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NLCS Preview: Don’t Forget What 2010 Season Revealed About Phillies and Giants

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The coverage of the Major League Playoffs has reminded me of a popular Jimmy Rollins photo courtesy of George Nikitin.1990’s movie, Men In Black, starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. The two played secret agents who tracked alien activity and often used a little gadget called a Neuralyzer to erase the memory of anyone who had seen something that was to remain top secret.

After donning protective shades, Smith and Jones would activate the Neuralyzer, emitting a bright flash to instantly wipe out the recollections of an unsuspecting witness.

While there are no such things as Nueralyzers (or, at least we don’t remember ever seeing one), a very similar type of memory deletion occurs among baseball followers the moment the regular season ends. It’s as if playoff baseball has a way of making people forget everything they saw during the six months of games that preceded it.

For the Philadelphia Phillies, the analysis of the National League Division Series against the Reds was a great example of this sort of memory purge.

The Phillies had just finished speeding through a series of speed bumps better known as the entire National League on their way to the best record in the majors and a fourth straight division title. And yet, as that first series began, many experts still fixated on the dangers posed by Cincinnati’s mighty offense, terrific fielding, and lights-out bullpen.

Five days later, the Reds were cleaning out their lockers after being no-hit, shutout, and exposed as a team that was not ready for the big time. The Phillies’ quick disposal of the Reds created another long layoff prior to their showdown with the San Francisco Giants. That break provided plenty of time for comparisons between the NLCS foes. It also provided another opportunity to forget a great deal of what happened in the nearly 170 games that each team played in reaching the League Championship Series.

To be sure, no form of hypnotism or brainwashing was going to make fans lose sight of the starting pitching arsenals supplied by the Phillies and Giants. However, aside from the obligatory “if the Phillies hit, they are going to the World Series," there has been little discussion of how these two teams compared offensively during the 2010 season. And as a result, it seems that many have skipped over just how underwhelming the Giants offense has been this year. The Giants’ offensive numbers were actually quite dwarf-like throughout the regular season. They were a lowly 17th in runs scored among Major League teams, and plated two or fewer runs an abysmal 59 times.

While the Giants do play in less hitter-friendly park than the Phillies, they still only averaged 4.30 runs per game compared to the 4.76 run average of the Phillies. More telling is the fact that their run output has actually dropped to 3.54 runs per game since the beginning of September, while the Phillies bats have exploded for 5.45 runs per game over that same period.

The offensive comparisons don’t have to stop there, either. Over the course of the season, the Giants ranked dead last in Major League Baseball in stolen bases with 55 (compared to 108 for the Phillies), and were also dominated by the Phillies in walks (560 to 487).

Just for good measure, the Whatever-it-Takes Phillies even get hit by pitches much more often (63 to 50) than the Giants. In a series where runs will be at a premium, it would be foolish to think that these shortcomings would not be a disadvantage for the NL West champs.

Does this sort of statistical analysis mean that the Phillies should begin lining up their rotation for the Yankees or Rangers? Certainly not. But, the fact of the matter is that they are facing a very good pitching staff that will be looking for run support from a lineup whose big guns are Aubrey Huff and Buster Posey. Perhaps that’s why the Giants labored to eliminate a sputtering Braves squad that was running on fumes for their entire playoff series. Oh yeah, that same Braves team was only two weeks removed from a complete dismantling at the hands of the Phillies (losing five of six by a combined score of 34-17).

There is no question that the NLCS will be a pitching duel. But to say that the series will be decided by pitching would be one of the most flawed analyses one could offer. When two teams feature nothing but great pitchers, the deciding factor will ultimately be how well each team hits against those great pitchers.

For Philadelphia fans, as long as they haven’t been recently Neuralyzed, the long track records of these two teams suggest that the Phillies might soon be making those World Series plans.

Matt Babiarz was born and raised in the Philadelphia area.  He graduated from the University of Alabama, but remained a very close observer of the Philadelphia sports scene.  He recently began covering the Phillies for Philly2Philly.com.   You can also read his work at Bleacherreport.com within the Philadelphia Phillies section. 

Matt can be contacted at mattbabz@comcast.net  

Utley tag out photo courtesy of Brad Mangin

Jimmy Rollins photo courtesy of George Nikitin