San Francisco Giants vs. Philadelphia Phillies: 5 Keys to Long-Awaited Rematch
They won't admit it when asked, but the Giants and the Phillies know that their upcoming three-game series at Citizens Bank Park, as well as their early August meeting back in San Francisco, are very important.
Sure, we're talking about a regular season series in late July here, but it is, after all, the first time these two clubs will meet since the Giants clinched the pennant in six games over the Phillies in the 2010 NLCS, completing a huge upset over a heavily-favored powerhouse.
This series is perhaps bigger for the Phillies than it is for the Giants, as the Phillies are still likely shaking their heads trying to understand exactly what happened to them last fall.
Here are five keys to this highly anticipated rematch ...
1. No Cliff Lee, No Roy Halladay
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Two of Philadelphia's "big four" starting pitchers will not be on the hill for the Phillies against the Giants in this series.
Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, two of the game's premier starters, are not scheduled to take the mound while San Francisco is in town, and this is welcome news for any club that goes into a series against the Phillies.
Despite the fact that Lee and Halladay have struggled against the Giants recently (Lee: 0-2, 6.94 ERA in 2010 World Series vs. SF; Halladay: 0-1, 6.43 ERA regular season 2010 vs. SF/1-1, 4.15 ERA in 2010 NLCS vs. SF), it's always good to miss them in a series, as they are two of the most dominant arms in the game.
The Giants will have ace Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito, and Matt Cain for the series, with Zito being the only question mark at this point as to how he will perform following a brutal last outing against San Diego July 16 (8 ER in 3.2 IP).
2. Barry Zito Will Start Game 2
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Barry Zito is coming off of the worst start of his season, giving up 8 earned runs in just 3.2 innings pitched at Petco Park against the San Diego Padres July 16.
Zito's rough outing came on the heels of three superb starts following his return from a 10-week stint on the disabled list.
The inconsistency Zito has shown this season, which continues a pattern of inconsistency over his tenure as a San Francisco Giant, makes it very unclear as to how he will perform under the lights at Citizens Bank Park when he takes the mound in the second game of the series Wednesday night.
While there was talk of Jonathan Sanchez potentially being ready to return to the rotation for the start of Phillies series, Sanchez is still rehabbing.
How Zito performs could be crucial in a series against a team that has the best record in baseball.
3. The 2010 NLCS Wasn't a Fluke: Cody Ross Loves Hitting in Philly
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Some have speculated that Cody Ross caught lightning in a bottle when he won the 2010 NLCS MVP award after hitting .350 (7-20) with three home runs and five RBI in the six-game series against Philadelphia last October.
But the fact of the matter is, Ross just loves hitting at Citizens Bank Park.
Over the last three seasons, Ross is hitting .373 with six home runs and 11 RBI at the Phillies' home ballpark, and he's surely looking forward to returning to the City of Brotherly Love to do some more damage with his bat.
4. Cole Hamels Has a Poor History vs. the Giants
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Cole Hamels is having a fantastic year for the Phillies. He's currently 12-5 with a 2.62 ERA and 0.96 WHIP.
But Hamels hasn't fared well against the Giants recently, and is scheduled to start against them Wednesday night.
In two starts last season against San Francisco he was 0-1 with a 7.36 ERA. He gave up nine runs on 16 hits, and the Giants' team batting average against him was .348.
His match-up with Barry Zito in the second game of the series should be very intriguing.
5. May the Best Bullpen Win
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With excellent starting pitching on both sides, this series may ultimately be decided by the respective bullpens.
In what promises to be a low-scoring, tight series, the bullpen that performs the best may make the crucial difference.
Be Ready for Some Fireworks
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After a fiercely-fought NLCS last October, the Giants and Phillies collide this week for the first time in 2011, and even though the stakes are highest in the postseason, and this will be a regular season series, the competitive nature of these two teams should make it fun to watch.