Friday, October 15, 2010

More on the LCS

So this will be my last day writing here before the AL and NL League Championship Series kick off, the AL on Friday night in Arlington, Texas and the NL on Saturday night in Philadelphia. I've spent a good deal more time thinking about the likely outcome of both series, and I thought I would put down some more of my thoughts on those here.

First, in the AL I am thinking more and more that the Rangers have a real chance to do something amazing here. I hate to be that guy who picked against the Yankees in the first series, they swept, and who then picked against them again in the second series against a team I never thought was better than them, and watch them kill it a second time contrary to my predictions. But at the same time, one playoff series against perennial postseason pussies like the Twins does not change the feeling I expressed around the end of the regular season and again as the playoffs began that this year's Yankees team just seems to be not quite a strong of offense, not quite as clutch with the hitting, and definitely not as strong in the pitching either as last year's squad that had basically no doubt all season long they were going to win it all. Try as I might, I have had a lot of trouble late this week envisioning what the Yankees winning this series will actually look like. I can't quite go to the point of picking the Rangers to win the series, but you know what? I would pick them to win, if Cliff Lee was starting Game 1, and potentially 1-2 more games for his team in the series as a result. I mean, the Rangers had what, a few wins less than the Yankees this season, they ran away and hid with their division basically two months ago and as a team had nothing to play for for as long as anybody in major league baseball this year, they have homefield advantage in this series, and their big slugger Josh Hamilton is only just back from an injury that should see him continue to increase his contribution to the Rangers' push for the World Series more as the playoffs going on. This Yankees team has still got to be the favorite in this series, but damn if Cliff Lee were only available for Games 1 and 4 and maybe 7, it would be much easier to see the Rangers making it happen. Still, I bet we are looking at at least a 6-game series between two very good teams. Despite the coke habit, that Ron Washington has got some real chutzpah and he seems to say all the right things to his team. He is clearly one of the unknown great managers in the game today.

On the NL side, the buzz continues to grow about one of the best matchups of starting rotations that anybody can remember for League Championship Series. Chris Russo on Mad Dog Radio -- admittedly a huge lifelong San Francisco Giants fan -- has multiple times stated that he believes the Halladay - Lincecum matchup in Game 1 on Saturday night in Philly is the most-anticipated Game 1 LCS matchup in a couple of generations. At first I thought he was exaggerating, but then I tried to think of a time in recent memory when there was more buzz about the matchup of two starting pitchers to start an LCS series (or any playoff series, for that matter). It's just that, after Halladay's no-hitter against the league's most productive offense in his last outing, and after Lincecum mowed down 14 in absolutely wiping up the Braves in his last playoff appearance, the expectations heading into Game 1 for the pitching are truly lofty, and with good reason.

Russo loves loves loves his Giants in this series, but try as I might I just don't see how anyone who isn't a blind fan of San Francisco can look at this series objectively and determine that the Giants are going to win. The Giants' starting rotation is truly superb, and given how incredibly well the entire staff has pitched over the last 8 weeks or so, I am not even going to try to claim that the Phillies' staff is superior. But just look at the starter matchups side by side. It's Halladay vs. Lincecum in Game 1. I'm willing to call that a wash, more or less. It's Oswalt vs. Sanchez in Game 2. That's also around a wash, given how great Sanchez threw the ball in two wins in his two appearances against the Phillies this season. Kane vs. Cole Hamels in Game 3 is also very close if you look at season stats. I probably give the slight edge to Hamels given how lights-out he has pitched in the second half of the season, but with Game 3 in San Fran that is also basically a wash in my book. And then Bumgartner vs. Joe Blanton in Game 4, I probably give the edge there to the Giants, in particular in their building.

So, other than the #4 starter -- where even there I do not think the edge is huge -- these two teams are both utterly stacked at starting pitching, and I just do not see a meaningful difference between the starting pitching of the two teams. But it's the hitting of the two teams that I just simply cannot get over. Let's take a look at the two lineups here and I will show you what I mean:

Leadoff: Victornio (.276, 12 HR, 45 RBIs) vs. Torres (.260, 15 HR, 52 RBIs). These two look close, but Victorino is clearly the better hitter, and he is a much better baserunner once he gets on base from the leadoff spot as well.

#2: Polanco (.303, 5 HR, 43 RBIs) vs. Sanchez (.277, 6 HR, 41 RBIs). Again, this one is clearly in favor of the Phils, who saw Polanco hitting over .300 through most of the season and doing exactly what this stacked Phillies lineup needs from him in this spot.

#3: Chase Utley (.282, 16 HR, 61 RBIs) vs. Huff (.286, 18 HR, 57 RBIs). Yet again, another clear advantage for the Phillies. Not only has Utley proven himself to be perhaps the single most clutch hitter in the major leagues today over the past couple of seasons, but he missed a ton of games this year and would have destroyed Huff's numbers if given his normal amount of playing time.

#4: Howard (.275, 31 HR, 108 RBIs) vs. Poser (a rookie) (.274, 10 HR, 33 RBIs). Once again, this one is not close.

#5: Werth (.312, 27 HR, 82 RBIs) vs. Burrell (.313, 14 HR, 37 RBIs). What a joke.

#6: Ibanez (.270, 9 HR, 54 RBIs) vs. Uribe (.219, 4 HR, 14 RBIs). Even in positions where the Phillies are relatively weak -- and the real Phillies fans know that Ibanez has had a pretty clutch year at the plate -- the Giants' lineup is even weaker. Another advantage to the Phillies.

#7: Ruiz (.337, 6 HR, 31 RBIs) vs. Uribe (.233, 7 HR, 26 RBIs). Another spot that isn't even close, as Ruiz has quietly distinguished himself as another of the most clutch hitters in the game today and easily blows away his counterpart on the Giants in terms of offense.

#8: Valdez (.244, 4 HR, 23 RBIs) vs. Whiteside (.247, 4 HRs, 9 RBIs). Valdez isn't even an everyday player for this team, and yet his numbers in less than half a season are even better than the Giants' #8 hitter.

Our pitchers are even probably better hitters than the Giants' pitchers on average. The Giants have zero basestealers on their team, and "manufacturing runs" by speed on the basepaths is simply not a weapon in this Giants' squad's arsenal.

So yes, Lincecum is awesome. Sanchez has killed the Phillies so far this year. Kane and Bumgartner are both quality starters for sure who are pitching great at this point in the season. The Giants' bullpen is surely far superior to the Phillies' relievers. But that same pitching staff just gave up 9 runs in 4 games to the Braves, one of the worst-hitting teams in the National League over the final month to six weeks of the regular season. Now they are facing a lineup that is undebatably far superior to their own, at every single position. And I'm supposed to be afraid the Phillies won't be able to score on them?

And think about this -- meanwhile, the Phillies just gave up exactly 3 earned runs in 3 games against the Reds, a team with a far, far, laughably better lineup than the Giants, the team in fact that scored easily the most runs in the National League. And they scored 3 earned runs in 3 games against us, and now we're trotting out those same three pitchers for 6 of the potentially 7 games of this series. Roy Halladay is coming off of no-hitting the best-hitting team in the league, and now facing this historically horrible Giants lineup. Roy Oswalt got "shelled" in Game 2 against the Reds for four runs over 5 innings. But just like his first start in Philly was bad -- call it nerves, unease, whatever -- but then he bounced back with several incredible starts since then, if I were the Giants I would not want any part of Roy Oswalt and his 1.02 season WHIP in Game 2 on Sunday. In fact, I would go so far as to say that after that outing against the hard-hitting Reds, I expect Roy Oswalt to come out on Sunday and motherfucking snack on this Giants' minor league lineup. And Hamels, I'm not worried about this team smacking him around too hard at all with the way he's pitched for the last several months.

So yeah, the runs are going to be hard to come by in this series and certainly every time you can get a runner across the plate is going to have a real impact in these games. But, despite being the only team in all of MLB who could credibly claim to have the same general quality of staff in a short series as the Phillies, the disparity in the lineups between these two teams is like majors-vs-minors level stuff. And the Phils have homefield advantage. The Phils should take this series without too much trouble in my view even with the specter of Tim Lincecum hanging over our heads most likely twice in the series.

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Blogger Shrike said...

I predict the Phillies win, but it won't be because their hitters are "clutch". That's just a canard which is past its prime (and it's been debunked many many times in sabermetric circles). The Phillies will probably win because they are a much better hitting team than the Giants, period.


11:26 PM  
Blogger Bayne_S said...

Giants in the field look like a recreational league softball team.

That is where Phillies edge would be in series.

11:39 PM  
Blogger Ticketwood said...

I am the biggest baseball nut of the Giants so i really loved reading your article.I was glad i got my San Francisco Giants Tickets for the up coming baseball game for Giants Stadium.

1:14 AM  

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