NLCS Preview: Five Questions for Phillies-Giants
The 2010 NLCS begins this Saturday in Philadelphia between the Philadelphia Phillies and the San Francisco Giants. Both teams bring impressive pitching rotations into the series, highlighted by the Game 1 match-up between Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum.
Impressive hardly describes each of their first postseason starts during the NLDS.
Halladay, in the first postseason start of his career no less, no-hit the best hitting team in the National League, the Cincinnati Reds, and Lincecum threw a 2 hit, 14k, complete game against the Atlanta Braves. With Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt looking to take the ball for the Phillies and Jonathan Sanchez and Matt Cain behind Lincecum for the Giants, the match-up between these two teams is all about pitching.
That being said, neither team is without issue. Here are 5 questions heading into the National League Championship Series:
1. Halladay or Lincecum?
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In what figures to be one of the best Game 1 meetings in baseball history, Giants' ace Tim Lincecum will go head-to-head with the Phillies' Roy Halladay. Halladay is a shoe in for the NL Cy Young award this year. He is the National League's only 20 game winner and silenced any question of postseason jitters in throwing a no hitter in his first career postseason start.
Lincecum has struggled at times during the regular season. He lost 5 straight decisions in August, posting a hefty 7.82 ERA, but turned it on in September, going 5-1 with a 1.94 ERA. In his only start against the Phillies, Lincecum gave up two earned runs on three hits over 8.1 innings while striking out 11.
Halladay dominated in his first season in the National League after being acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays. He is second in the NL in strikeouts (219) and winning percentage (.677%). But in his only regular season start against the Giants, Halladay gave up five earned runs on 10 hits over seven innings of work.
Game 1 is going to come down to distance. Both pitchers went the distance in Game 1 of the NLDS and will look to do the same on Saturday night. Who will blink first, Lincecum or Halladay? I have to give the nod to Halladay, as he's proven all season long, and into the postseason, no one beats him in a game of "who can pitch the longest?"
2. Who Will Shut the Door Better?
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Brian Wilson has been a monster all season for the Giants, mostly because of his histrionics on the mound. The NL leader in saves (48) posted a 1.81 ERA during the regular season and touts an impressive 93 Ks in only 74.2 IP.
You do the math.
But he's not without his faults however. Wilson did blow five saves and has been known to be a bit of a roller coaster in the ninth inning. He blew the save on Oct. 8 against the Atlanta Braves in Game 2 of the NLDS.
As for Brad Lidge, he spent time on the disabled list in both April and May and finished the season with 27 saves and a 2.96 ERA. Lidge has been much better at home than away, where his ERA more than doubles. He looked strong in September, going nine for nine in save opportunities, but Lidge didn't face the Giants at all during the regular season and struggled during the 2009 postseason with a 5.40 ERA.
Despite his tendency for the erratic, I have to give the advantage to Wilson. He has shut-down stuff and shows no fear on the mound. I only wonder how he'll do with those Philly fans bearing down on him in a save situation.
3. Whose Offense Will Show Up First?
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Despite sweeping the Cinncinnati Reds during the ALDS, the Phillies haven't really hit much. Yes they did tally 13 runs on 21 hits over the three game sweep, but only seven of those runs were earned. They went 5 for 25 with runners in scoring position and left 26 men on base. Both Jimmy Rollins and Jayson Werth were terrible during the series and need to step it up big time.
The Giants' offense hasn't been that much better either. During the regular season, the Giants were right in the middle of the pack offensively--they weren't great, but they weren't terrible. Certainly playing in a pitcher-friendly park like AT&T Park doesn't help, but it doesn't hurt when it comes to wins and losses either. Their offense is led almost entirely by Aubrey Huff, who leads the team in every stat that matters (.209 BA/26 HR/86 RBI/.385 OBP).
During the NLDS, the Giants hit only .212 as a team and managed to score only nine runs over the five game series with Atlanta. This simply will not do. The Giants need to find some offense from somewhere, and while the emergence of Buster Posey has helped a lot, the Giants are going to have a much harder time against that Philly pitching rotation.
I can't give either team the advantage here since neither really showed much offense so far. The Phillies didn't manufacture runs so much as the Reds gave them away and the Giants let their pitching carry them past Atlanta.
4. Where Is Pablo Sandoval?
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Speaking of offense, has anyone seen Pablo Sandoval lately? The Giants' plus-sized third baseman was almost nonexistent during the NLDS. He hit just .167 with no homers and no rib-eye steaks (that's RBIs for everyone except Keith Hernandez). He didn't even start in Game 3 or 4. Sandoval's 2010 stats are way down from last season and he has left manager Bruce Bochy with a big hole in the middle of his lineup.
The Giants cannot lean solely on Huff and Posey again and just because Pat Burrell knows a lot about playing in Philadelphia, doesn't mean he's going to light it up. Sandoval is a career .320 hitter against the Phillies and needs to remind the Philly fans, and his teammates, about that.
5. How Much Will the Phillies Experience Play a Role?
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Make no mistake about it, the Phillies have swagger. They know they have the best starting rotation in baseball. They know they have one of the most potent offenses in baseball. And most importantly, they know they have been here before and know how to win it.
You don't win four straight NL East titles and make it to back-to-back World Series, winning one of them, without gaining some confidence along the way. Take the NLDS against the Reds for example. There were questions going into that series. The Reds were the best hitting team in baseball and they had NL MVP favorite, Joey Votto. Sure the Phils were favored to win, but the Reds were baseball's 2010 Cinderella story.
Well, that coach turned back into a pumpkin pretty quick once Roy Halladay was done with them. The Phillies know how to play in the postseason and they know how to win (just ask any Mets fan, including myself). The Giants are a good team, you can't dispute that. But they can't touch the Phillies when it comes to total postseason experience.