They say, rightfully so, that pitching decides the postseason.
In the NLCS this year, pitching will almost certainly have a direct impact on who goes to the World Series, and who goes home until spring training in 2011.
The San Francisco Giants beat the Atlanta Braves Monday night to advance to the National League Championship Series where they will face the Philadelphia Phillies, who shrugged off the Cincinnati Reds in their first-round matchup. The Phillies are looking to become the first team since the St. Louis Cardinals of 1942-44 to win the National League pennant three straight seasons. The Giants are making their first NLCS appearance since 2002, when they defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in five games to advance to the Fall Classic.
Both teams have outstanding pitching staffs. The Giants ERA was the best in baseball in the regular season, with a 3.36. A September in which their team ERA was a minuscule 1.78 was what propelled them over the San Diego Padres in that final month of the season.
The Phillies made the top 10 with a 3.67, good for sixth in all of baseball.
Honestly, it's hard to fathom that either of these teams could go home because one team out-pitched the other, especially San Francisco. But that could absolutely happen, as Philadelphia has some dangerous arms on their staff.
Here's the breakdown:
San Francisco Giants:
Starting Pitching: Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez.
Outlook: In the NLDS, the rotation went Lincecum-Cain-Sanchez-Bumgarner. Considering the Giants only allowed nine runs in the four games total, why mess with success? Expect the same four-man rotation in the next round.
It's interesting, to say the least, that Barry Zito could technically be put back on the postseason roster to face the Phillies lineup, which is loaded with left-handed sluggers like Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Raul Ibanez that the left-handed Zito could neutralize.
But over his last seven starts, Zito's ERA is over six. For the Giants to take one of their starting pitchers out on the off-chance that Zito might be effective against the Phillies would be them taking a risk that is not a smart one against a Philadelphia team that is a few wins away from being a dynasty. Not to mention, the only two that you could fathom being replaced for Zito, Sanchez and Bumgarner, are left-handed as well. (On a side note: In Zito's only start against the Phillies this year, he allowed four runs on eight hits in five innings).
Bullpen: Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez, Guillermo Mota, Ramon Ramirez, Sergio Romo, Brian Wilson.
Outlook: The San Fran 'pen has two lefties (Affeldt and Lopez) to neutralize the Phillies left-handed sluggers. Closer Brian Wilson led the majors with 48 saves in the regular season. Sergio Romo, Ramon Ramirez and Santiago Casilla had a fantastic 2010. This bullpen is set up for success right now, especially if the Giants starters can continue to go deep into games.
They could fall into trouble if their starters are pulled early or if tight games go into extra innings, though. The last thing you want to do is send a right-handed reliever into a tie game to face Howard, Utley or Ibanez, because the game more than likely won't be tied afterward. Knowing the proper times to use his left-handed relievers will be critical for Giants manager Bruce Bochy in this series.
Starting Pitching: Joe Blanton, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt.
Outlook: That 1-2-3 punch of Halladay, Hamels and Oswalt is the best remaining in the playoffs. That alone gives them a significant advantage over a San Francisco team that only scored 11 runs in their four-game series with the Braves.
Blanton will more than likely make his 2010 postseason debut in Game 4. The Phillies could opt to use Halladay in Games 1, 4 and 7, Oswalt in Games 2 and 5 and Hamels in Games 3 and 6. But me thinks Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel would rather that his big ace gets that extra day of rest and goes in Game 5.
With Blanton in the mix, expect Halladay to start Game 1 and Game 5, Oswalt to start Game 2 and Game 6, Hamels to start Game 3 and a possible Game 7, with Blanton splitting the big 3 with his Game 4 start.
Bullpen: Antonio Bastardo, Jose Contreras, Chad Durbin, Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, J.C. Romero.
Outlook: The Phillies bullpen ERA was 4.48 since September 1st. The Phillies are coming out looking like roses after sweeping the Reds, but their biggest weakness, their bullpen, was never showcased in a huge spot. Halladay and Hamels both threw complete games, so the Phillies' bullpen only had to pitch four innings total in the three game series.
Hard to overlook the experience in this bullpen, though. The Phillies have won the NLCS the past two years with Chad Durbin, Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson and J.C. Romero in their bullpen. Philadelphia has enough right-handers to deal with Buster Posey late in a game, and the left-handed J.C. Romero will probably get to know Aubrey Huff pretty well by the time this series is over.
It looks as if San Francisco has the edge when it comes to relief pitching, but Philadelphia may have the edge in their starting pitching, no matter what the Giants ERA was in the stretch run of September. This could be one of the more evenly matched NLCS (pitching-wise) that we've seen in a long time.
What do you think? Do you think the Giants starting pitching is enough to match up with the Phillies? Do you think the Phillies bullpen's experience alone will be enough to stand with the Giants 'pen?
One thing's for sure: If both teams pitch how they're capable of, don't expect a lot of runs.