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NLCS Game Four Preview: San Francisco

Despite having to face the Phillies’ annoyingly-nicknamed (but awesomely talented) “H2O” pitching trio consisting of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels, the widely-panned San Francisco Giants find themselves up two games to one going into tonight’s NLCS Game Four. Much of this is due, of course, to the Giants also having marched three pretty good starters to the mound so far in Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez, and Matt Cain. Despite Cody Ross‘s best efforts, runs have been generally difficult to come by in this series, and it is easy to understand why. Tonight’s starters are less exalted than their predecessors, but given the Giants’ talent level and the Phillies’ offensive drought, a high-scoring game isn’t exactly “due.”

Earlier this afternoon Carson gave a brief preview of the staring pitchers, and he is correct to note the striking similarities in many aspects of the Giants’ Game 4 starter Madison Bumgarner and his Phillies counterpart Joe Blanton. Both have relatively neutral batted-ball profiles, strike out about an average number of hitters, and avoid walks. While some will tout Blanton’s “experience” as an advantage for the Phillies, Bumgarner didn’t exactly seem overwhelmed with nerves in his impressive start against the Braves in the divisional round. The Phillies’ biggest area of superiority in this matchup was supposed to be their offense, but the Giants have kept Philadelphia’s hitters in check so far. It will be interesting to see how the southpaw Bumgarner fares against the Phillies left-handed hitters. Although Chase Utley has displayed a slight “reverse” platoon split over the years, Ryan Howard has fared quite badly against lefties, and after reverse splits in 2008 and 2009, Raul Ibanez has regressed to a traditional split as well. Although Jayson Werth has hit both righties and lefties well this season, for his career he’s been a real lefty-killer.

On the other side of the ball, while the Giants offense has done enough to get them this far in the playoffs, as one would expect from the regular season, they haven’t been very impressive, notwithstanding the serendipitous pick-up of Ross. Bruce Bochy sat the slumping Andre Torres in favor of Aaron Rowand last night, and while the Giants won the game, San Francisco’s fans have to hope that Bochy will weigh Torres’ performance over the last season-and-a-half heavier than the last few games and reinsert him in the lineup (lineups are not available yet as I write), given that Rowand will be without the platoon advantage tonight, not to mention Torres’ superior defense (assuming Torres is in good health). If the Giants insist on starting Edgar Renteria tonight, they can help their own cause by not hitting him first. Even better would be starting the buried Pablo Sandoval — who, even after his poor 2010 at the plate, can still outhit Zombie Renteria — if Juan Uribe is able to play shortstop. But hey, they won last night, and Bochy even resisted the urge to intentionally walk anyone (progress!), so I guess it’s working for them so far.

In spite of the fairly-even pitching matchup, in terms of “true talent,” the Phillies’ offense is better than the Giants’. But this series so far is just one more reminder that while true talent is what we project, pennants are awarded on the basis of observed performance, and the Giants have to feel good about their position going into tonight’s game.