Four wins separate the Phillies from their third consecutive World Series appearance. The confidence of Phillies fans is at a year-long high. Roy Halladay will start Game One fresh off of holding the National League’s best offense to zero hits, and hasn’t allowed a run since the seventh inning on September 21. Cole Hamels threw a complete game shut-out of his own to wrap up a series sweep of the Reds in Game Three. The bullpen is well-rested, and the walking wounded position players have had about a week to rest. Things couldn’t have come together any better for the Phillies.
The Giants, however, are no pushovers. They may not have the same caliber offense as the Phillies, but their pitching is not to be trifled with. To get an idea exactly what to expect from the Giants, I swapped questions with Chris Quick of ESPN SweetSpot blog Bay City Ball. His answers to my questions (in bold) are found below; my answers to his questions can be found over at his blog.
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1. The Phillies are well-known for their fearsome trio of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels, plus Joe Blanton. The Giants have some great starters of their own in Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Jonathan Sanchez, plus Madison Bumgarner. How do the two staffs compare in your estimation?
I think both staffs are really close in terms of talent. Halladay and Lincecum are both top flight starters in the NL. It’s hard to beat either when it comes down to it. I would probably give a very slight nod to Oswalt over Cain. Sanchez has matured a lot this year and his K-rate for a LHP is rare. Cole Hamels, however, is the better pitcher. The Giants win in the 4th spot. Blanton is incredibly consistent each year, but Madison Bumgarner has more upside and he’s equaled Blanton in WAR — 1.9 to 2 wins — in about 50 fewer innings pitched.
Overall, two very talented staffs with some great arms. I think it’s going to be a coin-flip most likely.
2. Matt Cain has made a habit of out-performing his ERA retrodictors like xFIP and SIERA. Why do you think this is?
It’s really hard to say. I think part of it is the home park (LHB have a hard time hitting home runs to their pull-field) that Cain pitches in. Sportswriters like to say that Cain has ‘figured it out’ but he’s really been the same guy that he’s always been. His control has gotten better each year over the past three years. And, for things like xFIP, for whatever reason, he rarely gives up home runs even though he’s an extreme flyball pitcher.
3. The Phillies scored, on average, about a half-run more per game than the Giants. Are Giants fans apprehensive about the offense going into this best-of-seven series against the Phillies?
I think so, even if they wouldn’t like to admit it. In the NLDS against the Braves, the Giants never really hit the ball that well and every game was decided by one run. The Giants’ pitching has been fantastic this year, but pitching against an offensive team like the Phillies has got to be stressful for the pitchers. Too many mistakes and it’s going to be hard to make up the difference. It’s a fine line to walk. But, I think if anyone can contain the Phillies — it’s the Giants’ pitching staff.
4. The Giants finished last in the National League in stolen bases. Will they be able to manufacture runs in other ways?
Do double-plays count as manufacturing runs? The Giants don’t do a lot of the ‘little things’ and I doubt they’ll start in the playoffs. The team’s penchant for hitting into double-plays might mean that Bochy starts runners more often, but that’s about it.
5. Pat Burrell is making another homecoming to Philadelphia. We loved him when he was here and he’ll get a great reception when he steps to the plate for the first time in Game One. How have Giants fans warmed up to Pat the Bat?
Yes. Burrell has been one of the more pleasant surprises of this year. He looked terrible in Tampa Bay but since returning to the NL with the Giants, he’s been one of our best hitters. His defense is still bad — as Phillies’ fans know — but his approach to hitting is extremely refreshing on a ‘hack first, ask questions later’ team.
6. The Giants were rated by UZR as the second-best defensive team in Major League Baseball. Of players with at least 300 defensive innings at one position, none had a negative grade. Do you agree with UZR? Have the Giants emphasized defense as an organizational priority?
The Giants’ UZR rating is one of the weirder things that I’ve seen, statistically, this year. The defense is a weird mix. For whatever reason, it just works. I don’t know how, it just does. Andres Torres plays the best CF in the NL but often he’s flanked by guys like Pat Burrell or (thankfully not for the NLCS) Jose Guillen. The infield is also a mixed bag. Pablo Sandoval is average-ish but his defense has been spotty this year. Juan Uribe has filled in nicely at SS, but his days a full-time starter at SS are done. The right side of Sanchez-Huff has been solid and Posey has been very good behind the plate.
Huff, in particualr, has played really good defense for a guy that has been DH’ing for a good portion of the past three years. I was skeptical of his defense before the year, but he arrived at camp noticeably in better shape and he’s made every play that’s been asked of him. The Giants seem to emphasize defense but they aren’t chained to that idea. With the inconsistent offense this year, the team has often traded defense for offense.
7. Game One will see a match-up of the two-time defending NL Cy Young award winner and the likely 2010 winner. Would you take the over or under on: 1.5 combined runs scored; 17.5 combined strikeouts; 5.5 combined hits?
I’ll say: Over/Under/Over.
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Thanks to Chris for providing some Giants-related insight. Make sure to keep up with the enemy over at Bay City Ball and on Twitter (@BayCityBall).
If you’re not following me on Twitter and want to hear my oftentimes snarky, sometimes serious thoughts, follow @CrashburnAlley.