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NLCS Preview: Pitching

Over the past two days, PN has been breaking down the National League Championship Series.  Paul Boye and myself try and shed some light on what could be one of the best pitched NLCS in history.

PHILLIES PITCHING, Paul Boye:

The big three. H2O. The heralded trio of starting pitchers upon which the 2010 Phillies will hope to ride to their second World Series title in three years.

Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt are the headliners of this magical pitching tour – and deservedly so – that hopes to make only a brief stop in San Francisco, before packing up and heading to New York or Texas for a chance at another title.

Just like any good show, however, the performance of supporting actors can make or break the production, and while plenty can go right, missteps could be disastrous. This holds especially true when the opposing pitching staff is as good as the one the Giants will feature, but this segment is all about the red pinstripers and the arms they’ll place atop the pitching rubber for this mosh with the San Francisco Giants.

By now, I’m sure you’ve all become well-acquainted with Harry Leroy Halladay and his 250 innings of 2.44 ERA ball, just as I’m sure you’ve read about Roy Oswalt’s sparkling 1.74 ERA in 13 games with the Phils and Cole Hamels’s resurgent 2.68 ERA since the start of May. None of this should come as a shock: the Phillies have three very, very good starting pitchers atop their rotation.

Again, that’s not news. We’ve been spoiled by great pitching all season long, and for the Phillies to advance to their third consecutive World Series, they’ll need some more.

It’s a pretty safe bet to assume that, for as good as the top of the Philly rotation is, the Giants boast three comparable pitchers, with a fourth who’s no slouch. Tim Lincecum is one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball, a two-time Cy Young Award winner who’s coming off a start nearly as good as Doc’s no-hitter. Jonathan Sanchez, while not quite as well-rounded, gives the Phillies lineup fits, and Matt Cain may be one of the most underrated pitchers out there, with a 3.35 ERA over his last four seasons.

Every run prevented will be crucial, now more than ever, and that’s where the aforementioned supporting players will have to come through. Aside from Brad Lidge (0.73 ERA in 24.2 IP since August 1) and Ryan Madson (1.04 ERA, 44 K and 10 BB in 34.2 IP since July 31), the middle relief corps of Jose Contreras and Chad Durbin may be needed in a big spot, and specialists like J.C. Romero and Antonio Bastardo may be called upon to retire Aubrey Huff in key situations in the 6th, maybe in the 7th. If anywhere on their staff, this is where the Phillies can look weak.

I guess it stands to reason, though, that if the bullpen is active before the 7th, things are probably not totally going the Phillies’ way.

[CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT THE NLCS DEFENSIVE PREVIEW]

GIANTS PITCHING, Kieran Carobine:

The headlines say ‘Giants equipped to match up with Phillies’ trio’, ‘Score to be settled on mound’, and ‘NLCS set to begin with duel for ages’.

So now the media has Giants’ fans thinking; OK, we will see your H2O and raise you Lincecum, Sanchez and Cain.  Not so fast.  But to be fair, after the Phillies rotation of Halladay, Hamels and Oswalt, the Giants front three could be the best rotation left in the playoffs.

Let’s break down the numbers.  For the regular season San Francisco’s starters led the league with a 3.54 ERA followed by, guess who, the Phillies (3.55).  As a whole, the Giants led the NL in strikeouts (1331), batting average against (.236), and saves (57).  They were second in the league, behind the Padres, as the hardest pitching staff to score on allowing only 583 runs.

For the NLCS, Giants manager Bruce Bochy went with a four man rotation adding 21 year old Madison Bumgarner into the mix.  With Charlie Manuel saying he will throw Joe Blanton in Game 4, I can see Bochy being comfortable countering with Bumgarner again.  The only way we could see Lincecum for that game would be if it’s a clinching game for Philly, IMO.

So who do the Giants have?  You may have heard of one or two of them.

Game 1: Tim Lincecum RHP (16-10, 3.43)

The Freak is, well, a freak.  One of the most oddly perfected wind-ups in baseball has baffled hitters year in and year out since Timmy entered the league.  He has been your strikeout leader the past three seasons in a row and has won the coveted NL Cy Young the past two.  His bid for a third straight Cy Young has most likely been grounded by his Game 1 counterpart, Roy Halladay.  Lincecum was masterful in Game 1 of the NLDS pitching a complete game shutout and striking out 14 Atlanta Braves.  They are saying he developed a blister on his throwing hand in that game but has been getting extensive treatment on it.  I wouldn’t look too much into this until it shows itself as a problem.

The kid is good.  The sample size against Phillies hitters is small, with Chase Utley having the most official at bats at 20.  Of the Philly hitters, Ryan Howard has had some success against the young rightey hitting three homers in 19 at bats.  Utley, Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino have also homered off Lincecum in their careers.

Game 2: Jonathan Sanchez LHP (13-9, 3.07)

Sanchez is coming off a career year with career bests in wins (13), ERA (3.07), innings (193.1) and strikeouts (205).  While Sanchez started Game 3 of the NLDS against the Braves, Bochy has decided to flip flop him with Matt Cain for this series.  Why?  Bochy kept his reasoning simple saying “We really think breaking up the righties and lefties is a better way to go.”

Also, Sanchez has had success against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.  In August he took a one hit shutout into the ninth inning and the Giants eventually won 5-2.  For the season, Sanchez won both of his starts against Philadelphia striking out 13 in 13 innings.  He has an ERA of 1.38 in those two starts this year.

Sanchez is still coming into his own, having only been a starter the past two seasons.  He can still be wild at times and prone to the long ball.  He has put a lot of work in to ensure more swings and misses and challenges hitters with balls in the dirt.  If the Phillies’ hitters can sit back and be patient they can be successful against Sanchez.

Game 3: Matt Cain (13-11, 3.14)

Don’t let this Game 3 start or the NLDS Game 2 start fool you.  Just like the Phillies, the Giants have another guy who could be the number one starter for any other team.  Besides the Phillies of course.  Matt Cain has top of the rotation, overpowering stuff.  He had a career year in innings pitched (led the team, yeah!), but also tied a career high in home runs allowed (boo!).  Until the formation of Halladay/Hamels the duo of Lincecum/Cain was maybe the most dominant duo in the league.

Cain has pitched slightly better at home than Sanchez, another reason Bochy may have decided to flop their starts.  At AT&T Park, Cain was 8-4 with an ERA of 2.93.  Opposing hitters only hit .208 against the righty at home.  As for the Phillies, Utley has had a lot of success against Cain.  In 12 at bats, the Philly second baseman has three homers and six RBIs.

Bullpen:

The bullpen for the Giants this season has been very good.  They led the league with 57 saves, 48 of which from closer Brian Wilson and his newly acquired beard.  However, this post season they have been a bit shakey.  Wilson has had issues closing out games, although in the end he did get the job done.  And that is all that matters right?  Through the first three games of the NLDS, the bullpen posted a 6.00 ERA coming mostly from 2/3 of a inning by setup man Sergio Romo where he allowed three runs.  The bullpen did come back in Game 4.  Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez and Wilson all got big outs in the final three innings to clinch the NLDS.

EDGE: PHILLIES

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