Phillies Giants Preview
JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK
POTENTIAL NL CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW NATIONALLY TELEVISED ON ESPN
It's one of the showcase series for the second half of the Major League Baseball season. The defending World Champion San Francisco Giants (who just enjoyed their ceremonial meeting with the president in Washington DC this past Monday) visiting the best current team in the National League, the Philadelphia Phillies.
It would shock nobody if these two teams were to meet for the National League crown in October, in a replay of last year's NLCS...
They entered this current three-game set with the best records in the senior circuit. Philadelphia led the league at 64-37. San Francisco was second-best at 59-43, a half a game ahead of probable Wildcard Atlanta.
Each is in such good form now that it's hard seeing either team falling apart down the stretch. In fact, entering this series, both San Francisco and Philadelphia were 7-3 in their prior 10 games, 13-7 in their prior 20 games, and 20-10 in their prior 30 games. So, they're not just the best two teams in the NL, but they have the best records in the NL over the last 10, 20, and 30 games. (Though, we should mention that Atlanta was right in the mix here before losing two of three in Cincinnati and their series opener with Pittsburgh).
Each is likely to have home field advantage in the first round before a projected meeting for the championship. Somebody's going to have to beat Philly in Philly, or San Francisco in San Francisco to derail a potential rematch.
They each have very strong frontline pitching, meaning that they'll be even more dangerous in the postseason when your best pitchers play a more prominent role. That's how San Francisco went the distance last year as a postseason underdog. Philadelphia has upgraded their staff since last year's NLCS with the addition of Cliff Lee.
Baseball's unbalanced divisional schedules tend to emphasize traditional rivalries at the expense of providing playoff previews. Enjoy this meeting while you can! Then pay close attention to the return series in San Francisco scheduled for Thursday through Sunday August 4-7. You may learn more about playoff handicapping over these next two weeks than you will all through September when everyone's stuck in their own division.
To this point, we've linked these two teams together as near equals. They're at the top of the league, basically in a "big three" with Atlanta if the Braves get their heads back on straight. The NL Central winner will join this group on the playoffs (unless a major injury mucks things up), but whoever that is doesn't currently look like they'll have the pitching to match up with the big three. A closer look at results this year suggest that Philly may be further ahead of the Giants than it seems.
RUN DIFFERENTIAL ENTERING SERIES
San Francisco +19
That's a huge difference at this point. San Francisco has the run production of a team that's just a bit over the .500 mark. Philadelphia has the run differential of a true championship contender. In fact, the traditional math used for turning runs into wins would only have the Giants down at 53-49 entering this series, rather than 59-43. Big difference!
What's going on?
ONE-RUN RECORDS ENTERING SERIES
San Francisco 27-13
Wow! The Giants have a GREAT record in close games. Typically, that's more a reflection of good fortune rather than "knowing how to win" close games. The Giants were only 28-24 in one-run games last year for example...with largely the same group of players and strategies from their manager. Even if you give the Giants credit for "clutchness" or confidence and maturity after last year's title run, it's hard to expect them to maintain that 27-13 pace in close games from this point forward.
Believe it or not, Philly's 17-10 mark is also a sign of good fortune. The Phils are probably about two games better in the standings than they should be. The Giants are more in the 4-6 range.
And, that's before we make any adjustments for strength of schedule. The Phillies play a division-heavy schedule in a tougher division than the Giants do.
DIVISIONAL RECORDS THRU MONDAY
NL East: 35 games over .500
NL West: 6 games under .500
The worst teams in the NL East are only 3-4 games under .500 for the season...which is amazing this deep in the season. The worst teams in the NL West are about 10-12 games under .500 for the season. The Phillies have played a tougher schedule, and are +79 in run differential.
We mentioned at the top that tonight's game is nationally televised on ESPN. Let's check out the pitching matchup for that one and Thursday's series finale...
San Francisco: Barry Zito (3-2, 4.78 ERA, 1.27 WHIP)
Philadelphia: Cole Hamels (12-5, 2.62 ERA, 0.96 WHIP)
Zito hasn't seen much action this year. He missed a long stretch with an injury. Then, some days off after the All-Star Break allowed the Giants to skip his spot in the rotation. He's not currently a guy they're expecting much from down the stretch or in the postseason. But, Zito does have a history of closing well after poor starts...so he just might ultimately be a factor.
Hamels is an ace caliber pitcher having a great year. He has 134 strikeouts in 144 innings, and has only allowed 8 homers despite pitching his home games in a park where the fences are reachable. Hamels will be a pricey favorite tonight because Zito doesn't get much respect in the line any more.
San Francisco: Matt Cain (8-6, 3.06 ERA, 1.11 WHIP)
Philadelphia: Kyle Kendrick (5-4, 3.45 ERA, 1.32 WHIP)
Cain has knocked a half run off his full season ERA in his last several starts, but the Giants have been splitting those games out because they can't put any runs on the board for him. Cain's pitching better than his 8-6 record would suggest...and is close to being an ace caliber starter. You can see he doesn't quite measure up to Hamels in the key numbers. Kendrick has been more than holding his own as the fifth man in the rotation. He's not an ace pitcher...but many teams are really struggling in the #5 spot while the Phils are getting very respectable performances.
Unfortunately, we didn't get any sort of dream pitching matchup in this series with Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee scheduled to go against Pittsburgh in a weekend series. Maybe the arms will line up better in the return series in San Francisco late next week. Should these teams meet in the playoffs, we're VERY likely to see some classic pitching matchups featuring stars of the current era.
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Don't forget that there are a few DAY games Wednesday, so take care of business early!
Games of interest for us in the bases tonight in addition to SF/Philly include:
Pittsburgh at Atlanta (Maholm vs. Jurrjens)
NY Mets at Cincinnati (Pelfrey vs. Arroyo)
Chicago Cubs at Milwaukee (Zambrano vs. Greinke)
Tampa Bay at Oakland (Shields vs. Cahill)
Back tomorrow with more baseball notes. Friday we'll preview the Boston Red Sox/Chicago White Sox series that's going to be in the headlines this weekend. Saturday and Sunday we'll finish our July series on major college football conferences with rundowns of the Big 12 and Big East. No time to rest in the busy world of sports handicapping!
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