Last week, the Phillies played the reigning world champion San Francisco Giants in a three-game series at home at Citizens Bank Park. Sadly for the Phillies, it was a repeat of their NLCS matchup the year before—the Phillies ended up losing the series, dropping two of the three games, handing the Giants the series win and boosting their confidence that they were still the better team, despite the Phillies having baseball's best record at 71-39 and being a favorite to win it all this year.
Here's how last week's series went down: Game 1 was Phillies rookie Vance Worley against the Giants' overpaid-yet-underwhelming southpaw Barry Zito, whose start was pushed forward a day due to ace Tim Lincecum being sick with the flu.
Worley pitched his first complete game in his major league career, allowing just two runs on just three hits in nine innings and earning the win. He also struck out five batters and walked just one.
Game 2 of the series was a rematch of Game 3 of the 2010 NLCS—Cole Hamels against Matt Cain. Unfortunately, despite Cain's previous struggles against the Phillies, he ended up defeating Hamels like he did back in the playoffs, this time in a pitchers' duel, with the Phillies losing 2-1, with the Phillies' lone run being unearned.
In spite of Hamels fanning six batters compared to just one for Cain, the Phillies lineup just couldn't produce against the Giants, and with that, the series was tied at one game apiece.
In the rubber match, it was the Phillies' fifth starter Kyle Kendrick against Giants ace Tim Lincecum, who finally recovered from his sickness. Outfielder Carlos Beltran made his debut as a Giant that night, brought to San Francisco to give the team the offensive boost it had been longing for all season.
Although Beltran went 0-for-4, Lincecum was lights out. He did give up four walks, but he also struck out six and held the Phillies to just three hits in six innings, with the Giants winning the game 4-1.
Kendrick gave up three of the four runs, walked two and fanned four in 6.1 innings. With that win, what served as the first series rematch since the NLCS went to the team that won both the NLCS and that series—the San Francisco Giants.
However, a few things have changed since the Phillies played San Francisco last week. To start, the Phillies made a trade of their own when they acquired Hunter Pence from the Houston Astros the day after the Giants left for Cincinnati. Since Pence debuted in Phillies pinstripes last Saturday against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Phillies have yet to lose a game.
Pence has done hit part in the No. 5 hole in the Phillies lineup, providing the right-handed bat the Phillies have needed, and giving Ryan Howard, who's been on an offensive tear since Pence came to town, the protection he's needed behind him since Jayson Werth signed with the Washington Nationals back in the offseason.
Will the outcome of this series be a dominating factor as to who will win the NL Pennant this year?
In addition, the Phillies will have ace Roy Oswalt back for this series, who's been on the DL since June 24 with a couple of bulging discs in his back. He's made two rehab starts in the last week or so, and he's allowed just two runs in each of them. According to the Philadelphia Daily News, Oswalt stated, "I don't have any pain," and that he was ready to return to the major league club. He's scheduled to start Sunday according to the Philadelphia Inquirer's Bob Brookover.
Lastly, the Giants did not have the privilege to face the Phillies' top two pitchers, Roy Halladay (who won't face the Giants at all in the regular season this year) and Cliff Lee, which showed that, if the Giants want to make a statement against the Phillies, they have to top their best pitchers before they can truly say they are the better team.
Speaking of which, the matchups are as follows:
- Lee will open the series and face the Giants for the first time since losing the World Series as a Texas Ranger, with struggling sophomore southpaw Madison Bumgarner opposing him.
- Friday will be Worley against Jonathan Sanchez, who will be making his first start since coming off the DL.
- Saturday will be another rematch of Hamels and Cain.
- Sunday will be Oswalt against Lincecum.
Talk about a great series.
It surely will be interesting to see what happens in this series. My guess is that Lee will win Game 1, Worley will continue his hot streak against the Giants and win Game 2, Hamels will bounce back and win Game 3 and Lincecum will win Game 4 against Oswalt, who will still need one more start before he settles into the rotation again.
That amounts to the Phillies winning three of four. Still, with the Phillies not losing a game since Pence was acquired, they could sweep the Giants in the four-game series, and boy, would that make a statement.
Now that the Phillies have their roster set with Pence, this series will be the true determining factor as to who would win a playoff series this year between the Phils and Giants. Before, the Phillies didn't have Pence and the Giants didn't face Halladay, Lee or Oswalt.
With Lee and Oswalt slated to start in this series, this is the time to see whether the Phillies or Giants truly trump the National League. This series is vital for the Phillies to win, even more than the last, because this is the series that will show the NL (and potentially the rest of baseball) who the best team is.
So, with that, may the best team win.
And, as always, let's go Phillies.