NLCS Series Preview: It’s…Phillies Inside?
If you’ve read a projection from any major news outlet in the last week, they’ve probably all told you that the Phillies are going to smash the Giants into tiny pieces, make necklaces out of their skulls, and use Aaron Rowand as a human sacrifice to the pagan Cthulu-esque demon-god that Ryan Howard worships. I’m here to tell you that these predictions may be a slight exaggeration.
To prove this, I first need to deconstruct some of the more porous arguments out there. The biggest “factor” that many writers out think benefits the Phillies is their “intangibles.” You can’t see them, you can’t quantify them, and apparently the Phillies have them coming out of bodily orifices that for the sake of decency I won’t mention. Having been to the World Series the last two seasons and winning one of them automatically gives them the advantage in high-stress situations. What that fact really denotes is that the Phillies are and have been very good at the game of baseball, intangibles be damned. They can hit, they can pitch, and their starting rotation has a cool nickname.
Fortunately for the Giants, they possess a similar set of skills, as do most teams that make it this far. Their nickname-less starting trio of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Jonathan Sanchez all match up beautifully against the Phillies much-lauded “H20″ trio (Halladay, Hamels, Oswalt. Get it? Because of the Two H’s and one O! That’s what makes it so damn clever!). The biggest question mark is whether or not the Giants hitters will be able to score runs, especially given the way they were manhandled by the likes of Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson in the Division Series.
That being so, there’s something to said for having the odds stacked against us. As nervous as I was about the Giants being an almost unanimous pick to beat the Braves, I’m much more calm about the experts picking us to be blown into oblivion by the Phillies.
To the naked eye, the Phillies seem like the winners here by a healthy margin. Guys like Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jayson Werth, and Jimmy Rollins are all household names that are expected to perform like above-average ballplayers. Of that core group of four though, only two (Werth and Utley) are better options at their position than the Giants have. Rollins, who hit to the tune of .243/.320/.374 this year while battling injuries, is entering a phase of decline in his career. He’s frequently injured, his power is a shadow of what it once was, and he’s hardly a much better player than Juan Uribe was in 2010.
By most metrics, Ryan Howard was out-performed by Aubrey Huff in 2010 in more than one way. Starting with the basic AVG/OBP/SLG comparison, Huff wins out easily. Factor in how Howard’s career-long struggles with left-handed pitching and Huff’s even platoon splits, and another big name is found to not be quite as big. Chase Utley and Jayson Werth on the other hand are power-hitters with speed playing at premium positions who are far better than their San Francisco counter-parts.
Taking all this into account, and factoring in that Buster Posey is the son of Zeus dipped in the river Styx by Jesus Christ himself, I’d say whatever edge the Phillies have on the offensive side is much smaller than ESPN would have you believe.
I touched on this before, but it bares repeating. The Giants top three starters match up perfectly with that of the Phillies. The biggest advantage the Giants do have though is that Joe Blanton (4.82 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, .291 BAA) is not their 4th starter. Instead, Madison Bumgarner, who with pure glacial water running through his veins, vanquished the Braves into offseason oblivion at Turner Field no less. The fourth starter may end up being key should the Phillies decide to use a 4-man rotation, especially given such a game would be in San Francisco.
The pundits may refuse to shut-up about the dreaded “H20,” but Lincecainchez, while not as cool a nickname, has the ability to silence any offense. And as for that “power-house” Phillies offense? They hit to the tune of .212/.301/.273 against the not-so-scary Reds pitching staff. Now extrapolate that small sample size of at-bats and see how the Phils would do against a much better Giants staff.
Past Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge, the Phillies bullpen is a huge steaming pile of “meh.” Anchored by the likes of J.C. Romero, Jose Contreras, and Chad Durbin, the Philadelphia relief corps aren’t a bunch of slouches. At the same time, they’re also not a bunch of sinker-ball throwing rookie demon relievers like the Braves bullpen was. Given that the Giants are coming off of playing arguably the 1st and 3rd best bullpens in baseball (Padres and Braves respectively), these guys should be a piece of cake. And by piece of cake I mean perfectly average pitchers who will induce heart-breaking double-plays in key situations.
The next couple weeks are going to be difficult. There are no Melky Cabreras, Brooks Conrads, or Omar Infantes left to walk all over. In their place stands the two-time defending National League Champion Phillies. I for one think that my heart may stop midway through game 2, but that’s just me. This series won’t be for the faint of heart regardless of the outcome.