Monday, October 18, 2010

Bring on the Baseball

Contrary to the worst fears of a significant number of Philadelphia Phillies fans, the Phils' 4-3 loss to the Giants in Game 1 of the NLCS did not have me worried. I believe I wrote about this last Friday, but I actually thought coming in (and still do think today) that both the NLCS and the ALCS this year for specific reasons did not feature a Game 1 that it actually mattered all that much to either team involved in either game to win. I mean sure, we've all seen the stats as far as what percentage of Game 1 winners have gone on to win the series, but #1 the numbers are not all that high, and #2 and more importantly, the reason those numbers are not all that meaningful is that the team with homefield advantage is already the better team over a 162-game season in most cases, so they should win Game 1 at home, and they should win the whole series in most cases due to superior skill and talent. In any event, usually I will concede that Game 1 proves to be very important the later into these series you get in the postseason, but I just don't think that's the case this year.

On the Yankees side, the big reason that Game 1 just doesn't matter all that much -- even to the underdog Rangers playing at home -- is Cliff Lee. It's that simple. If Cliff Lee had been pitching in Game 1 in Texas, then the Rangers losing that game would have been in my mind devastating to their chances of winning this series. Because not only did they just lose with their ace, but they have no more Cliff Lee to pitch for the next four games of the series. That's the big loss right there. But here, not only does Texas have homefield advantage in the series, and thus gets four games at home if necessary including the decisive Game 7 if it gets that far, but they've got what everyone in the world is viewing as a gimme win with Cliff Lee going tonight in Game 3. Knowing that Game 3 is theirs regardless of where the game is being played is a huge factor for the Rangers in this series, and it quite simply made winning Game 1 not a huge priority as long as the team was able to secure a split in Texas. Now if all goes as planned tonight and Lee pitches another gem after beating the Yankees twice during the regular season already this year and also twice during the World Series in 2009, the Rangers will be guaranteed at worst to return to Texas with a chance to beat the Yankees as they have flogged them in the first two games of the series at home and to move on to the first World Series appearance (and the first World Series loss) in franchise history.

In the NLCS, it's basically the same story but for a more generalized reason. With the Rangers, it is the specter of Cliff Lee alone that made Game 1 not crucial for them to win the series. With the Phillies, it's the entire starting rotation. I mean, when you've got Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels taking the ball to start 6 of the potentially 7 games of this series, winning Game 1 with Halladay throwing against another of the top two or three pitchers in the league is quite simply not that significant. The Phils are still the far superior team, the Giants' lineup is proving itself to be even more of a joke than I thought minus the ridicky Cody Ross situation, and Game 7 is still in Philly if needed. Halladay pitched ok -- the three home runs and four total runs over 7 innings he gave up were not necessarily all that different from many of Halladay's performances over the second half of the season -- but losing that game is just not something to get all worked up about in my mind given all of the above factors.

And Game 2 in both series proved out exactly what I am talking about here. The Rangers -- who shelled the Yankees Game 1 starter and AL Cy Young winner CC Sabathia for 5 runs in under 5 innings, and then followed that up by equally badly shelling Yankees' Game 2 starter Phil Hughes for another 5 runs in I think 6 innings -- came back and pounded the Yankees once again in Game 2 at home, and like I said, as long as Cliff Lee outduels the tiring Andy Pettite tonight in New York, the Rangers are in as good a shape as they could have reasonably hoped for after three games with a 2-1 lead. And the Phillies did in Game 2 to the Giants what they have done to mostly every team since acquiring Roy Oswalt at the end of July this year, chipping away at the Giants' starter, scoring early and getting the pitch count up, eventually chasing him and then smiting the Giants' bullpen in the middle innings to bust open the game entirely and basically blow out to also get back to 1-1 in the series.

I should also mention that, as predicted, Roy Oswalt did in fact snack on the Giants' silly offensive lineup. He is an awesome pitcher, and anyone who sits and watches him work in and out of a lineup, in and out of counts and pitches, cannot leave with any other conclusion. He is a wonder to watch, for somebody with such seemingly thin arms to whip it in there that hard and with that great of placement. Watching Aubrey Huff in the 8th try to keep up with Roy Oswalt's 104th, 105th and 106th pitches of the night was something truly to behold. Oswalt showed in scattering just four hits over eight full innings that he is in fact a cut (or two) above the quality of the Giants' lineup, and again absent the hot streak that Cody Ross is on right now, the Giants are not doing a damn thing against either of Philly's starting pitchers in the first two games of this series. Now on Tuesday it will be Cole Hamels going against Matt Cain in San Francisco in a game that is probaly kind of up in the air, and which is more important to Philadelphia than Game 1 but which is also not crucial given who the Phils will be putting forth as their starter in games 5, 6 and 7 even if the Phils head into Game 5 down 3-1 in the series.

As I watched the Phillies hitters tee off on three different Giants' pitchers late in Game 2, I once again found myself thinking of something I thought of over the weekend about why I just don't see the Giants winning this series. Of course this is baseball, and you only have to look back basically every two or three years to find a team that won out despite not having the most raw talent in the league in an objective sense, so you certainly can't say that the Giants could not possibly win this series. They could, they can, and they might. But in terms of predicting it, I just can't realistically make that prediction, and in a nutshell here's why: If the Giants' starting rotation of Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez and Bumgartner had to face just the Phillies every day over a 162-game season, can you imagine how much worse off the Giants' starting rotation's season numbers would have been as compared to how they ended up this year after instead playing everyone in the NL, a couple of AL teams and with a focus on the NL West? I am guessing things like individual ERAs would literally probably have been twice as high for the Giants' pitchers, and the win totals, plus things like strikeouts, WHIP, etc. would all have been markedly lower as well. Meanwhile, think about the reverse situation for the Phillies' pitchers. If Halladay, Oswalt, Hamels and Blanton did nothing but face this silly little Giants' lineup for 162 games over and over again for a whole season, can you just imagine those numbers? Obviously we would have four 20-game winners -- probably two 30-gamers and maybe even a 35 thrown in there for good measure -- and I'm thinking Blanton would have what, four no-hitters, Hamels maybe 6, and Halladay and Oswalt would clearly both be in double-figures for no-nos with maybe 3 or 4 perfect games sprinkled in to boot.

Game 3 tonight, the Cliff Lees at the Yankees, and then on Tuesday it's 4pm ET afternoon baseball for the Phillies in San Fran.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

You nailed it.

I hate to think that Halladay, Oswalt, and Hamels, all return next year to pitch for that bunch of hitters the Phillies have. Anything less than four straight World Series appearances (5 is the record) would be a horrible failure.

Good Luck the rest of the way.

12:14 AM  

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