The hype surrounding the game one matchup between two-time defending Cy Young Tim Lincecum and likely-to-be 2010 Cy Young Roy Halladay has been so intense that is easy to forget the NLCS is actually a seven game series. Not only have both pitchers been among the best in the game over the past three seasons, but they are each coming off historic pitching performance in their respective NLDS outings. So, naturally, the anticipation for this game has been off the charts.
After the dust clears on the opener, however, there will still be six more games to go, and many more good pitchers to follow. As Jayson Stark details nicely in his column at ESPN, the Giants vs. Phillies NLCS will bring together one of the most dominant collection of starting pitchers in postseason history. In addition to the season long accomplishments of each team’s top trio, the series also features two “odd men out”, Joe Blanton and Madison Bumgarner, who pitched just as well down the stretch as their more high profile rotation mates. In other words, the NLCS should be long on low scoring games.
NLCS Scheduled Starters, September Performance
Of course, the Giants usually play low scoring affairs regardless of who is on the mound because of the relative weakness of their offense. The Phillies, meanwhile, seem to finally have their offense firing on all cylinders after a disappointing summer marred by injuries to their key offensive weapons. Over the last month of the season, the Phillies averaged over 5.5 runs per game, compared to the Giants, who managed to score only 3.6 runs per game over the same stretch. So, even though the teams do not rank that far apart in many offensive categories, the gap is really much larger than indicated by the season-long numbers.
NLCS Offensive Comparison
|OBP||SLG||OPS+||wRAA||wOBA||SB/CS||R/G||R/G in Sept.|
Source: Fangraphs.com and Baseball-reference.com
Does that mean the Giants have no chance to win the series? Well, not quite. As the old adage goes, “good pitching beats good hitting”. In this series, we can take it even a step further and say “great pitching shuts down all hitting”. As a result, if both rotations pitch to their potential, the Phillies edge on offense could be significantly mitigated. In other words, the Giants can’t win with good pitching performances, but their potential for great ones should give them a chance in the series.
Because runs should be at a premium, and starters should go deep into games, the late inning bullpens of both teams could be the deciding factor. In this regard, the Giants should have an overall edge, but once again not as great as the season numbers indicate because the Phillies’ three core relievers have all pitched well over the last month. Still, the diversity of the Giants bullpen, as well as the question marks that still seem to hover around Brad Lidge, give San Francisco the better chance to hold leads late in the ballgame.
NLCS Bullpen Comparison
Key Members of the Giants and Phillies Bullpen, September Performance
The Giants biggest advantage in the series is the scheduled game four matchup between Blanton and Bumgarner, not only because the latter has pitched better of late, but also because the former has hardly pitched at all. The matchup that most favors the Phillies will take place when Cole Hamels faces off against Matt Cain, against whom Philadelphia has had considerable success. Of course, each of those matchups could be shifted based on the course of the series.
Giants’ Starters vs. Current Phillies’ Batters
Phillies’ Starters vs. Current Giants’ Batters
Prediction: Phillies in Seven
Something tells me that the Lincecum versus Halladay confrontation is going to disappoint. Heralded pitchers’ duels have a habit of doing that. However, the rest of the series should feature a riveting succession of close games with scrutinized plays and strategic second guessing. Ultimately, Philadelphia’s offensive edge, home field advantage (which favors their power-laden lineup) and likely favorable game seven pitching matchup should result in the fightin’ Phils’ third consecutive National League pennant.