2010 NLCS preview: Shuffle up and deal!
Friday, October 15, 2010; 10:27 PM
If baseball's regular season was the Year of the Pitcher, the opening round of the playoffs was the Week of the Ace. Combined, the four division series produced the lowest aggregate ERA (2.63) since the playoffs were expanded to three rounds in 1995. The two league championship series figure to be just as pitching-rich, given the fact that five of the last 14 Cy Young winners will be on hand (San Francisco's Tim Lincecum, a two-time winner; New York's CC Sabathia; Texas's Cliff Lee; and Philadelphia's Roy Halladay). Today we take a closer look at each NLCS team's rotation and closer, to see who is holding a hand full of aces, and who is merely bluffing.
Philadelphia Phillies: (97-65, NL East champions; beat Cincinnati in three games in NLDS)
Game 1 starter: RHP Roy Halladay (21-10, 2.44 ERA). Among the best collection of stud pitchers in recent memory, Halladay is still the man you'd want pitching one game with your life on the line. Mesmerizing and overwhelming at once, Halladay's four pitches all look the same until moments before they reach the plate and dip, dive or dart away from the barrel of the bat. It may be impossible for him to top his no-hit, one-walk playoff debut. But against this Giants offense, would you bet against him? Card: ACE OF SPADES
Game 2 starter: RHP Roy Oswalt (13-13, 2.76). Both publicly and privately, Oswalt pined for his chance to pitch in a playoff race while languishing this spring with the Astros. He got his wish, and it rejuvenated him. Oswalt went 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA and struck out 73 batters in his 822/3 innings with the Phillies, giving them a trio of overpowering starters. Card: KING OF DIAMONDS
Game 3 starter: LHP Cole Hamels (12-11, 3.06 ERA). Teammate Jayson Werth says Hamels looks like he did when he won the World Series MVP in 2008 - only better. Hamels has pitched under the radar given the brilliance of Halladay and the newness of Oswalt, but in the second half he was as good as any pitcher in baseball. In his last 16 regular season starts, he punched up a 2.07 ERA and struck out 107 batters in 1041/3 innings. Card: KING OF HEARTS
2 Game 4 starter: RHP Joe Blanton (9-6, 4.82 ERA). It will have been 17 days since Blanton last pitched by the time he starts Game 4, and there is a reason the Phillies have kept him away from the mound. He defines back-of-the-rotation fodder. And yet, the Phillies won seven of the final eight starts he made in the regular season. Card: FOUR OF CLUBS
Closer: Brad Lidge (2.96 ERA, 27 saves). Lidge has his share of postseason horrors and regular season meltdowns in his past, but when he is on, he can be legitimately unhittable. Lately, he's been on. Lidge allowed two earned runs over his last 242/3 innings in the regular season. During that span, batters hit .131 against him. Maybe you don't trust him, but the Phillies do. Card: KING OF CLUBS
Ace up their sleeve: RHP Ryan Madson (6-2, 2.55 ERA). On those rare occasions when the Phillies actually need their bullpen, they have, in Madson, one of the top set-up men in the league. He has the stuff - including a high-90s fastball - to be a closer soon.
San Francisco Giants (92-70, NL West champions; beat Atlanta in four games in NLDS)
Game 1 starter: RHP Tim Lincecum (16-10, 3.43). It would be a blast to watch Lincecum pitch even if he wasn't a two-time Cy Young winner. Fortunately for the Giants, he is. And, after a midseason lull, Lincecum has recaptured his elite form. His utter dominance in Game 1 of the NLDS - a 14-strikeout two-hitter - stands beside Halladay's no-hitter as one of the best postseason starts of all-time. Card: ACE OF DIAMONDS
2 Game 2 starter: LHP Jonathan Sanchez (13-9, 3.07). Giants Manager Bruce Bochy moved him up to Game 2 thanks to the Phillies' .175 batting average against him in nine career appearances. The Phillies are susceptible to left-handed pitchers, and Sanchez is becoming one of the best. In his last eight starts, including the NLDS, Sanchez has a 1.06 ERA while striking out 10.6 batters per nine innings. Card: QUEEN OF HEARTS
Game 3 starter: RHP Matt Cain (13-11, 3.14). In Lincecum's shadow, Cain has become one of the steadiest starting pitchers in the majors. He constantly pumps fastballs into the strike zone, and his workmanlike style matches his unchanging demeanor. Only five pitchers have thrown more innings since 2007. Card: QUEEN OF DIAMONDS
Game 4 starter: LHP Madison Bumgarner (7-6, 3.00 ERA). Bumgarner spent the first two months of the season in Class AAA Fresno, but during his rookie year he's fit seamlessly into one of the best starting rotations in the majors. Card: TEN OF CLUBS
2 Closer: RHP Brian Wilson (1.81 ERA, 48 saves). The first thing you notice about the black-bearded, orange-spiked, tattooed Wilson is this: He's nuts. The second thing: He's good. Pumping high-90s fastballs, Wilson led the league in saves. Batters missed 26 percent of the pitches they swung at from Wilson. Card: JACK OF SPADES
Ace up their sleeve: LHP Javy Lopez. How can it be that, in a series pitting the two most pitching-rich teams in the majors, the outcome may turn on a journeyman reliever who usually gets his outs one at a time? The middle of the Phillies' lineup is fearsome, but it is also very left-handed, with Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez. The Giants called upon Lopez to get out Braves slugger Jason Heyward in the NLDS, and Lopez delivered.
PREDICTION: Phillies in six. The Giants may be the one team that can match up with the stable of starters the Phillies throw at an opponent. But it's hard to see their anemic offense producing enough runs off Halladay and Co.