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Saturday, October 16, 2010

NLCS Breakdown: Game 1 could decide it

The national media has been hyping Game 1 of the NLCS ever since Melky Cabrera grounded out to kill the Braves season. And rightfully so: the pitching matchup is just absurd. After the game, regardless of who wins, the popular storyline will probably be how one pitcher was just slightly better (or less unlucky) than the other. Losing game 1 would be more damaging to the Phillies than it would be to the Giants, and I'll explain below. Mr. Graham went over the relevant numbers in the previous post, so let's dive into the game-by-game nonsense.

GAME 1

Tim Lincecum is a much different pitcher than Roy Halladay. Lincecum has a huge strikeout rate, but also a slightly high walk rate on his career (3.3 walks per 9 IP, which is three times that of Halladay). The Phillies strike out a lot. Consider all these: Shane Victorino and Jimmy Rollins are forced to their weaker side in this game; Ryan Howard has a huge strikeout rate himself; and Placido Polanco struck out more times this season than any other year (with limited PAs). Polanco, Rollins, and Victorino absolutely must show patience against Lincecum, especially early in the game. Halladay's strength is allowing virtually no walks per start, so if the Phils can work Lincecum for multiple walks (especially by the guys who rarely walk) they will have a head start in this game. We all know Charlie Manuel likes to swing away, but even he said the key to this series is patience.

Lincecum's career OBP/SLG allowed: RHB: .291/.310; LHB: .299/.349

The scariest numbers are the SLGs. Halladay has similar OBPs, but his SLGs are about 40 points higher. Of course, Lincecum pitches in the NL West in a huge park while Halladay pitched in the AL East in a small park, but I'd still give the SLG advantage to Lincecum.

The good thing is, however, that Lincecum is not pitching against Halladay. He's pitching against the Phillies, who own a significantly higher collective OPS against groundball pitchers than the Giants' lineup does (both Lincecum and Halladay are groundballers). Besides Andres Torres, the 3-4-5 hitters for San Francisco are the only ones to fear in the first two games (Oswalt is also a groundball pitcher). Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell, and Buster Posey are the toughest outs in the lineup. Freddy Sanchez, the 2 hitter, is well below-average against groundball RHPs. Just like the Reds lineup, if the 1-2 hitters make some noise, you could be in for some trouble. If Torres (whose numbers this year are somewhat inflated due to a high BABIP) and Sanchez are 0 for 4 after the first 2 trips through the lineup, I would bet that the Giants have no runs. Once you get past Burrell, Juan Uribe-Mike Fontenot-Cody Ross follow. Halladay should be able to handle all three: they are all below average against groundball RHPs.

I expect Halladay to cruise in this one, and I think the Phils will manage to not get completely shut down. 2-1, Phils. A complete game for Halladay, and maybe even Lincecum too.

GAME 2

Jonathan Sanchez vs. Roy Oswalt. We just went over the Giants' struggles against righty groundballers, plus I expect Oswalt to be sharper than he was in his last outing. Sanchez, however, is a wild card. He allows 4.6 BBs/9IP, which is essentially JC Romero territory. Edinson Volquez had the same number, and the Phils were able to take advantage.

Since Sanchez is a lefty, Werth, Polanco, Rollins, Ruiz, and Victorino will all have favorable matchups. It is even more important to stay patient in this game than in game 1, because Sanchez can be very wild.

The Phils offense hasn't really broken out yet, and I think they win a 7-2 decision to go up 2-0 in the series.

GAME 3

This is a very close pitching matchup. Going by career numbers, Cain vs. the Phils offense may have a very slight advantage over Hamels vs. the Giants. The Giants lineup is more dangerous against LHP than RHP, so it will be a benefit to them to see Hamels after the Roys.

Going by recent performances, Hamels has the edge over Cain. However, I can certainly see Hamels take a small step back in San Francisco, where he has generally pitched poorly for his career. He's also much better at night -- the game starts at 1:19 PDT.

This is actually a tougher one to call than game 1. I think Cain, a flyball pitcher in a flyball park against a flyball team, will frustrate the Phils lineup. Giants win, 4-2.

GAME 4

Big Joe Blanton vs. Madison Bumgarner. Blanton is a groundball righty, obviously good when facing this lineup. He does have a high HR rate, with 1.5 every 9 innings. This is where the ballpark will come in handy. Blanton pitched well in the second half of the year, and I think he'll benefit from facing this lineup in AT&T Park.

Bumgarner is a rookie who shuts down lefties pretty well. However, he will face only three lefties in the Phils lineup, and two of the three (Utley and Ibanez) are still effective against LHP. His .780 OPS vs. RHB, however, is the main reason why I'm picking the Phils in this game.

Phils win game four by a 5-3 score.

GAME 5

Lincecum-Halladay again. 3-0 Giants.

GAME 6

Oswalt-Sanchez. Sanchez pitches better than Game 2, but Oswalt doesn't pitch worse. 4-3 final.

If it goes to 7, Hamels will throw a gem. 3-1, Phils.



Now, if the Phils lose Game 1, they're in trouble. That would likely lead to a scenario where Blanton is pitching a game when the Phils trail 2-1 in the series, and nobody wants to see that. Going to San Fran for 3 games and only 1 win under your belt is dangerous. One bad bounce, and the Phils could be coming back to Philly down in the series.

Game 1 is not just a matchup for the ages. It's the biggest game in the series for the Phils.

PHILS IN SIX.

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