Tuesday, October 12, 2010

NLCS Preview - Phillies vs. Giants

By Chris Ruddick

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS - NL West Champion; defeated Atlanta, 3-1 NLDS

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES - NL East Champion; defeated Cincinnati, 3-0 NLDS

The Philadelphia Phillies are back in the National League Championship Series for a third straight season. If they want to make it three consecutive trips to the World Series, though, they will again have to go through a team from the National League West to get there.

However, unlike the last two years when it was the Los Angeles Dodgers standing in the Phillies' way, this time it is the San Francisco Giants, who are back in this round for the first time since 2002.

The Phillies, who are vying to become the first NL team to reach the World Series in three straight years since the 1942-44 St. Louis Cardinals, entered the postseason on the heels of their fourth straight National League East title.

Philadelphia overcame a ton of injuries in its lineup this season to post 97 wins, as it finished with the best record in major league baseball for the first time in franchise history.

Expectations have been raised even further following a three-game sweep of the NL Central-champion Cincinnati Reds in the NLDS that started with the second no-hitter in postseason history courtesy of soon to be NL Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay in his postseason debut.

After the Phillies took advantage of some shoddy Cincinnati defense to come from behind and win Game 2, Cole Hamels sealed the series win with a five-hit shutout, as he and Halladay became the first pair of teammates to throw a shutout in the same series since Ken Holtzman and Vida Blue did it for the 1974 A's in the ALCS.

"It's been a long time (since I've seen a starting staff this good)," Reds manager Dusty Baker said after his team's ouster. "I don't recall -- probably as far back as the Baltimore Orioles when they had (Jim) Palmer, (Dave) McNally ... and those guys. (The Phillies) pitched, they really pitched. They're a very good team."

A cause for concern, though, could be the Phillies' lineup, which hit just .212 in the sweep of the Reds. Luckily, they will be facing a Giants team that also hit at a .212 clip in their four-game NLDS win over the Atlanta Braves.

Still and all, San Francisco is back in the NLCS for the first time since winning the NL pennant in 2002 following its 3-2 win over the Braves on Monday at Turner Field.

"This series had everything," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "Just the intensity and excitement of the series, it had to be thrilling for the fans. There was never an easy moment for [Braves manager] Bobby [Cox] or myself, because these games could have gone either way. We were fortunate to have come out on top. We know it."

The Phillies split their six matchups with the Giants this season and since the start of the 2000 campaign, the teams are 36-36 against one another.

Despite both teams being original NL franchises, this is the first-ever postseason meeting between the two.


Philadelphia's lineup consists of plenty of left-handed hitters in Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Raul Ibanez and switch-hitter Jimmy Rollins.

Howard's numbers were down a bit this year due to time spent on the DL with an ankle problem and he batted .276 with 31 homers and 108 RBI. Despite his 157 strikeouts, Howard is still dangerous to all corners of the field. However, he batted just .273 against the Reds, with all three of his hits singles. He also struck out five times without a knocking in a run, but is the only player to hit at least three home runs against Giants ace Tim Lincecum.

Rollins was eased back into the lineup at the end of the regular season because of a hamstring issue, but has plenty of postseason experience with three homers, 11 RBI, 20 runs scored and a .297 on-base percentage.

The former league MVP didn't look right against the Reds and was just 1-for-11 in the series. Rollins wasn't the only one struggling, though, as right fielder Jayson Werth was just 2-for-12 with five strikeouts against the Reds.

Philadelphia's lone offensive bright spot in the series win over the Reds was Utley, who, like Howard, hit .273, but drove in four runs and crossed the plate three times.

As bad as the Phillies' lineup looked at times against the Reds, they still hit .260 in the regular season and scored the second most runs in the NL at 772.

From start to finish Aubrey Huff was probably San Francisco's best offensive player this season after he led the club with a .290 batting average, 26 homers and 86 runs batted in. He has hit at least 25 homers four times in his career and has driven in 85 runs on six different occasions. Huff also scored 100 runs and is in the playoffs for the first time.

Huff, though, had just four hits with one RBI in the four games against the Braves.

Batting behind Huff in the clean-up spot is rookie sensation Buster Posey, who collected 18 homers, 67 RBI and a .305 batting average. The baby-faced catcher is dangerous at the plate and has a rifle for an arm behind the plate.

Posey completely outplayed his fellow Rookie of the Year candidate, Atlanta's Jason Heyward, in the NLDS, as he hit .375 and scored three times.

A player to watch in this series could be outfielder Pat Burrell, who spent the first nine years of his career playing for Philadelphia before leaving the team as a free agent following the Phils' World Series win in 2008.

Rescued from the scrap heap, Burrell was signed to a minor league deal in May and it paid off to the tune of 18 homers and 51 RBI in 96 games. Burrell homered in the series against the Braves and would love nothing more than to spoil the City of Brotherly Love's plans.



What can Halladay possibly do for an encore?

The ultra-talented right-hander was absolutely magnificent last Wednesday against the Reds as he joined the Yankees' Don Larsen as the only pitchers to ever throw a no-hitter in postseason play.

The 33-year-old threw 104 pitches, 79 for strikes, and his only blemish in the contest was a two-out walk to Jay Bruce in the fifth inning. He struck out eight and also drove in a run with a single to cap his finest performance since tossing a perfect game at Florida on May 29.

After 12 years in Toronto, Halladay was traded to the Phillies this past offseason and has been nothing short of brilliant. He finished with a 21-10 mark to go along with a 2.44 ERA. He also led the majors in complete games (nine), shutouts (four) and innings (250 2/3).

Halladay, though, has struggled in his career against the Giants, going 0-2 with a 7.23 ERA in three starts. It was the Giants who handed him his first NL loss back on April 26.

Hamels was also effective in the NLDS, as he struck out nine in his shutout. The 2008 NLCS and World Series MVP was just 12-11 this season, but pitched to a 3.06 ERA.

The one Phillies starter who struggled in the NLDS was Roy Oswalt, who gave up four runs (three earned) and five hits in five innings of Game 2. He was bailed out, though, by the Reds' poor defense and escaped without a decision.

Like Halladay, Oswalt has a losing record to the Giants, going 6-8 with a 3.61 ERA.

Countering Halladay will be Lincecum, who was just as dominant as Halladay in his playoff debut. The two-time reigning NL Cy Young Award winner tied a major league record for the most strikeouts in the first postseason start of a career with 14.

The 26-year-old Lincecum was winless in August, but rebounded by winning five of his last six outings of the regular season before his dominating Game 1 performance.

Lincecum has faced the Phillies seven times and is 2-1 with a 3.17 ERA against them and has fanned 54 batters in 48 1/3 innings.

Following the Freak will be righty Matt Cain, who did not get a decision in his Game 2 start against the Braves. Cain pitched well, though, allowing just an unearned run in 6 2/3 innings.

Cain, who was 13-11 with a 3.14 ERA this season, has never beaten the Phillies, posting an 0-3 mark with a 6.23 ERA in five starts.

Left-hander Jonathan Sanchez followed up a terrific start to get the Giants into the postseason with an even better effort on Sunday against the Braves. Sanchez limited Atlanta to a run and two hits in 7 1/3 innings, but did not get a decision.

Sanchez has traditionally had success against the Phils and beat them twice this season. He is 3-1 lifetime against them with a 2.86 ERA in nine games, five of which have been starts.

The Giants will have an advantage in Game 4 with rookie Madison Bumgarner likely facing Joe Blanton. However, Phils manager Charlie Manuel could opt to throw Halladay on short rest, depending on the situation of course.



Brad Lidge seems to have turned the corner from a disastrous 2009 campaign in which he posted 31 saves but squandered another 11 chances. He blew just five saves and recorded 27 this season even though he missed some time with health issues.

Lidge only appeared in one game against the Reds, but got the save in that one and has converted his last 11 save chances in the playoffs.

With Lidge on track the Phillies have a solid relief staff with righties Ryan Madson, Jose Contreras, Chad Durbin and left-handers Antonio Bastardo and J.C. Romero. Starters Kyle Kendrick and Blanton are other options.

San Francisco closer Brian Wilson paced one of the top bullpens in the National League and ended the regular season with three straight saves for a career-best 48 on the year. The right-hander is one of the more intimidating closers in the game when he gets the call from the dugout.

Wilson saved the final two games in the NLDS, but blew Friday's Game 2, surrendering a run in two innings.

Helping to set the bridge to Wilson are lefties Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez, as well as righties Ramon Ramirez, Chris Ray, Sergio Romo, Guillermo Mota and Santiago Casilla.



Manuel is back in the postseason for the fourth straight year with the Phillies and his fifth time overall as a manager. Manuel also led the Cleveland Indians to an AL Central title in 2001, but his team lost in five games in the ALDS to Seattle.

Bochy, meanwhile, has been manager of the Giants since the 2006 season and is one of only a few active managers with at least 1,000 wins. Before taking the Giants to the playoffs this season, he had guided the San Diego Padres to the postseason four times.



Mike Sweeney has found the fountain of youth as a reserve with the Phils, while seasoned backup catcher Brian Schneider can spell Carlos Ruiz at any moment. Wilson Valdez played well in Rollins' absence and Greg Dobbs has been here before. Dobbs can play any position on the field and Ben Francisco is a strong right-handed bat off the pine. Domonic Brown brings power and some speed from the left side of the plate.

San Francisco possess plenty of talent off its bench. Veteran shortstop Edgar Renteria, weathered outfielder Aaron Rowand, Cody Ross and Nate Schierholtz are just a few options. Rowand belted 11 homers and eventually lost his starting job to Andres Torres.



There may not be a better pitching matchup this postseason than the one that should take place in Game 1 between Halladay and Lincecum. But, even if the Giants somehow manage to come out on top of that one, they just don't have enough firepower to outlast a Philadelphia lineup that is better than what it showed against Cincinnati. I think both starting staffs will pitch well, but I have more faith in Philadelphia at the plate. Pitching may have gotten them through the first round, but it will be their bats that carry the Phillies this time around.

Prediction: PHILLIES in SIX

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