Philadelphia Phillies vs. San Francisco Giants. NL East Champs vs. NL West Champs. Quite honestly, the two best overall teams in the National League this season. Their records say so (97 & 92 wins respectively). Their pitching staffs say so (ranked 1&2 in NL). Their NLDS opponents would tell us so (Braves and Reds were each defeated fairly soundly).
Their fans tell us so (best attendance records in NL for 2010). Both are great baseball cities with a long history as these franchises date back to the infancy of the National League and are emblematic of the story of baseball. Phillies are the longest-standing original franchise having remained a Philadelphia institution since 1883. Giants began as the powerhouse New York Giants over 120 years ago and have legends like
Durocher, Mays, McGraw, Thompson, Ott, Bonds, Marichal and McCovey, while spanning the country and migrating west to San Francisco 52 years ago. Finally there are no wildcard entries squeaking past a powerhouse team and trying to get to the World Series on a hot streak and a prayer. These are two modern day titans and it is righteous that they meet in the NLCS as the best the National League can offer in 2010.
Larry Bowa has dedicated 40 years of his life to baseball and has spent the last three seasons coaching third base for the Los Angeles Dodgers. This makes him uniquely qualified to testify as to the promise and prowess of a Giants-Phillies NLCS. Bowa saw the San Francisco Giants up close in 54 games over these past 3 years. Bowa also pays close attention to the Phillies, the team for which he starred at shortstop from 1970 to 1981 (including the 1980 World Champion Phillies) and then both coached and managed from 2001 to 2004. Bowa is certainly qualified to offer a scouting report on the NLCS.
National League Championship Series begins Saturday night (we know that MLB should have started the series sooner but that’s an issue for another time) with the Phillies hosting the Giants in Game 1 at Citizens Bank Park. Bowa (speaking as a fan who will be glued to his TV) believes this will be a must-see series, mostly because of the two starting pitching staffs. The Giants’ staff features two-time National League Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, followed by Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner. The Phillies’ staff features likely 2010 Cy Young winner Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever seen two staffs this deep in the same series,” Bowa said Wednesday. “Their Big Three are both outstanding. That’s six guys who can shut you down. Their No. 4 guys aren’t exactly chopped liver. I think this could be one of the better series we’ve seen in a while.” Like mostly everyone in baseball, Bowa believes the Game 1 pitching matchup between Lincecum and Halladay could be one for the ages. Lincecum struck out 14 in a two-hit shutout of the Atlanta Braves in Game 1 of the Division Series. Halladay, of course, no-hit the Cincinnati Reds in the Phils’ playoff opener (2nd no-hitter in postseason, the other being Don Larsen’s 1956 perfect game in World Series). Bowa’s advice to the two offenses: Get Lincecum and Halladay early – or else.
“With Halladay, the scouting report is always to keep him from getting into a rhythm,” Bowa said. “It’s the same thing with Lincecum. If you don’t get to those guys early, they settle in and are really tough. With Lincecum, you can often tell how good he’s going to be early. Sometimes his control can be off.
“With the Phillies’ pitchers, Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels, you’ve got to try to get them out of the game, but that’s easier said than done. You can’t go up there and take against these guys because they’re all so good at throwing strike one. If you take, you’ll be 0-and-2 all night.”
Bowa believes that lefty Jonathan Sanchez, the Giants’ second starter in their NLCS rotation, could be a key to the series. Sanchez has electric stuff. He threw a no-hitter against San Diego in July 2009. Control has been a problem for Sanchez – he led the NL with 96 walks this season – but lately he has done a better job of harnessing his pitches. Witness his win over Bowa’s Dodgers on September 16: 12 strikeouts, no walks in seven innings. Witness his gem against Atlanta in the Division Series: 11 strikeouts, one walk in 7 1/3 innings.
“If he’s throwing strikes, he could be a big X-factor,” Bowa said of Sanchez. Bowa believes this will be a pitching-dominated series. He looks for close games. He likes both bullpens, but thinks the Giants are a little deeper in middle relief and believes situational lefty Javier Lopez could be a good weapon against the Phils’ heavy left-handed hitting lineup.
“You can’t sit around and wait for three-run home runs against these staffs,” Bowa said. This means both teams will have to manufacture runs, and Phils have the edge on defense. Bowa knows a thing or two about solid defense and effective pitching winning baseball games.
“They [Giants] have a good fielding percentage, but it’s very deceiving,” he said of the Giants’ league-best .988 mark. “They have limited range. They’ll catch it when you hit it to them, but they’re not a great defensive team. You have to create some things against them. You can’t wait for five-hit innings because they’re pitching is too good. Steal some bags. Hit and run. Put the ball in play. Try to take advantage of their lack of range. Make them make plays. That’s why I think it’s important that Jimmy [Rollins] play to his capability in this series. You need to create havoc against the Giants.”
Bowa is very high on Buster Posey, the Giants’ rookie catcher, an offensive AND defensive threat – describing Posey as someone who appears to be a wily veteran. Posey hit .305 and had 67 RBIs in 108 games. He threw out 18-of-57 (32 percent) would-be basestealers. Bowa is also a big fan of Phils catcher Carlos Ruiz, who had a career season, hitting .302 with a .400 on-base percentage and an .847 OPS, third on the team behind Jayson Werth and Ryan Howard.
“Ruiz may be the most underrated player in the league,” Bowa said. “He calls a good game. He’s a tough out. It’s tough to hit eighth, but he does a good job and takes his walks. He’s a good player.”
The Phils outrank the Giants in almost every major offensive category, but that doesn’t mean Phils’ pitchers can lay the ball over the plate. Giants 1B Aubrey Huff (86 RBIs) and SS Juan Uribe (85) are dangerous hitters, and former Phil Pat Burrell (18 HR and 51 RBIs in 96 games) has enjoyed a rebirth since joining the Giants in June.
“The Phillies have a better lineup and more speed,” Bowa said. “But Huff and Uribe come up big with men on base. Don’t leave a breaking ball in the middle of the plate for Uribe. Believe it or not, Pat is doing a good job. You can pitch to him. Just don’t make a mistake because he still has the ability to hit the ball out – and we’re talking WAY out.”
So who is Bowa picking to win the series?
“I think the Phillies will win, but not in four games,” he said. “I see it going six or seven games. It’s going to be a good one.” The Giants haven’t been to the World Series since 2002 (lost to Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels) and before that 1989 (lost to Oakland in the memorable Earthquake series). The Phillies of course have been to 2 of the past 3 World Series, winning in 2008 and losing to the Yankees in 2009. The Philadelphia Phillies and San Francisco Giants split their season series this year 3-3.
I tend to agree with Bowa. This should be a hard-fought series predicated on pitching, defense and clutch hitting. Bullpens will be taxed in late innings but starting pitching will be paramount to success. PHILLIES WIN IN 6 GAMES.
Phillies vs. Giants (all on FOX) | *if necessary
Game 1: Saturday at Philadelphia, 7:57 p.m.
Game 2: Sunday at Philadelphia, 8:19 p.m.
Game 3: Tuesday at San Francisco, 4:19 p.m.
Game 4: Wednesday at San Francisco, 7:57 p.m.
*Game 5: Thursday at San Francisco, 7:57 p.m.
*Game 6: Saturday at Philadelphia, 3:37 p.m.
*Game 7: Sunday at Philadelphia, 7:57 p.m.
About the Author
Written by Christopher Rowe
Contributing writer Comcast Sports, NY Times contributing stringer 1996-2000, Contributing writer Yahoo Sports (2001 World Series). Contributing writer Newsday Long Island (1992-1994, Jets Training Camp) and Newak Star Ledger. Freelance Copywriter, Editor/Founder Atlantic Times Weekly (1993-2003) fantasy football magazine, produced screenwriter and general humorist. Hofstra University grad, Marist College honorary alum, Salesian; Purveyor of the Value and Valor of Philadelphia Eagles 1960 NFL Championship; Adrent believer that Eagles could have won Super Bowl XV...and Super Bowl XXXIX...plus modern decade of Eagles 5 NFC Championships... Believer in the Broad Street Bullies and the 1983 Sixers... Witness to Philadelphia Phillies World Series championships 1980 & 2008, Suffered Phillies first pro sports team to reach 10,000 losses,witnessed "1980 Cardiac Kids," 1983 "Wheeze Kids," 1993 "Macho Row" and many, many, many not-so-memorable seasons in-between... until the Philadelphia Baseball Renaissance of 21st Century, Five NL East division titles 2007-2011, 3 NLCS appearances 2008-2010, 2 consecutive World Series berths 2008 & 2009. 2008 World Champions of baseball [miss ya Harry and Richie]; "collector" of MLB ballparks (42 stadiums including 15 which are gone); Fantasy Football & Baseball player since 1992. Always a sports fan... Tenui Nec Dimittam Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org