Phillies, Giants series has a lot to like

It took a little while, but the Phillies now know that they’ll be facing the San Francisco Giants in the NLCS and it will all start Saturday in Philadelphia. The Giants took care of the Atlanta Braves Monday night in Atlanta, but the Braves put up much more of a fight than many thought they would.

Without Chipper Jones and Martin Prado in the lineup and after losing closer Billy Wagner, Atlanta was able to battle the Giants tough before finally falling in game four of the match-up. The loss sends Wagner and manager Bobby Cox into retirement and Chipper Jones may not be far behind. Rest assured that the Atlanta lineup will have a different look in 2011.

As for the Giants, they have been pretty much the west coast version of the Phillies, depending on pitching to win games. Like the Phillies, they boast a big three that is good, but not truly comparable to the trio that the Phillies have at the top of their rotation. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain combined for 15 2/3 innings of shutout baseball against the Braves and starter Jonathan Sanchez allowed just one earned run over 7 1/3 innings of work, giving the three a combined ERA of just 0.39 in their starts. Overall, the Giants staff had an ERA of 1.66 in the NLDS, while the Phillies led all NL teams with a staff ERA of just 1.00 in their series against Cincinnati.

In other words, the NLCS figures to be a match-up of two teams with strong pitching. Ironically, while the Phillies offense is much stronger on paper, both the Giants and Phillies hit .212 in their respective series and the numbers were very close, with a few minor exceptions. The Phillies struck out 14 times in their three games with the Reds, while San Francisco struck out an unbelievable 43 times in four games against Atlanta. The Phillies scored 13 runs, while the Giants scored 11 in one extra game. Had the Braves not been haunted by incredibly weak defense, that series could have very well turned out differently.

The series will bring both Pat Burrell and Aaron Rowand back to Citizens Bank Park. Burrell was a strong addition to the Giants lineup after being released by Tampa Bay earlier in the season when he failed to hit with any consistency. Burrell also filled a hole in the Giants outfield, playing left field on an everyday basis. Meanwhile, a poor performance by Rowand left him sitting on the bench in favor of Andres Torres. Rowand is an expensive pinch-hitting option, but he is still a solid enough bat to bring off the bench for the Giants and can also provide some defense in center field.

The game one pitching match-up is one for the ages, with Roy Halladay facing Lincecum. Conventional wisdom says that Lincecum is going to have to knock off Halladay in at least one of the two games that the two are likely to square off in during the series, if they’re to have any chance at advancing to the World Series by getting past Philadelphia.

The Phillies are spending the week playing simulated games to stay sharp and deciding on who will take over the number four spot in the rotation – most likely, Joe Blanton – as they prepare to play in their third straight NLCS.

Meanwhile, for many fans, the debate has already moved on to who they would rather see the Phillies face in the World Series. The options are the Yankees, who have already moved into the ALCS, the Rangers or Tampa Bay. Texas and Tampa Bay play the deciding game in their series Tuesday night in Tampa Bay. The Rangers would provide a forum for the Phillies to face former ace Cliff Lee, while a rematch with the Yankees is on the minds of most fans. Tampa Bay is pretty much of an afterthought, since the Phillies disposed of them in 2008.

So for now, all that remains is waiting through the time between now and Saturday’s game when it all starts again for the Phillies.

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