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The National League Championship Series starts tonight. It pits the heavily favoured Philadelphia Phillies against the San Francisco Giants.If you’re looking for four-hour slugfests with a rotating bullpen door, this is not be the series for you. (That would be the ALCS.) Instead, enjoy some good, old-fashioned pitching duels that harken back to the sport’s golden age, when … the Giants and Phillies were two of the best teams in the National League.
Much has changed since then, but one thing’s remained the same. In a seven-game series between the two, there’s no shortage of intriguing subplots.
While the teams battle it out for National League supremacy, in Game 1 we're more interested in figuring out the league's best pitcher. In one corner: Tim Lincecum, the two-time reigning Cy Young winner. The other: Roy Halladay, he of the no-hitter in his post-season debut.
The intriguing pitching extends beyond just the aces. After Halladay and Lincecum, each side rolls out two pitchers with second half ERAs below 3.00. Game 4 is left to the scrubs: the Giants' Madison Bumgarner second half ERA was all of 3.14, while the Phillies' Joe Blanton was 3.48. Runs will be at a premium.
Burrell spent the first 9 seasons slugging in the heart of of the Philadelphia, culminating with the 2008 World Series title. He struggled for a year and a half with the Rays before the Giants picked him off the scrap heap in late May. Since, he's become a clubhouse leader, and has experienced an offensive resurgence. But his defence is as spotty as ever.
Look for the Phillies to exploit the club-footed left side of the Giants defence. Left-fielder Pat Burrell and 3B Pablo Sandoval are both best suited as designated hitters, while the Juan Uribe/Edgar Renteria combination at shortstop have seen their best defensive days pass.
One of the game's most feared sluggers, Howard hasn't been the same since batting a paltry .173 in last year's World Series. Could this be the series the Ryan Howard of old shows up? The Phillies sure hope so.
Whether it's the weather, the environment, or the time change, something's cause West Coast teams to struggle mightily when travelling East in October. Since 2003, West Coast teams have won just three of 22 postseason games on the East Coast.
In the NLDS the Reds' litany of blunders compensated for quiet Phillies bats. They slugged 31 per cent worse than they did during the season. Now, they face the Giants' imposing staff, and will play at least two games in San Francisco's cavernous AT&T Park,
The Giants' lineup is among the weakest in baseball, but to steal this series their offence must come up with some timely hits. That's not San Fran's forte.
Long the Giants' best prospect, Posey exceeded all expectations when he was called up to the Big Show midseason, as he hit .305 with 18 home runs and was excellent behind the plate. Cue the comparisons to Derek Jeter. The Yankee captain hit .361 en route to the World Series in his first postseason, if Posey approaches that his legend will continue to grow.
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