The Phillies welcome the defending champion San Francisco Giants for a three-game series in the City of Brotherly Love. Looking to avenge last year’s NLCS defeat, the Phillies will send Rookie of the Year candidate Vance Worley to the hill to face Tim Lincecum in the series opener. The next two games will feature Cole Hamels against Barry Zito, and Kyle Kendrick against Matt Cain in what figures to be a low-scoring series. I caught up with Chris Quick of Bay City Ball (@BayCityBall), part of ESPN’s Sweet Spot blog network, to help preview the series. His answers to my questions are below. You can find my answers to his questions over at BCB.
. . .
1. Enjoying your time as a fan of the defending World Series champions?
I am enjoying it, but at the same time, I’m ready to move on a little. That’s not to say that I’m ungrateful for what 2010 meant to me, and a lot of other fans, but the afterglow is nearly gone and I’m ready to go for another title. I think teams that get trapped in the “we won the World Series!” mindset are doomed to make poor decisions. Let’s hope the Giants are ready for the next step, whatever that might mean. But, that’s sports, it’s a “what have you done for me lately” business.
2. How do the 2011 Giants compare to the 2010 Giants? Better, worse, about the same?
Similar in some ways, but different in others. The biggest thread between 2010 and 2011 is, of course, the fantastic pitching. The Giants have a top-three rotation in the National League right now and the things the bullpen has done should be considered cruel and unusual. Really, the pitching has been beyond outstanding. As fans of this team, we’re definitely spoiled when it comes to pitching.
On the other side, the offense has really been struggling since the year started. Losing Buster Posey for the season was a huge shock to an offense that was never projected to mash from spots one through eight. Injuries have kept the best possible configuration for the offense off the field. Add in Aubrey Huff‘s 2009 impression, Miguel Tejada being terrible, and a few other factors, and the offense has been, by most metrics, the worst in the NL. I think the biggest difference between last year’s team and other versions was the inclusion of a league average offense. That’s it. Getting a league average offense did wonders for the team when combined with it’s elite pitching. It’s going to be hard to win with an offense that ranks dead last.
3. You have the authority to make one transaction for the Giants before the July 31 deadline. What move do you make?
I trade for “non-terrible hitting catcher”. I know he’s out there somewhere. I’m generally really terrible at trade scenarios, but the Carlos Beltran chatter seems to grow a little louder each day. A Beltran-Paulino package seems to make sense for the Giants.
4. The Giants are the only team left in the NL without a player with 10-plus homers. As a team, the Giants rank 13th in the NL in AVG, OBP, and SLG. Do you expect the offense to improve, or are the Giants simply a team predicated on pitching and defense?
It’s hard to see the offense improving much. That could be the pessimist in me, but key performers from last year like Aubrey Huff have been really, really bad. I think for better or worse, the Giants have to win with their pitching. That strategy leaves for a lot of 2-1 wins (and loses) and it can be incredibly frustrating at times. The good news is that Pablo Sandoval is having a terrific year with the bat (.363 wOBA) and a guy like Brandon Belt provides the chance for above-average offense. Whether or not the Giants will play Belt with regularity is another question entirely.
5. Much has been made about the emergence of Ryan Vogelsong. Are you aware of any reasons the Giants were able to find him and fix him?
Vogelsong’s season is truly one of those reasons why I think we all love baseball so much. To call it improbable seems like a huge understatement. We’ve sliced, diced, and examined his season a few times on the website and I think we always come away scratching our heads. His stuff is good; he generally throws a FB 90-92 with good movement that he’ll pair with a solid curveball. He also throws a slider and changeup. What has made his season has been the control and command of his pitches. This is a guy that was walking 5.9 batters per nine last year in AAA — and now he’s walking 3.06 per nine in the majors.
It’s all predicated on his control. In short: it’s an amazing story that I’m not sure how to explain. I kind of like it that way, but his stuff is good, he’s not doing it with smoke-and-mirrors.
6. Do you think the Giants could take down the Phillies in the playoffs again as they did last year?
Sure. The playoff format makes for interesting games and anyone can get hot at the right time. In last year’s playoffs the Giants were (or it felt like they were) constantly underdogs. In the end, they won the World Series. I think anyone would take their chances with the Giants’ pitching in a playoff scenario.
Bonus: Grab your crystal ball and tell us how you think this series will play out. The pitching match-ups are Lincecum-Worley, Zito-Hamels, and Cain-Kendrick.
Missing Halladay and Lee for this series is huge boost for the Giants. I’ll say the Giants can win 2-3; Lincecum beats Worley; Hamels beats Zito; Cain beats Kendrick.
. . .
Many thanks to Chris for taking time to share his perspective as a Giants blogger. Jump over to Bay City Ball to see what I had to say from the Phillies side of things. The crew at BCB do a great job of analyzing the Giants using Sabermetrics. Check out Rory Paap’s recent post on the Giants’ bullpen — there is one chart that is mind-boggling. Here’s hoping the Phillies give them something new to write about.