Previewing the NLCS: Giants vs. Phillies

In the Year of the Pitcher, it’s only fitting that these are the last two teams playing in the National League: the Giants, who have built an NL West champion almost solely through drafting and developing good young starters, and the Phillies, who went out and traded for a pair of aces to complement their formidable lineup. These are two of the three best starting staffs in the National League (the Cardinals have the other) and each has led its team, almost inevitably, to this point.

So now that Philadelphia and San Francisco are set to square off for the National League title, beginning at Citizens Bank Park tonight with a Roy Halladay-Tim Lincecum showdown, who will win? It’ll depend somewhat on if the Giants’ young pitchers are up to a much more formidable task than the Phillies’ starters have.

Not only do Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez have far less experience than the Phillies’ three-ace hand of Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt, they’ll have to get at least one win in Philadelphia, where the Phillies have lost just five times in the last four postseasons. And they’ll have to deal with a Phillies lineup that still might be the most potent in the National League.

Philadelphia scored 772 runs this year, second-most in the NL, and had the fourth-best OPS in the league. The Phillies have wrecked plenty of teams’ postseasons in their bandbox of a ballpark over the last four years, and the Giants’ ability to shut them down for seven games will be severely tested.

San Francisco, to be sure, has the arms to compete; unlike the Phillies, the Giants follow their starters with a deep bullpen that includes strikeout machines Sergio Romo and Brian Wilson. San Francisco’s lineup is among the weaker attacks in the National League, but rookie catcher Buster Posey and first baseman Aubrey Huff do give the Giants a little pop.

The Giants aren’t up for trading homers, though; their best chance is with their pitching staff. And if they can stop the Phillies, they’ll have a chance. In the end, though, it’s the Phillies’ series to lose; they were the best team in baseball this season, and the pick here is they take the series in six games, heading back to the World Series for a rematch with the Yankees.