On Saturday, round about Eight-ish in the evening, the Philadelphia Phillies will welcome the San Francisco Giants to town, in what will be one of the most memorable National League Championship Series in recent memory for any number of reasons: The Phils are two-time defending N.L. champs and looking to become the first team since the 1942-44 St. Louis Cardinals to go to three straight World Series, the Giants feature some exciting young players that will get a shot on the big stage, The Battle of the Beards (Werth v Wilson)…
Oh, and it will feature some of the best damn pitching this side of Everywheresville, USA.
Unlike the NLDS between the Phillies and Reds, two teams who could mash as well as anyone, this series is going to be about the elbows and shoulders of the starting rotations and bullpens of the respective clubs. Sure, the offense is going to have something to do with who wins, but make no mistake about it: The NLCS is an arms race.
It starts off with a pitcher’s matchup that was certainly conceived in the bowels of Baseball Heaven, with Roy Halladay (who only tossed a no-hitter in his first postseason start against the N.L.’s best offense) going up against Tim Lincecum (who struck out 14 Atlanta Braves in his first postseason start; a complete game shutout win), who just to happens to be the 2008 and 2009 N.L. Cy Young winner.
It’s a battle of finesse and power, of experience and youth, of Doc and The Freak, of a storied career that has yet to reach the pinnacle and one that is only beginning to etch itself in the annals of baseball lore.
And if their first go-rounds this October were and indication, then we’ll be telling our kids about it one day, how Roy and Tim exchanged haymakers early and often, forcing each other to make the perfect pitch every single time because one run was enough to swing the pendulum of the series.
Once Game One is in the books, there are two other pitching gems waiting to greet the fans: Roy Oswalt vs Jonathan Sanchez in Game Two and Cole Hamels vs Matt Cain in Game Three. While those games will be comparatively dull to Halladay/Lincecum, they will nonetheless feature fantastic pitching from both sides. (More on those matchups on game day.)
While it seems rather pointless to go any further in this recap, I’d be doing a disservice not only to the teams, but to the readers. On we go.
Unlike the last round, the Phillies will have an easier road ahead of them when it comes down to dealing with the bats of the San Francisco Giants, whose middle-of-the-road offense has the capacity to give opposing pitchers fits, but is not the multi-pronged attack like that of the Reds, or even the Phillies.
They’re led by the youngster Buster Posey (.305, 18, 67), whose 2010 campaign will likely end with him taking home the Rookie of the Year award. He’s backed up that performance with a .375 average and .444 OBP against the Braves in the first round of the playoffs.
Behind Posey are veterans Aubrey Huff (.290, 26, 86) and Juan Uribe (.248, 24, 85), as well as mid-season replacements Cody Ross (.288, 3, 34) and former Phillie Pat Burrell (.266, 18, 51) rounding out the lineup.
They’ve also got the likes of Pablo Sandoval, who is following up his career year with a less than stellar season that resulted in a platoon role with the light-hitting Mike Fontenot at third base.
For the Phillies pitchers, it’s going to come down to shutting down the few legitimate threats on the Giants roster and avoiding getting chipped away to death, which offensively challenged teams in the playoffs have the tendency to do.
And despite a none-too-impressive performance from the bats in the LDS against the Reds, the Phillies still have one of the most impressive offenses in the National League. Despite dealing with some nagging injuries to Jimmy Rollins and Placido Polanco, they are still capable of putting up a crooked number at any given time. The only question that remains for the Phillies’ bats is: Will they?
If there is one place that the Giants have an advantage over the Phillies, it’s in the late innings, but even then, it’s only a matter of depth. As I said in the last series preview, strong middle relief for the Phillies was only a luxury because of the strength of having Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt starting the games, thus making the need for a deep bullpen less severe.
At the end of the game, the Giants turn to Brian Wilson’s beard to do the closing work. In the regular season, Wilson was one of the best late-inning men in the game as he racked up 48 saves with a 1.81 ERA in 70 appearances. He’s been equally effective in the postseason, where he allowed one unearned run in four innings of work against the Braves.
Before Wilson, the Giants will march out the hard throwing Sergio Romo (2.18 regular season ERA), Santiago Casilla (1.95), Ramon Ramirez (2.99), and lefty Jeremy Affeldt (4.14).
It’s a deep ‘pen to be sure, and one that could wind up giving the Phillies fits in the late innings.
Like in the NLDS, the Phillies have bucketloads of experience on this stage compared to the Giants, plus a manager who, despite his folksy wisdom that is perceived as cluelessness, has a better head for the game than most give him credit for.
In a seven game series, it usually comes down to talent and skill more than luck and chance that abounds in a five game series. However, the Phillies have had a knack for coming up with big moments in their last few postseasons, especially in the NLCS.
In Game Four of the 2008 NLCS, Matt Stairs capped a four-run comeback when he sent a towering two run homer off Jonathan Broxton into the right field stands of Dodger Stadium, essentially ending the series while earning the hefty (now slim!) professional hitter an open bar tab in Philadelphia for the rest of his days.
In the 2009 NLCS, also in Game Four and also at the expense of Broxton, Jimmy Rollins doubled to the right-center gap with two outs to score Eric Bruntlett and Carlos Ruiz to win the game, traumatize Broxton into never succeeding against the Phillies again, and also spawned this.
What can we take from this? Well, the Phillies have a flair for the dramatic in Game Fours of NLCSes, especially when Joe Blanton (who started both games) is on the hill. And guess who is slated to start this year’s game four? You guessed it, Joe Blanton. Not that it means anything, but maybe it means something. What sort of moments will the Phillies have in store for us this year?
As I said in my last series preview, I’m not one for predicting the number of games it takes for a team to wrap up a series. Instead, I’ll just go ahead and predict that the Phillies will take home their third straight National League Pennant and move on to play for their second World Series in three years.
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