt Cain, and Madison Bumgarner. On the surface, this seems like a pretty even fight. The Giants’ starters ERA for the season was roughly .3 better than the Phillies’ starters ERA. Obviously, the Phillies have a much better starting rotation now than they did in June. Blanton was pretty terrible in the first half, and Roy Oswalt was pitching for the Houston Astros. So based on the numbers, you’d think they were pretty much dead even.
However, if we delve a little deeper you see that the Phillies play in one of the best hitter’s parks for their 81 home games, while the Giants play in one of the best pitcher’s parks for their home games. If you switched parks, the Phillies would easily dominate the numbers put up by the Giants starters. This is nowhere more clearly stated than by simply looking at the Giants third starter for this series, Matt Cain. He is generally accepted to be a very good pitcher, and his career ERA of 3.45 certainly supports that. For comparison, Roy Halladay (who most think is the best pitcher in baseball) has a 3.32 career ERA, and Cole Hamels has a career mark of 3.53. Despite the gaudy ERA numbers posted by Cain over his career, he actually has a losing record of 57-62 (48% wins). Halladay is 169-86 (66% wins), and Hamels is 60-45 (57% wins). Cain’s numbers are clearly helped by his own park, where, despite his fantastic numbers, he doesn’t even regularly outpitch the opposing pitchers. Any pitcher pitching in San Francisco for half of his games will have hugely inflated numbers. So, taking the park factor into account, it is starting to look more and more like a mismatch.
One final thing I will look at in terms of starting pitching is the ace factor. As you know, the Phillies now have 3 aces in Halladay, Oswalt, and Hamels, while the Giants “only” have one in Lincecum. However, to me there are aces, and then there are postseason aces – pitchers who have the ability to dominate in October against the best lineups in baseball. Many an ace turns into just a good pitcher under the bright lights of October. CC Sabathia has been hit around by our very own Phillies. He generally pitches well in the playoffs, and keeps his team in the game, but he usually gives up 2, 3, or even 4 runs during his playoff starts. In game one vs. Minnesota in the ALDS, he got hit around pretty hard.
There are plenty of other examples. If you look back to the Yankees rotation in the early 2000s, they had as many as 4 aces in Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, and David Wells. However, in the playoffs, they came up short for many years under these guys because, while they were very good, they weren’t otherworldly like some of the pitchers they were going up against (Josh Beckett, Curt Schilling, and Randy Johnson just to name 3).
The difference is that an ace in the regular season will almost always win if he goes 7 innings and gives up 3 runs, but against the pitching (and cold weather) in the playoffs, giving up 3 runs will usually lose the game. A true playoff ace will just slam the door shut on the opposition, leaving them to feel that they never had a chance.
There aren’t many postseason aces out there right now. Certainly Cliff Lee is one of them, and Cole Hamels is another. When those guys take the ball, they are almost a lock to go at least 8 innings while giving up no more than 1 run. I would have liked to see Hamels in game 2 just because I have more faith in him to win a possible must-win game (if Lincecum wins game 1 – which is certainly possible), but it is nice to even have the ability to argue who you would rather go with, Hamels or Oswalt. That’s a luxury 29 other teams would love to have.
Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum, while each have only 1 postseason start underneath their belts, certainly both of them appear to fit into the category of postseason aces. Usually the team with most postseason aces will win in a postseason series. I give the Phillies the edge there also, 2-1.
All in all, I think the Phillies have a sizable edge in the strength of their starting rotation vs. the strength of the Giants starting rotation, but there are other things to consider before we can crown the Phillies as NL champs for the third consecutive season. This brings us to the lineups.
Now, since I used the parks to compare starting pitching, I also have to use it to balance out the numbers between their lineup and our lineup. The road numbers for both teams are actually fairly even, so based on that, one might conclude that the offenses are pretty close. However, the Phillies spent almost the entire year without being healthy, and this certainly hurt our production. The Giants stayed relatively healthy for their part. The Phillies didn’t do as well offensively in years past even despite their injuries, so this is closer than it would have been last year. Still, with a former all star at 7 of the 8 position players (Carlos Ruiz is the only Phillies regular to never make an all star appearance, but was probably our most consistent offensive player all year), it isn’t a reach to say that the Phillies have a pretty sizable edge in their lineup. I am not going to spend too much time on this point, because even the most blindly loyal Giants fan would concede this to us.
I am also not going to spend really any time comparing coaching staffs. Managers make their money by keeping their players motivated during the long grind of a 162 game season. At this point, it is mainly the players who win and lose games, unless the manager is terrible. Both Bruce Bochy of the giants, and Charlie Manuel of the Phillies are good managers, and I don’t think either team gets an edge in the coaching matchups.
The Phillies have been off since Sunday, while the Giants finished the Braves off on Monday. The NLCS doesn’t start until Saturday, so you will probably hear some talk about rest vs. rust. That shouldn’t be a factor at all for the Phillies. They have dealt with long layoffs in their past two playoff runs. They were off for almost a week before the World Series in 2008, while the Rays played a 7 game series against the Boston Red Sox and only had 2 off days in between series. Of course, we all know what happened there, the Phillies steamrolled them en route to the city’s first major sports championship since 1983. The Phillies have been there, done that, and being rusty will not be a factor for them in the least. If the layoffs affect either team negatively, it will be the Giants, who haven’t reached the NLCS since 2002. This leads us to the final point, the experience factor.
The Phillies have won their division for 4 consecutive years, and are now making their third straight NLCS appearance, and trying to go to their third straight World Series. The Giants do have a couple of players with some playoff experience in veterans such as Pat Burrell and Aaron Rowand, among others (those names seem vaguely familiar for some strange reason). What they do not have, however, is the experience of playing together as a team in these big moments, of coming through when the pressure is the highest. Of course, the Phillies do have that, and then some. They know exactly what it will take to win this series, and that fact will only help them in their quest to become the first NL team since the 1940s the win 3 consecutive NL pennants.
Sure the Giants beat the Atlanta Braves in the first round, but in two of their 3 victories in that series, they scored the winning run via a blown call by an umpire. Their third victory was given to them the same way the Reds gave us game 2 – with terrible defense. Atlanta was down to their third string 3rd baseman, and it showed. Injuries to Chipper Jones and Martin Prado made it necessary (though some would argue that anyone else should have taken the field, myself included) to continue to throw Brooks Conrad (AKA The Butcher) out to second base, which cost them the series. They also lost their closer, which lead to the game that they lost on the error. Despite being totally depleted, the Braves still were a couple of blown calls away from winning that series. If San Francisco plays the way they did in their series vs. the Braves, the Phillies will make quick work of them. Despite the Giant strong starting rotation, the Braves were right there with them, the same Braves team that could barely beat our own backups when they needed victories just to make the playoffs, and we had already clinched everything. No disrespect to the Braves, who had a fine season, but the injuries really caught up with them late in the season, and the fact that the Giants were lucky to beat them truly makes me wonder if they should be playing on the same field as the Phillies (winners of 30 of their last 38 games by the way).
All in all, I expect a low scoring series, with probably mostly 2-1, and 3-2 games, but one that the Phillies clearly prove the superiority of their talent and experience. Their offense is much better than the Giants offense, and they know how to score runs when they need them.
I’ll take the Phillies to win it at home in game 6, with Roy Halladay winning the MVP (way to go out on a limb, I know).
What are your predictions for the series? Who wins, how many games, and who is MVP?
– Al Redrup