Earlier this evening, as I was coming into the house after work, I noticed a card in the mail. I could tell by the address label on the front of the envelope that the card was from my wife’s grandmother. I expected the card to discuss the recent 49ers–Eagles game, as my wife’s grandmother and I have a long-standing bet when the Niners and Eagles play (same goes for the Packers, my wife’s grandfather’s favorite team). While the card did mention the Eagles/Niners game, she devoted half of the card to the Giants vs. Phillies. While not normally much of a baseball fan, she just couldn’t resist making a bet (our usual $5) on the series. She’s quite enamored with Tim Lincecum, but conceded that the Phillies might “have [the Giants] for their breakfast” due to San Francisco’s lack of hitting. Leave it to her to snap me out of my funk and get me to write a blog post about the series. It’s a good thing the card got here today and not on Monday, or I would have missed out on the opportunity to weigh in on the series before it started.
Prompted by my wife’s grandmother’s comment about San Francisco’s lack of hitting, I decided to look into the offensive stats of both teams. While San Francisco doesn’t have the offensive talents of the Phillies’ most recent opponents, the Giants are in the upper half (check out the bottom of the table where it displays the rankings) of the National League in most major offensive categories.
Two of the biggest areas of weakness for the Giants are team speed and patience at the plate. The Giants stole just 55 bases all season, good (or bad) enough to place them in a last place tie in the NL with the Cubs. The Giants also hit into the most double plays (158) in the NL. This lack of team speed could come back to haunt a team not likely to have many base runners facing the Phillies pitching staff. Plate discipline has been another area of weakness, with the Giants ranking 13th out of 16 teams in walks, and 12th in strikeouts. Clearly this is a team that will swing freely at pitches, which should play into the hands of the Phillies’ pitchers. That being said, the Giants do have some pop, ranking 6th in homer runs, just behind the Phillies. It is worth noting that the Phillies rank ahead of the Giants in every major offensive category.
For those that want to use the regular season as a guide for this series, the Phillies and Giants split the series 3-3. The Giants won 2 of 3 in San Francisco back in April. The Phillies won 2 of 3 at Citizens Bank Park in August, including a game I was lucky enough to attend and blog about. In those 6 games, the Giants put up a better batting average (.290 vs. .226) and hit more home runs (8 vs. 3), but the Phillies scored more runs (29 vs. 27). The Giants put up better pitching numbers posting a better ERA (4.00 vs. 4.50) and a better WHIP (1.204 vs. 1.333).
Clearly, the teams benefited from playing in their home parks, and it will be interesting to see if that continues. While the regular season numbers can help paint a picture of what to expect, the teams are both vastly different from even the last time they played. The Giants went through a poor run of play, but finished the season strong, going 20-10 over the last 30 games. The Phillies, as has been well documented, were on fire for much of the 2nd half and especially in September.
This series will present some interesting pitching matchups, a point the media has beaten to death. The first game will see defending Cy Young award winner, Lincecum take on the presumptive 2010 Cy Young winner, Roy Halladay. As Eno Sarris points out over on Fangraphs, Lincecum has pitched well vs. the Phillies (3.17 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP in seven games) and Halladay has floundered against the Giants (7.23 ERA and 1.61 WHIP in three games), but this means little. As Sarris writes:
Those numbers are career splits, and what do starts against other iterations of these lineups even mean? Diddly. And then, if we try to boil it down to splits in this season, we get one poor game for Halladay against the Giants (seven innings, ten hits, five runs, five strikeouts and no walks) and one excellent game for Lincecum (eight and a third innings, three hits, two runs, 11 strikeouts and one walk).
Beyond “The Freak” vs. “Doc”, the pitching will dominate this series. Bill Baer at Crashburn Alley previews the starting pitching staffs (Blanton and the SF starters, look here for more on H2O), and likens the matchup to the choice between “Maine lobster and filet mignon”, as opposed to Phillies vs. Reds (Maine lobster and Alpo).
Baer also previews the Giants’ starting 8 here, and the Phillies’ here. I’m not sure that I agree with all of his breakdown of who wins each position. Baer summarizes his previews like this (my comments in italics following each position):
- Catcher: Push – While I have much love for Carlos Ruiz, I think Buster Posey is the better player. Will Chooch’s experience make this a push? Or will Posey’s superior offense win out?
- First base: Giants – I have to argue this point, while Aubrey Huff has had a great season, Ryan Howard is still the better player. While the Big Piece hasn’t driven in any runs and only has 3 hits in 11 at-bats this postseason, he is still a former MVP.
- Second base: Phillies – I can’t argue this assessment, as Chase Utley is clearly the best 2B in the game, even if he was hurt for part of the season.
- Third base: Phillies – If Pablo Sandoval were playing like he did last year, this would be a much closer race, but he has suffered a sophomore slump. Placido Polanco has been battling an elbow injury, but he is still better than Mike Fontenot or the artist formerly known as Kung Fu Panda.
- Shortstop: Phillies – Jimmy Rollins, who is starting to look a little healthier, is better than Edgar Renteria or Juan Uribe. It’s just a fact.
- Left field: Giants – Funny the difference a year makes. Last year, Raul Ibanez would have beaten Pat Burrell hands down. This season, Pat the Bat has seen a resurgence while Rauuuuuuuuuuul has started to show his age. Given Burrell’s resurgence, I would have to agree with this one.
- Center field: Giants – Andres Torres has been a bright spot for the Giants in his first full season. I had the pleasure of seeing a game at AT&T Park earlier this season (April 24) with my wife’s cousin and uncle and I remember both her cousin and I wondering why Torres wasn’t playing. Finally given the chance to start regularly at the beginning of May, Torres has been a revelation. For he Phillies, Shane Victorino had an up and down year, but the Flyin’ Hawaiian has shown that he can perform on the big stage. I would call this a push.
- Right field: Phillies – Jayson Werth vs. Cody Ross. Please! I don’t even need to write anything else. Plus Werth would win this for his facial hair alone.
I am excited about this series. I have a couple friendly wagers with my wife’s family (her grandmother and her cousin), and the pitching matchups should make this a classic. While I think the Giants will put up more of a fight than the Reds, I believe the Phillies are the better team and will win this series in 6.