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Giants will need more than just pitching

Giants will need more than just pitching

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PHILADELPHIA -- For the Giants to derail the favored Phillies' trip to a third consecutive National League pennant, they're going to need more than superb starting pitching.

Oh, Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez and Matt Cain are virtual equals to Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels.

What the Giants don't have is the playoff experience the Phillies bring to the best-of-seven NL Championship Series, which begins Saturday night at Citizens Bank Park (7:30 ET, FOX, Postseason.TV).

With the teams evenly matched in most categories, that experience could be the most important ingredient the Phillies possess. This is Philadelphia's fourth consecutive trip to the postseason, and the club has made it to the World Series the past two years.

"You cannot underestimate experience," said Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins. "The first year, we were just happy to get there. Then, we got the hang of it and know what to expect."

It should be mentioned that six of the Giants have World Series rings and a few others have tasted the postseason.

Even though the NLCS is seven games, the importance of the first game cannot be underestimated, especially for a team that lacks the Phillies' experience.

For that reason, the opener will be even more important for the Giants. If they take Game 1, they will have done it against Halladay, a tremendous confidence builder for them.

To win the classic matchup between Halladay and Lincecum would be enormous.

The Giants' hitters must be patient against the Phillies' ace, who tossed a no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds in Game 1 of the NL Division Series.

In that 4-0 victory, Halladay's first pitch to 25 of the 28 batters he faced was a strike. Knowing how he dissects hitters will make it difficult for the Giants to be patient at the plate, waiting for a hittable pitch.

"He has tremendous command in the strike zone, a great competitor," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy. "He's coming off a great game. As baseball fans, we should all love this matchup and look forward to it."

Cody Ross, who homered, doubled and drove in three runs in the Giants' NLDS elimination of Atlanta, said waiting on a pitcher like Halladay is almost impossible.

"We tried that against Derek Lowe in Atlanta," he said. "Our game plan was to go in, try to make him work and get his pitch count up early. He wasn't having any part of it. He was going strike one, strike two and then nibbling off the plate. We were swinging at it and out in three pitches.

"With Halladay, you can't go up there and think, 'I'm going to work the count.' You have to look for a pitch to hit, and when you get it, you can't miss it. And hopefully it finds a hole. But, really, you aren't going to get a lot of those pitches."

If this, in fact, turns out to be a series dominated by starting pitching, the Giants will have an excellent chance of winning if they're able to stay even with the Phillies.

My theory here is that there probably won't be a lot of scoring against the starters, but once the games are turned over to the bullpens, the Giants have a huge edge.

San Francisco has more bullpen depth. During the regular season, Giants relievers had the second-lowest ERA (2.99). They were first in the league with only 23.7 percent of inherited runners scoring.

Closer Brian Wilson saved 48 games.

To win, the Giants must slow the Phillies' running game, especially leadoff batter Shane Victorino. Rollins is still not 100 percent and probably not a threat to steal.

"Victorino runs a lot, but so do a lot of their other guys," said catcher Buster Posey. "They do a great job on the basepaths and that's definitely going to be a factor in their game. We're expecting low-scoring games, so we have to manage that as much as possible."

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said, "Neither team can afford to give extra outs in an inning. In close games, you've got to execute, and you've got to be able to score runs and get some hits at the right time."

The Giants and Phillies both hit .212 in the NLDS. On paper, the Phillies have a more powerful offense, but they have managed just enough scoring to win.

As stated, the Giants win primarily with pitching and defense. If their pitching can hold down the middle of the Phillies' batting order -- Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth -- they have an excellent chance of prevailing.

Magical mound work
Lowest starters ERA in a playoff series
Year Team G Series ER IP ERA
1905 NYG 5 WS 0 44 0.00
1999 NYY 3 ALDS 1 22 1/3 0.40
1998 NYY 3 ALDS 1 20 2/3 0.44
1966 Bal. 4 WS 2 29 1/3 0.61
1981 L.A. 5 NLDS 3 42 0.64
1983 Bal. 4 ALCS 2 26 2/3 0.68
1981 Oak. 3 ALDS 2 25 1/3 0.71
1950 NYY 4 WS 3 35 2/3 0.76
1939 NYY 4 WS 2 23 0.78
1996 Atl. 3 NLDS 2 22 2/3 0.79
2010 S.F. 4 NLDS 3 29 0.93

Utley had the best NLDS of the three, batting .273 with a home run and four RBIs. Howard had just three singles and Werth two singles and an RBI.

The Phillies have the type of talent that can make quick work of any team, but in this postseason, their offense is yet to explode. If the Giants can continue to hold it down, they'll be in an excellent position to prevail.

"We've just got to grind out at-bats," said Posey.

First baseman Aubrey Huff spent his entire career in the American League before signing with the Giants in January as a free agent. He faced Halladay many times when Doc was with Toronto and believes the only way to combat him is "to take what he gives you. You cannot go up there trying to drive the ball or hit home runs. It just doesn't happen. And you can't go up there trying to get a walk off him, because that doesn't happen, either.

"You're going to have to hit his pitch and hit it the other way, or maybe get lucky if he throws one down the line. It's not going to be easy."

Trying to sort through the analytical maze of this series and I keep coming back to pitching -- the magnificent pitching we all expect.

But there could be and probably will be more to it than pitching.

Halladay's perspective is best: "As much as you do look at the pitching matchups and how good they could potentially be, you cannot ever forget about the other guys who are playing the game and how they could change how the series goes."

If the Giants are able to execute some of the key points mentioned here, the Phillies may have a tough time winning the series.

Otherwise, the Phillies will become the first NL team since the 1942-44 St. Louis Cardinals to go to the World Series three consecutive years.

Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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