Doc vs. Freak: Give edge to Halladay
At home in Game 1, Phils ace should thrive vs. Giants righties
With the postseason as their backdrop, two of the game's best hurlers will share one lucky mound in Philadelphia on Saturday night, making the launching pad named Citizens Bank Park seem more like spacious Citi Field in New York, or PETCO Park in San Diego. Or Yellowstone.
Tim Lincecum of the Giants has won Cy Young Awards each of the last two years, and Roy Halladay of the Phillies is the odds-on favorite to claim his second this season. Now, after spectacular postseason debuts, the two will match up for the first time ever during Game 1 of the National League Championship Series (starting at 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX).
Though MLB.com's Matthew Leach disagrees, expect "The Doc" to tame "The Freak."
I know the numbers. I know the Phillies' offense has struggled against this pitching staff as a whole, and I know the Giants are that rare team Halladay hasn't dominated. I know he has a lifetime 7.23 ERA against them in three starts, and I know that when he faced them this season -- on April 26 -- he gave up five runs on 10 hits in seven innings to halt a near-perfect start to his Phillies career.
But so many factors will point in Halladay's direction this Saturday.
He's the steadier, more consistent pitcher.
He's facing an opposing lineup that leans rather heavily to the right.
He'll be pitching at home, alongside a rocking Philly faithful that has made him almost invincible this year.
And, quite simply, his team sports the better offense.
Game, Halladay. (Oh, but what a game it will be.)
These two are as good as they come, and they're about as different as their contrary nicknames suggest. Lincecum, with his wavy black hair and unruly windup, is exuberant, cavalier and rather unpredictable. Halladay is straightforward, by the book -- boring, even.
But when the games get biggest, I want the one with the steadiness of a surgeon. And -- if you'll allow me one more pun -- Doc fits that prescription.
He's consistent. Halladay's ERA didn't go any higher than 3.44 in any month this season, while Lincecum's jumped to 4.95 in May and a head-scratching 7.82 in August.
He's precise. Over the last two years, Halladay has sported the league's lowest walk-per-nine-innings ratio, which this year was at 1.1. Lincecum's was 3.2 in 2010.
And he's at another level at home. If you count his historic postseason no-hitter against the Reds, Halladay sports a 2.07 ERA at CBP as a member of the Phillies.
"Big Roy is Big Roy," said his manager, Charlie Manuel, who announced Big Roy as his Game 1 starter Thursday.
Here's something else to ponder: Who are Halladay's biggest threats in that opposing Giants lineup? The rookie, right-handed-hitting Buster Posey? The free-swinging, right-handed-hitting Pat Burrell? The red-hot, right-handed-hitting Cody Ross?
I'm sure you notice a theme here.
The Giants' lineup sports a bevy of righties, especially among its biggest run producers (minus Aubrey Huff). Opposing left-handed hitters batted just .259 against Halladay in the regular season. That's pretty good. But not as good as the .231 batting average he limited right-handed hitters to.
The Phillies, meanwhile, get most of their production from the left. Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard -- who boasts a sparkling track record against the Giants' ace -- and Raul Ibanez will all be attacking Lincecum from the left side, which is obviously the best way to pick the ball up from that quirky delivery.
Like Halladay -- and most power right-handers -- Lincecum has had his best success against right-handed hitters. Righties hit .229 in the regular season against him, and lefties hit .254. (I know, that's still pretty low; but we're splitting hairs here.)
Also, Lincecum is believed to be dealing with an ongoing blister issue in his pitching hand. The Giants say it won't affect him in Game 1, but it certainly won't help in a matchup so tight something so small can make a difference.
Will it be a field day for the Phillies? Probably not. Hitting Lincecum is no picnic -- no matter if you're a righty hitter, a lefty hitter, or a hitter coming to the plate with an ironing board. But if there's an NL team that can get to him in a big playoff game, it's this one.
And if there's a pitcher in baseball who could outduel Lincecum, it's the one who will oppose him Saturday.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Gonzo and 'The Show'. Follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.