Oswalt Pitches Phillies to 1-1 Split

The Phillies evened the National League Championship Series at one game apiece, defeating the San Francisco Giants 6-1 behind a strong eight-inning performance by Roy Oswalt, and a seventh-inning bases-clearing double by Jimmy Rollins.

Giants starter Jonathan Sanchez battled the inconsistent strike zone of home plate umpire Dan Iassogna, walking three batters in the first inning, including a controversial RBI ball four to Jimmy Rollins that was a strike according to Pitch F/X.  Sanchez allowed the second run when Shane Victorino led off the bottom of the fifth with a double down the left field line, then advanced to third and home on Chase Utley and Placido Polanco outfield fly balls. Otherwise, Sanchez limited the damage.

Right fielder Cody Ross accounted for the only Giants run in the fifth inning, when he drove an inside fastball over the left field fence for his third solo home run of the series.

The Phillies broke the game open in the seventh after Oswalt led off the inning with a line drive single to center field. Victorino bunted him to second, forcing reliever Ramon Ramirez to intentionally walk Utley. Polanco then ripped a single back through the middle. It appeared the Phillies would have to settle for a bases loaded, one out situation, but Oswalt ignored third base coach Sam Perlozzo’s hold sign and scored easily.

The Giants then brought in left-hander Jeremy Affeldt to pitch to Howard. Polanco and Utley pulled off a double-steal, but Howard was unable to make contact, striking out for the second out of the inning. After Affeldt intentionally walked Jayson Werth, manager Bruce Bochy brought in his third reliever of the inning in Santiago Casilla. Rollins, batting left, lined a low-and-inside fastball to right-center field, narrowly missing the Phillies’ first post-season grand slam since Game Two of the NLDS against the Milwaukee Brewers. Three Phillies crossed home plate as Rollins jogged into second base, with two hits and four RBI on the night.

Oswalt found himself in trouble in the eighth inning, walking Pablo Sandoval with one out, and serving up a hit to Freddy Sanchez with two outs. Charlie Manuel chose to let Oswalt finish the inning rather than make a call to the bullpen. Oswalt got Aubrey Huff to line out to center field to end the threat. He finished with nine strikeouts and allowed only three hits.

Ryan Madson pitched a scoreless ninth, working around a lead-off walk to Buster Posey and a two-out Travis Ishikawa single, to ensure the Phillies would fly to San Francisco splitting the first two games. Both teams will have the day off tomorrow to travel and will resume the series on Tuesday with an official start time of 4 PM ET.

No Need to Panic After Game One Loss

The Phillies dropped the first game of a playoff series for the first time since the 2007 National League Division Series against the Colorado Rockies. This is a bit of an unfamiliar feeling to most fans, who had to watch the ace of the starting rotation labor through seven innings while the offense failed to manufacture runs last night in Game One of the NLCS.

Expectedly, some fans are already demanding Charlie Manuel make drastic changes to right the ship that has, apparently, gone adrift.

Jimmy Rollins is 1-for-15 so far in the 2010 post-season, with the lone hit being a single. Rollins failed to even make productive outs, popping out with a runner on first and one out in the second inning and striking out with a runner on first and no outs in the fourth. He struck out with a runner on first base and two outs (and a full count) in the eighth inning, the Phillies’ best attempt to tie the game.

In his last 22 games to end the regular season, Rollins compiled a .598 OPS including only five extra-base hits in 87 plate appearances. Fans want to see Rollins benched in favor of Wilson Valdez. Rollins, in an injury-plagued season, finished with a .317 wOBA, just a few points behind the league average. Valdez, on the other hand, finished way behind at .294. Rollins walks more, strikes out less, hits for more power, and runs the bases better. Defensively, Valdez has a slightly better UZR/150 but Rollins has 11 times the defensive innings.

It is true that Valdez filled in admirably for Rollins while he battled oblique and hamstring injuries, but Rollins at 75% health is better than Valdez at 100%. Valdez is benefiting from low expectations while Rollins is suffering from high expectations. Don’t be fooled — there’s a reason why Valdez could never hold down a full-time job.

Other fans are, once again, calling for the promotion of Carlos Ruiz in the batting order. Ruiz had the third-highest OPS of the Phillies’ starting eight, including the highest on-base percentage. A promotion seems logical but a decent portion of his success is directly related to his hitting in front of the pitcher. If first base is open, most managers will direct their pitchers to pitch around and eventually unintentionally-intentionally walk Ruiz to face the much weaker-hitting pitcher. In other situations, Ruiz will see a lot of predictable pitches since opposing pitchers want to avoid turning the lineup over.

Ruiz is smart for recognizing how he’s being pitched and capitalizing on those situations. But if you move him from 8th to, say, 6th (Rollins’ spot), there is no guarantee that he has similar or better success. Overall, batting order — unless intentionally constructed in the least logical fashion — doesn’t affect run-scoring by a significant margin, especially within a span of seven games. So it’s usually better to keep hitters in the spots in which they are most familiar.

Overall, the one thing that the calls for change have in common is that they’re overreactions to small sample sizes. Rollins’ 15 at-bats — and even the 87 regular season PA cited above — are much too insignificant and thus not useful for drawing any conclusions.

Yes, the Phillies were rather ineffective manufacturing runs in Game One, but they were just as bad — if not worse — during the 2008 post-season and they ended up winning it all. In Game One of the ’08 World Series, the Phillies left 11 runners on base, including six in scoring position. Game Two had the same stats.  They left six on in base in Game Three before the bats woke up in Four, and left 12 on base (7 RISP) in the fifth and final game.

It’s only natural to worry about the offense, especially going up against an elite starting rotation, but let’s give the Phillies a chance to even it out first.