Saturday October 16th, 2010

NLCS Game 1: Tim Lincecum (1-0, 0.00 ERA; 16-10, 3.43 ERA) vs. Roy Halladay (1-0, 0.00 ERA; 21-10, 2.44 ERA)

To put the significance of this pitching matchup in context, consider the following. According to game score, in their Game 1 starts in the NLDS, Halladay and Lincecum turned in two of the seven greatest pitching performances in major league postseason history. None of the other five occurred in the same decade as another. Halladay and Lincecum threw theirs on back-to-back days, each doing so in their first and still only postseason appearances, and will now face one another in their subsequent starts. After his perfect game in the 1956 World Series, Don Larsen's next start came the following April. After throwing just the second no-hitter in postseason history, Halladay will now have to face one of the just four men ever to record a postseason game score higher than that of his no-hitter. It's almost a given that neither pitcher will be able to repeat his Division Series performance, but this match-up deserves every bit of hype it has received. It is utterly unprecedented in baseball history.

With that established, one of these two teams has to win this game, be it by beating one of these two dominating aces, or by outlasting them and getting to the relievers that follow them. Predicting a single baseball game, particularly one featuring two such closely matched starting pitchers, is a fool's errand, but that doesn't stop us from trying to find areas where one team might have the edge over the other.

In a way this matchup is representative of this entire series. For all of the hype about the Phillies H2O starters, both teams have deep and extremely talented starting rotations. Jonathan Sanchez, Cole Hamels, Matt Cain, and especially Roy Oswalt weren't quite as dominant as Halladay and Lincecum in the NLDS, but just about every game in this series save perhaps for Game 4, when the Phillies will run out Joe Blanton, has the potential to be a low-scoring pitcher's duel. Yet, while the Phillies might have the superior top three and the might Giants have the deeper starting quartet, the biggest difference between the performances of these two rotations in this series is likely to be determined by the quality of the lineups they have to face.

In that department, there is no comparison. The Phillies have far and away the superior lineup one-through-eight. The Giants' best hitters are Aubrey Huff, Buster Posey, and Pat Burrell, a journeyman, a rookie, and a player who was released mid-season. Not a single Giants regular is clearly better than his Phillies counterpart. Even Posey's opposing number, Carlos Ruiz, is coming off a career year and has a .299/.427/.477 line in 131 career postseason plate appearances. The Phillies lineup, once finally at something close to full strength after a season in which six of their eight regulars spent time on the disabled list, scored 5.57 runs per game over the final 30 games of the regular season. The Giants scored 3.66 runs per game over the same stretch. Had both teams scored at that rate over the entire season they would have ranked first and 28th in the majors, respectively, in runs scored per game. True, the Phillies didn't bludgeon the Reds in the Division Series, but their 4.33 runs per game still easily trumped the 2.75 scored by the Giants against the Braves.

The gap between the two offenses will likely become even more significant if this game is passed to the bullpens. The Giants had the superior pen over the course of the entire 2010 season, but in the Division Series, San Francisco's bearded bullpen blew two saves against a similarly weak Braves attack, with set-up man Sergio Romo doing the bulk of the damage each time. Of course, the Phillies' pen only had to pitch in one game against the Reds as both Halladay and Hamels threw shutouts, which means they are either well-rested or rusty, something to be retroactively determined by their performance this weekend.

Still, the real story of this game will be the performances of the two starters. Halladay has allowed two hits and walked one in 18 scoreless innings over his last two starts. Lincecum has struck out 34 men in 24 innings while and allowing just two runs over his last three starts. That these two men will face each other not just tonight, but likely again in Game 5 of this series, is a gift from the baseball gods. Enjoy it.

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