How the Giants Can Win

The Phillies, even after a tough first game loss, are probably still the favorites in the NLCS, but the Giants should not be counted out. The Giants chances rest not on an anything can happen in a short series kind of optimism or solely upon their excellent starting pitching, but primarily on a match-up of skills that may make the Giants uniquely positioned to beat the Phillies.

A big Phillie advantage rests on having the clearly superior offense. They outscored the Giants by 75 runs, almost half a run per game. However, the Giants pitching is excellent and deep. While most teams upon reaching the post-season agonize about what to do about a fourth starter, the A.J. Burnett drama is illustrative on this point, the Giants showed little concern handing the ball to a 20 year old rookie who had managed a ERA+ of 136 during the regular season for game four of the NLDS. Madison Bumgarner pitched very well in that game giving up only two runs in six innings. The Phillies have not played too many teams who have a left hander of that caliber as their fourth starter.

The Phillies, of course, have excellent pitching too. Their first three starters, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels were even better than the Giants top three of Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez and Matt Cain. While both teams had very strong pitching, they got to that point differently. The Giants pitchers gave up the fewest earned runs, and hits, the third fewest home runs while leading the league in strikeouts. The Phillies gave up the fifth fewest runs and hits while finishing ninth in strikeouts. The major difference between the style of excellence between the two teams pitching staffs is that while the Giants pitchers kept the ball in the park and struck out a lot of batters, they also walked a lot of hitters, the third most in the National League. The Phillies were far less able to stop the long ball, giving up the third most home runs in the league. However, the Phillies issues the fewest walks in the league by a margin of more than 60.

The single biggest reason Philadelphia pitchers were so dominant was because they so rarely walked opposing hitters. Unfortunately for the Phillies, this extraordinary accomplishment is not so useful against the Giants, a team that could charitably be called aggressive at the plate. The ability to throw strikes is somewhat wasted against the Giants because with the exception of Pat Burrell and Aubrey Huff, Giants batters swing at almost everything anyway. Phillies pitchers will almost certainly walk very few Giants in this series, but so would any pitching staff facing the Giants in the NLCS.

During the regular season, the Giants inability to walk contributed to their weak offense, but they are better positioned to play a Philadelphia than a team that relies upon working deep counts and drawing walks as a big part of their offense would be. The Giants ability to hit home runs, on the other hand, positions them well to take advantage of the Achilles heel of Philadelphia’s pitching, their susceptibility to the home run.

The Giants offense is built largely around home runs. The Phillies outscored the Giants during regular season 560-487, but only hit four more home runs. The Giants scored 33% of their runs on home runs-not on driving in runners on base with home runs but simply batters driving themselves in with home runs. By comparison, the number for Philadelphia was 30%. Both teams hit a lot of home runs, but the Giants have more power threats in their lineup with five of their starting eight, Burrell, Huff, Buster Posey, Cody Ross and Juan Uribe, averaging home runs in 3.5% of their plate appearances during the regular season. Only two Phillie regulars Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth met this threshold.

The numbers from game one demonstrate the way the Giants can win this series. Roy Halladay didn’t walk anybody in seven innings; and only one Giant walked during the whole game, but the Giants, specifically Cody Ross, matched the Phillies home run for home run. Tim Lincecum’s pitching may have disappointed Giants fans, but he did what Giants starting pitchers need to do during the series, keep one of baseball’s best offenses from getting a big lead. The Phillies are still probably the favorites to win the series, but the logic of how the Giants can win is apparent.