NLCS Five Keys: Giants-Phillies
As his Giants teammates created mayhem around him in celebration of their playoff series win over the Braves, rookie catcher
After one player threw a bevy of water and ice on Posey and the reporters he was talking to, Posey paused and said, "I don't get that." He didn't elaborate, but given his manner, it seemed that he was not only talking about how he didn't understand why ice was used as a projectile but also why the club was so raucous after a Division Series clincher. There's still work to be done.
When asked about the benefit of two more days' rest, with San Francisco having finished Atlanta in four games, Posey quickly lapsed into a chip-on-his-shoulder series analysis entering the National League Championship Series against the Phillies, beginning Saturday night in Philadelphia.
"We've heard a lot of talk about how good Philly's staff is," he said, "but we think we've got three guys that line up right there with them."
From the start of the postseason it was clear that the Giants posed the biggest threat to league favorite Philadelphia because of their starting pitching. While
Since Sept. 1, San Francisco's starting pitchers had a 2.36 ERA, .201 average against and 187 strikeouts in 179 1/3 innings over their final 29 regular-season games. That's a hair better than the more celebrated Phillies, who had a 2.68 ERA, .226 average against and 157 strikeouts in 184 2/3 innings.
The difference, of course, is in the offenses -- San Francisco backed its starters with 4.0 runs per nine innings; Philadelphia supported its rotation with 5.9 runs per nine innings.
The duel between former Cy Young winners -- Philadelphia's
The veteran workhorse Halladay is a strong candidate to start Game 4 on short rest, at least if the Phillies trail in the series, because that would also set him up for a Game 7 start on short rest.
Their teams will be favored in each of their starts if the aces go off-kilter after Game 1, making their one head-to-head battle each team's best chance to beat their opponent's ace.
The Phillies are the World Series favorites, but like a football team with a shaky field goal kicker, they continue their postseason run with a wobbly back end of the bullpen. Lidge, of course, helped lead the Phillies to the 2008 World Series championship with a perfect regular and post-season before enduring a wretched 2009 in which he went 0-8 with 11 blown saves a 7.21 ERA.
He righted the ship with a solid second half of 2010, saving 17 of 18 chances and allowing just two earned runs in 24 2/3 innings (0.73 ERA) since the beginning of August, but he had four blown saves and a 5.57 ERA through the end of July. Even in September there was one game that showed glimpses of Lidge's prior struggles: against the Marlins on Sept. 15, he faced five batters, getting one out and allowing a single and three walks.
The Giants, meanwhile, have reliable
After winning the 2008 title, the Phillies allowed Burrell, their former No. 1 overall pick and left field mainstay for nine years, to leave the organization without great effort to retain him. New general manager
As far as complimentary pieces go, Ibañez is a luxury. With
Burrell, on the other hand, began the year with the Rays (his second in Tampa Bay) before being designated for assignment for his unproductive play. Back in the NL with the Giants, he's been asked to carry a lion's share of the offense, batting fifth behind the rookie Posey. With San Francisco he hit 18 home runs with a .266/.364/.509 batting line in 96 games and slugged a three-run homer in the first inning of NLDS Game 2. The onus is on him to produce power for the Giants' middling offense, and he'll need to produce early in games -- he often gets replaced for defense by the seventh inning.
The Phillies stack their lineup with power lefties, including Utley, Howard and Ibañez, so it's natural to think that their Kryptonite would be pitchers who throw with their left hand -- or "wrong hand," as it's often called in baseball scouting circles. That hasn't entirely played out for Philadelphia this season, which has gone 69-45 against right-handed starters (.605 winning percentage) and not much worse against lefties with a 28-20 record (.583). That's because
The Giants' Sanchez, at least, has still found success against Philadelphia. It's not just that he won both starts against the Giants this year, winning once in each ballpark while allowing just two earned runs over 13 innings, it's that he is now 3-1 with a 1.82 ERA (five earned runs in 24 2/3 innings) with 28 strikeouts in last two seasons against the Phillies. That's a key reason he was bumped up to start Game 2, particularly since he's more of a groundball pitcher than
Sandoval doesn't appear to have an injury to blame his hitting woes on. After a breakout 2009, the Giants' third baseman, affectionately known as Panda, has regressed considerably. In '09 he batted .330/.387/.556 with 25 homers and 90 RBIs; in '10 he hit .268/.323/.409 with 13 homers and 63 RBIs, as well as grounding into an NL-leading 26 double plays. He went 1-for-7 in NLDS Games 1 and 2 and made two defensive miscues -- an error on a throw and a violent collision with Posey while chasing a popup.
As a result he was benched for the last two games of the NLDS in favor of
It might be in Bochy's best interest to give Panda the Burrell treatment -- start him, give him three at bats and then replace him for defense.