Analysis

NLCS Preview: Offense

Over the next two days, we will break down the National League Championship Series in three parts: offense, defense, and pitching.

PHILLIES OFFENSE: We all know how potent the Phillies offense can be. The question is, can they be when it matters most?

In the NLDS, the Phillies struggled a bit, especially in games one and three. In Game 1, Roy Halladay’s no-hitter overshadowed the fact that they bunched their runs together in the first two innings, then basically stood around watching Halladay work his magic on the mound for the final seven. In Game 3, Cole Hamels was a one man wrecking machine, while the bats stayed relatively silent.

Their problem is, as you all know, clutch/situational hitting. In the Reds series, the Phillies went 5 for 25 with runners in scoring position and left a total of 26 men on base in three games. Sure, the 13 runs in three games looks like a pretty total, but it’s inflated. Many of those came because of the Reds defensive miscues. Just seven of the 13 runs were earned. Was the NLDS gift wrapped for the Phillies?

You could make a case the Reds beat themselves. However, there is still something special about this offense. They make things happen when you least expect them to, as was witnessed in the quick three games against Cincinnati.

There are several players who need to step forward immediately. For one, Jimmy Rollins has looked like a shell of his old self. He managed just one hit in 11 at-bats in the divisional round, swinging carelessly at several first pitches and hitting balls softly around the diamond. Rollins needs to be that slap-hitting, line-drive producing anchor in the back of the order. Everyone and their mother knows he is no longer the 20-plus homer guy he was in his MVP season. Fundamentals, my dear Jimmy.

Jayson Werth was putrid as well. His usually keen eyesight was unusually absent against the Reds. He struck out five times in 12 at-bats and finished with just one RBI. So much for middle-of-the-order, right-handed power. Werth has shown none of that so far.

Four. Four extra-base hits in three games is unacceptable. But that’s the total tally for the Phillies in three games against Cincy. Go back one season and you’ll find that in the NLDS against Colorado, the Phillies managed 12 extra-base hits (seven doubles, one triple, four homers). The lineup, which is the same this postseason except for Placido Polanco – a huge upgrade over Pedro Feliz – pulverized the Rockies into submission.

The lineups are the same on paper, but clearly different in just a year’s time. No matter, the Phils are still potent and waiting to break out. They might have to wait a little longer. They’ll no doubt have a tough time against a loaded Giants rotation.

Still, they seem to get timely hits and do just enough for wins. And with their triumvirate of Halladay, Oswalt, and Hamels, it may be all they need for an NLCS victory.

GIANTS OFFENSE: This Giant offense is anything but. Their regular season numbers are midget-like which has carried into the playoffs. Offense has always been their downfall, but playing in a big park with a quality pitching staff has overshadowed that fact.

A glaring weakness it has proven to be, although not quite deadly as we witnessed in the NLDS against Atlanta. During the regular season, the Giants were in the middle of the pack in runs scored, batting average, OPS, and home runs. They didn’t blow the lid off the National League in those categories, but they also were basement-dwellers, either.

The NL West champs are led by Aubrey Huff, who paced the team in major statistics like homers (26), RBI (86), and OPS (.891). The mythical creature behind the plate known as Buster Posey took the Bay Area by storm, hitting .305 with 18 homers in just 108 games. We’ll get to know Posey quite well over the next week.

After one four-game series with the Braves, the Giants are still who we think they are: a light-hitting, perhaps-even-lucky team that got away with one in the NLDS.

Against those Braves, San Francisco hit just .212 as a unit with an ugly .288/.295/.583 triple stat line. Their pitching, and the Braves inability to field a baseball, aided the Giants on their way to a spot in the NLCS. They certainly didn’t look unbeatable against a piecemeal Atlanta lineup.

In the first round, only Posey stood out with the bat. He finished the series 6 for 16, however, he went without an RBI and managed just one extra-base hit. The men in front of him in the order – Huff, Freddy Sanchez, and Andres Torres – combined to go 8 for 45, a .177 average for the divisional round. Pat Burrell and Cody Ross led the way with three RBI, with two coming from Ross in the deciding game.

So, what can we expect? More of the same is likely. The Atlanta starters in the NLDS were Derek Lowe, Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson, and Derek Lowe again on three days rest. Not exactly Maddux, Smoltz, and Glavine. In the NLCS, the Giants lineup will be facing a trio that rivals the old Braves top-of-the-rotation. Can they handle that?

Guys like Huff, Burrell, and Ross have seen a lot of the Phillies pitching in the past. Huff actually has faced Roy Halladay more than any other pitcher in his career because of his time in the American League. Huff is hitting .258 off Halladay with no homers and just five RBI. Burrell has varying results against this crew. He’s hit just .200 against Roy Oswalt over his career, but has had success against Halladay, going 6 for 18, although all hits were singles. Ross likes facing Cole Hamels. He’s 9 for 30 against him with four homers and an OPS of 1.056. However, against Halladay he’s 3 for 16 and Oswalt 2 for 9.

The guy you may have to worry about most is Buster Posey. The Giants star catcher is swinging a hot stick now, so they’ll have to tread lightly around the 22-year old. Other than those few batters in the lineup, there isn’t much that would scare this Phillies pitching staff.

EDGE: PHILLIES

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