NLCS Preview: A Series For Fans of Pitching
We now know who the face off to see who will represent the National League in the World Series. The Philadelphia Phillies are headed to their third straight championship series and standing in their way of a third straight World Series berth is the San Francisco Giants. The Phillies steam rolled through their divisional series matchup against the Cincinnati Reds sweeping the Reds in three games. The Giants had similar success in their divisional matchup against Bobby Cox and the Atlanta Braves.
Both of these teams have one thing that no team left in the hunt has, amazing pitching. The Phillies and Giants have arguably the two best pitching staffs in baseball. The Phillies are throwing out their powerful H2O punch, a group consisting of Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt. H20 washed away the competition (see what I did there) in the division series allowing only three earned runs in three games. All three earned runs came in game two and were all charged to Roy Oswalt.
The Giants pitching staff is just plain nasty. They used four pitchers in the division series against the Braves and even with more pitchers, and more games, they gave up the same amount of earned runs (3) as the Phillies starters. Pitchers Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain shut down the Braves lineup going 15 2/3 innings giving up no earned runs. The Giants game three pitchers Jonathan Sanchez gave up one run in 7 1/3 innings and then the Giants threw out their rookie pitcher Madison Bumgarner to close out the series and he did just that giving up 2 earned runs in 6 innings.
Needless to say this NLCS is shaping up to be a pitcher’s duel in every game. Game one of the series is likely to be a Roy Halladay versus Tim Lincecum matchup. Halladay got rocked in his only game against the Giants this season. The Giants gave Halladay his first loss of the season and tagged him for 5 earned runs in seven innings way back on April 26. Halladay hasn’t fared well against the Giants in his career compiling a 7.23 ERA. While it doesn’t look good for the Phillies ace he does appear to be a man on a mission and it showed in his first career post season start when he threw the second no hitter in post season history.
The Giants will throw out reigning National League Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum. While Lincecum didn’t throw a no hitter in his first playoff game of his career he definitely had no hit stuff. Lincecum dazzled Braves hitters giving up just 2 hits in a complete game shut out while striking out 14 Braves hitters. In game 1 Lincecum will face off against the team he faced off against in his first major league game. The young ace has done well against the Phillies in his career compiling a 3.17 ERA in 7 career games. He lost a heart breaking game to the Phillies back in April where his manager took him out of the game with only 2 outs to go and his bullpen blew the lead.
Game one is going to be the definition of a pitcher’s duel. You have the two time reigning National League Cy Young award winner going against the man who will likely win the award this year. Lincecum had his worst season since his rookie year in 2010 but lately he has been unstoppable. Halladay is the most efficient pitcher in the game. People constantly mention the Halladay’s work load and don’t realize that he throws just as many pitches a game as any other normal pitcher (100-110). He no hit the best offense in league in his first playoff game and the Giants are a worse offense. If you like pitching you don’t want to miss game one.
The Phillies are likely to throw Roy Oswalt on the mound for game 2. Oswalt struggled in his first playoff game of 2010 as he went only 5 innings giving up 4 runs, while only 3 of those runs were earned. While he struck out 5 and only walked one he pitched in and out of trouble for most of the game. In his career Oswalt has a 3.61 ERA against the Giants in 17 games. One thing to not forget is that Oswalt is undefeated in Citizens Bank Park in his career.
Oswalt will likely face off against Giants starter Matt Cain in game two. Cain actually had a better season in 2010 then Lincecum 13-11 with a 3.14 ERA. The 2002 first round pick shut down the Braves in game two of the NLDS going 6 2/3 innings giving up on un earned run. In his career against the Phillies he has struggled mightily compiling a 6.23 ERA in 5 career games. When the Giants visited Citizens Bank Park this season Cain 6 innings giving up 5 runs while only 2 of the runs were earned. While Cain has struggled in his career against the Phillies you can’t take that as sign of an easy win for the Phillies. Cain is just nasty, but then again so is Oswalt. Like game one this is anyone’s matchup.
In game 3 of the series the Phillies will send out 25 year post season veteran Cole Hamels. This isn’t the Cole Hamels from 2009 but a better version of the 2008 Hamels that won the World Series MVP. Hamels came into camp looking to show that his awful 2009 season was a fluke and he has done just that. Hamels went 12-11 in the regular season with a 3.06 ERA. The Phillies game 3 starter would have been the Giants best pitcher this season if he had been playing in the bay area.
Hamels was sent out to close out the Reds to insure a sweep, and a NLCS berth for the Phillies. He shut down the best offense in the National League on Sunday pitching his first complete game shut out while walking no batters and striking out 9. his career against San Francisco however hasn’t been as good. In 8 career games against the Giants Hamels has a 4.67 ERA. In his last game against the Giants he got tagged for 5 earned runs in 5 innings.
The Giants will counter with Jonathan Sanchez. Sanchez used to be a guy who was either going to walk ten batters or strike ten out but in 2010 it the ladder. Sanchez was the Giants best pitcher in 2010 going 13-9 with a 3.07 ERA. The former pitcher with no control struck out 205 batters in 2010 while walking only 96. He definitely changed the perception that people had of him. Sanchez has dominated the Phillies in his career compiling a 2.86 ERA in 5 career games. In his last game of the season he out dueled Roy Halladay going 8 innings giving up 1 earned run while striking out 7.
In game 4 the Phillies will likely throw Roy Halladay to the hill. The Giants will either ask Tim Lincecum to go (depending on how the series is shaping up) or they will ask rookie Madison Bumgarner to take the hill. Bumgarner was the Giants #1 prospect and has pitched really well since being recalled. In his rookie season he had a 7-6 record with a 3.00 ERA. He clinched the NLCS berth for the Giants on Monday night going 6 strong innings giving up just 2 earned runs.
The Phillies lineup is much better than the Giants. I won’t run through all the stats but to prove how weak the Giants lineup was they signed former Phillies left fielder Pat Burrell to a minor league deal after he was released by the Rays. They sent Burrell to AAA but quickly recalled him and inserted him into the everyday lineup. Burrell has played really well for the Giants but what does that tell you about their team that they had to pick up Burrell, who was released, and insert him in the everyday lineup?
While the Giants lineup isn’t anywhere near the lineup that the Reds threw at the Phillies while the lineup the Phillies are throwing on the field is the best lineup in team history. The only place where one team clearly dominates another in this matchup in the lineups where the Phillies are clearly the superior team. The bullpens are equal and the Pitching staff is equal.
This isn’t going to be the cake walk that the Reds series was. This NLCS has a chance to go all 7 games. This game is going to come down to pitching and defense, and since the Phillies aren’t planning on playing Brooks Conrad anywhere in the lineup the Giants are going to have to hope that the Phillies contract Steve Sax disease. Every game in this series has a chance to be a 1 run game and with both teams having lights out closers, if the game gets to the 9th inning its probably over.
Shortly after writting this it was announced the Jonathan Sanchez will go in game two, not game three like i had predicted. Also I wrote that i thought the Phillies would start Roy Halladay in a game four. Wrong again as it was announced today that Joe Blanton will take the hill for the Phillies in game four, with Halladay going in a game 5.