Friday, October 15, 2010

Your 2010 Giants are in the NLCS: uck Yeah The Phillies

The Giants now face the Phillies for the NL Championship.  The Phillies are trying to become the first NL team to make the World Series three years in a row since the Cards did in the 1940's (amazingly, it has been that long and they are that close to doing it).  They are finally all healthy, added a great starter in Oswalt, and got a full head of steam heading into this series, having gone 39-19 to end the season, then sweeping past the Reds like they were nothing.  To most of the U.S., the Giants are headed into a buzz-saw, questioning how the Giants can even score a run when the Reds, the top offensive team in the NL was shut out twice by the Phillies.

To that I would say that neither do the Reds have a pitching staff like the Giants, a full 0.66 runs behind the Giants in ERA, which is why the Giants lead them in runs allowed by 0.63 runs.  I think the pitching has proven to be pretty stout for both sides and thus games like the Giants had against the Braves, very low scoring games will be the norm, despite the Phillies high powered offense.  And, it should be noted that the Giants actually played the Phillies even this season, 3-3, and could have been 4-2 if not for a bloop Jason Werth double.

And in games like those, mistakes, whether of pitching or fielding or umpiring, will be changing the fortunes of games, like we saw in the Giants-Braves series.  We already know that the pitching hasn't made many mistakes in the past 6 weeks or so.  And by baseball-reference.com's fielding stats, the Giants have better fielding than the Phillies, by a large margin by either measure provided.  There is Total Zone, where the Giants are +36 total fielding runs above average (1st) while the Phillies are +22 (4th), where the league average is -1, and then there is BIS (associated with Bill James)'s Defensive Runs Above Average, where the Giants are +55 (3rd) and the Phillies are +18 (9th).  At approximately 10 runs per win, the Giants are anywhere from 1.4 to 3.7 wins better than the Phillies in defense.

Game 1:  Roy Halladay vs. Lincecum

Halladay has not had much history against the Giants, given his AL East past, two games early in his career, one game this season for the Phillies.  His peripherals have actually been good, but he has suffered from bat luck with balls in play and that has resulted in him giving up 5 runs in each of his starts against the Giants in his career, early and current.  But given his no-hitter against the Reds last week and general greatness throughout this season, the Giants can expect to not do much against him, but can take the memory of beating him earlier this season (FYI, Giants only team to beat Halladay, Oswalt, and Hamels this season).

Lincecum has been on a great roll since he added a slider to his repertoire in September.  His un-august August was left behind in the dust as he pitched great and he had a history making start in his first ever playoff game, striking out 14 in a complete game shutout (previous Giants high was 10 strikeouts).  He has a 3.17 ERA against the Phillies in his career, though "only" 3.66 ERA in Citizen Bank Park and 1.38 ERA from 2008-2010 (he was blasted in his first MLB start, pitching in Philly; he's obviously not that pitcher anymore)

So it is going to be a battle to the end, perhaps dueling no-hitters (at least low hit games) that will turn on a key mistake:  pitch, field, umpiring.  And, again, I would add that wild card is that the Giants hit Halladay well in SF, a relative pitcher's park compare to Philly, and now they are facing him in Philly, and they have lefty power from Torres and Huff, plus Burrell and Ross has a lot of experience hitting there (as well as Rowand).

And Posey got a week to rest, he has been in a slump since he passed roughly the 100 games catching mark (I think game 97 was the start of his slump), which jibes with the Giants worry pre-season that Posey would not last more than 100 games starts stamina-wise.  If he can start hitting that would give us another weapon.

Another wild card, to me, is Sandoval.  He was on a hot streak the final couple of weeks of the season, he was loose and free again, after getting over his mother's near-death situation.  From what I heard during the games, he was wild swinging again, his Panda-cool lost in the heat of his first playoffs.  If he can finally shrug that off, he will be especially dangerous to Halladay, because they would not be expecting him to hit him well on pitches outside the zone, he could surprise Halladay.  Then again, he's never hit well there, so he might sit out this game.

Game 2:  Roy Oswalt vs. Sanchez

Oswalt has a 3.61 ERA against the Giants in his career.  He's actually has pitched well against them in Houston but has had problems in SF.  That probably played into why he gets this position of pitching both games in Philly, where he has a career 2.10 ERA, a lot of that against the high-powered Phillies themselves, but still, a stellar 1.76 ERA there this season.  Despite that 3.61 ERA, he only has a 6-8 record against the Giants, due mainly to his 1-3 record this season, getting out-dueled a couple of times by Lincecum, if I recall right.  Like Halladay, his pitching peripherals were top-notch, he was just unlucky in the saber-view of this games.

Sanchez has become a man, if not THE man.  When other pitchers faltered is closing down the 'Dres, he stepped up, in a game that he would have become flustered at some point because of his struggles with the walk or the umpire or the fielding or whatever.  And he led the rotation in ERA in the crucial September/October games down the stretch, with a 1.01 ERA.  Posey appears to have learned how to tame the wild stallion that we have had the past few seasons, probably with a lot of help from Eli Whiteside, the first to learn how to tame him (Sanchez has had horrible ERAs with Molina catching during his career, including this, his breakout, season).

On top of that, in the crucial last stretches of the season, Sanchez went into Philly,  and stopped a three game losing streak with a great 8 IP, 2-hitter, with 2 walks and 7 strikeouts (1 R/ER), against much of the Phillies regular lineup, only Ryan Howard missing, though that might not change much (3 for 14 career, though all three hits are extra-base hits, 2 doubles and - amazingly - a triple; must have been in Death Valley!)

Previous to this season, I would have been scared of this matchup.  Even early this season, I thought that Sanchez could take on Oswalt, but would have been unsure which Sanchez will show up.  Now, I'm thinking the Giants can take Oswalt with Sanchez.  And the Giants this season has been 21-12 when Sanchez starts.

A key to keeping an offense muzzled is to strike out a lot of their batters (high K/9).  Lincecum and Sanchez have both been among the leaders in that the past few seasons and Sanchez has the stuff that not only strikes out hitters, but keeps their damage down in terms of base hits (his H/9 has been very low the past couple of seasons and his batting average against has been among the leaders - could be the leader but I don't feel the need to check exactly, it is enough that he's among the leaders).

This should be a battle that could go either way, much like game 1, but the Giants have had enough success against Oswalt (relatively speaking, he never shuts them down but handles the Giants well) and Sanchez has been able to shut them down (and recently) that I think the Giants have a very good chance of winning this game.  But it should be another close game unless a lot of mistakes are made.

Game 3:  Cole Hamels vs. Cain

Cole Hamels was his stellar self again, after a blip last season (probably celebrated too much after 2008 World Series and didn't prepare well enough, understandable at his age).  He has a horrible career in AT&T, 6.12 ERA, and it has gotten worse each year, his best game out of the four he has pitched was his first start there in 2007, and even then he gave up 3 runs (5 ER) in 7 IP.  His peripherals look great - high K/9, high K/BB, no homer ever given up, just a lot of hits given up - so that would suggest that it was all bad luck.  And four starts, it is a small sample.  Still, you have to wonder, if he could not handle the Giants in late April this season, when Burrell, Posey, Torres were not regular starters and Huff had not started hitting like he has since, then why should he be able to handle them now?

Cain kept his performance level with his breakout last season, this season.  He is Hamels equal for all intents and purposes.  A key thing is he has a 2.93 ERA at home, so he is much tougher at home than on the road (though still good, 3.35 ERA).  Another key thing is that while people may look at his career ERA against the Phillies and think that they will beat up on him (6.23 ERA in 5 starts), but if you look deeper, he has actually pitched well against them the past two seasons, after he figured out to be a better pitcher, while pitching horribly in his early years.  He has a 2.77 ERA the past two seasons, great peripherals, usual Cain stats:  OK K's, now low walks (his big change), and very few hits.

As most games in this series will be, should be a close game, tight game, but I would have to lean towards Cain for this matchup, because it is in SF but if there is a game 7, right now I would lean towards Hamel, as he has pitched well against the Giants in the past in Philly (3.41 ERA there, though oddly enough, and thus good for Giants favor, last year, his bad year, he shut them out there, but this year, against our best players in August - the Sanchez game - he only lasted 5 IP with 3 ER, just giving up too many hits, otherwise good game peripherals-wise).

Game 4:  Joe Blanton vs. Bumgarner (both penciled in)

Neither team appears to want to use their top starter (Halladay and Lincecum) on 3-days rest to start this game, but both managers demured on that, saying that this start is only penciled in.  Most probably, if either team is down 0-3, their ace will start, but given the history of pitcher usage during division player (few pitchers ever pitch with 3 days rest, and only twice in last 19 years, and the last time in championship series was in 1992.  So mostly likely we will see this matchup.

Blanton has pitched OK against the Giants in SF, but very poorly overall, suggesting that he might have been very lucky in SF.  Horrible peripherals, in any case.  He is probably getting this start because he shut them down in August in Philly, but he has had a horrible season overall.  However, his peripherals have been pretty good overall, so one could chalk this up to a bad BABIP (.324) season.  So he could give a good game for them.

Bumgarner, however, has been a co-ace with Sanchez the past 6 weeks, compiling a 1.13 ERA in the final stretch of the season, then shutting down the Braves in the playoffs IN HIS FIRST MLB PLAYOFF EVER AT AGE 21.  And he's our 4th starter!  Could be a close game, but I would be disappointed if we lose this game, this matchup should be a gimme to the Giants, but you never know how things work out in the playoffs.

Giants Thoughts

Should be an even series.  As I've been saying, pitching at the highest levels trumps hitting, and we have four of the best starters in the majors vs. their three.  As I noted in last post, this ordering currently would match up twice Lincecum-Halladay, Sanchez-Oswalt, Cain-Hamels.  We should split those games, on paper, as the Giants have been playing well against the better teams down the stretch, shutting down good offenses, even in Colorado and Arizona.

That leaves game 4 to settle the tie, and I think Bumgarner takes Blanton probably 7-8 times out of 10.  But this is one game, so the Giants chances rely on the starters keeping their laser focus that they have had the past 6 weeks and shutting down all opposition to 3 runs or less, and seeing how the offense does.  The starters kept it up during the playoffs, but the bullpen needs to rise to their September standards and not falter as they did against Atlanta.  If they can live the motto - "Fear the Beard" - the Giants should have a very good chance of winning the NLCS and get into the World Series.

Obviously, the offense will need to contribute as well.  I think Burrell's and Rowand's knowledge of the Phillies will help our team battle from both ends, but particularly in how the hitters should approach playing in Citizen Bank Park.  We need Torres and Posey to start hitting like they did during the season, but as I noted, Posey might be gassed and playing in adrenaline - the week rest will be most helpful I think.  Sanchez, Torres and Sandoval need to get over their jitters and hit like they did at their best.  Ross needs to continue his good performance and Burrell needs to lead the way in Philly.  Huff appeared to be getting over his jitters in the last game, so hopefully will continue in this series.  Uribe has reportedly been gassed too, and hopefully this rest will help him too.

Still, it will be pitching and fielding that drives the Giants success or failure in this series.  I think it helped facing a limping Braves team, which gave our playoff newbies a chance to get their jitters out of the way, as needed (obviously our starting pitchers handled it well).  Hopefully they can hit more freely now that they have that under their belt, but the Phillies pitchers are better than the Braves, who were already pretty good themselves.    That could be our tipping point in terms of success, whether the hitters can get into their place of comfort and like like they can.  If they can, and I will point to Huff, Torres, and Sandoval as key hitters to get out of their funk (Citizen Bank Park favors left-handed hitters), then I think they have a good chance of getting into the World Series - not a likely chance but a good chance.  I will take that given that this is the group's first NLCS.

And I believe that this will pay off in future seasons when the Giants make the NLCS again (and again) with their stellar pitching staff, and nicely developing lineup led by Posey and Sandoval.

6 comments:

  1. Forgot to note that the title plays off of a phrase (with a more colorful term :^) that Tim Lincecum has apparently been saying on camera on a number of occasions in recent weeks, and the fact that it is the Phillies, I was hoping that maybe the Reds might take them out for us. This will be a tough battle with the Phillies, and the Giants are the underdogs and most probably will lose, but I think they also have a good chance of winning as well, if their pitching can match up with the Phillies.

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  2. Also wanted to note that Sanchez would have set a new franchise record with his 11 strikeouts in his first playoff performance if Lincecum didn't strike out 14 first. He did set the record for Giants LHP in franchise history, passing, among others, the great Carl Hubbell.

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  3. I don't have much faith in Oswalt, he seems formidable because of his career. And I also don't believe the Phillies will be good in low-scoring games. If the Giants' starters can keep the lid on, the Phillies will crack by game four. Remember, while the Braves series was exceptional of course, the Giants are used to cliffhangers.

    Then again, my extreme optimism only adds 0.1 wins to your prediction. Still, I see Cain pitching a gem and Howard setting a record for Ks. And Bumgarner will be the key. I can go either way for the first three, yes, but Blanton vs Bumgarner?

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  4. Hmm. I dunno about that. If I had to pick a rotation, I'd go with the Braves'. They are very stacked in the rotation and had the best bullpen coming into the playoffs (maybe). They pitched great against us (Hanson, the least great). However, it was the horrible defense that did them in. Most of it was in the form of Brooks Conrad but still. If our superior defense made a few mistakes and was less than magical, the series could really have looked much different.

    That being said, I really like our chances. Our offenses really are very comparable. Sure, we had Rowand, Renteria, Molina, etc. at first, but, many people forget that they were actually doing good until regression to the mean finally took its toll. For about 2 months or so, our offense played like it was our offense. Luckily, Andres got a chance with Rowand going down, Buster would eventually replace Molina, Burrell was picked up, Huff improved from his patient April, etc. These guys filled in the holes and let's not forget that the Phillies had the same thing happen to them as well when their starters got hurt. They only have 4 more dingers than us. They also outplayed their Pythagorean W-L by 2 games and we underperformed ours by 2 games. If all went accordingly the way it suggested, we would have 94 wins and they would have 95. ONE FRIGGIN GAME DIFFERENCE! Amazing how a little luck changes everything.

    If we add up playing a hurt DeRosa, not letting Buster catch from the time we brought him up (and just play in general), letting Todd pitch, only letting Torres (our best player this year and MVP) really play since May, Pablo's struggles (average-ness), and all that other stuff, I think it is about what the Phillies lost when their guys were hurt. It's only since July that this team was really the best that it could be. But enough talk, let's show these Phillie bastards (Utley's cool though, and I kinda like Contreras tee hee) what we got! GO GIANTS!

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  5. I guess I'll take getting out of Philly with a split, though we played terribly last night. Fontenot letting that pop up fall might as well have ended the game, you just knew from then we didn't have it that night.

    Anyways I've been looking all day and can't find an answer anywhere so I figured I'd pose it here.

    Do you have any information on what the history of teams getting a split on the road to start a 7 game series is to win the series after that? I'm surprised ESPN hasn't posted anything on this seeing as both the Giants and Yankees did the same thing.

    Going into tomorrow I feel confident about cain at home even thought he Phils have hit him.

    Here's to hoping the home air brings us some good umping and hot bats

    ReplyDelete
  6. That's a very interesting stat about splitting on the road that I agree, you would think we would have seen such a stat somewhere, particularly given both the Yankees and Giants did that. I'll tweet somebody and see if that pulls up anything, good question.

    As I noted in my post, Cain has done well against them in terms of peripherals the past two seasons, plus he does better at home, so I too feel confident with Cain vs. Phillies.

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