Phils need to take their time vs. Timmy
Plate discipline could prove huge against Giants' ace
PHILADELPHIA -- After a string of days off, the Phillies and Giants are finally ready to take the field on Saturday night in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series (7:30 ET FOX).
It's about as anticipated a Game 1 in recent memory, with two-time defending NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum facing off with one of the front-runners for the award this season and a man coming off the first postseason no-hitter in over half a century -- Roy Halladay.
It's barely worth mentioning how significant Game 1 is in a postseason series, with teams that win the opener of the NLCS winning 28 of the 40 series all-time.
Here are some storylines to watch in preparation for Game 1.
Lincecum's velocity: When Lincecum made his Major League debut against the Phillies on May 6, 2007, he routinely hit 96-97 mph on the radar gun with his fastball. This season, the right-hander's velocity with his fastball has dipped down to the lower 90s, with an average right around 91. In essence, he's learned how to pitch, using his offspeed pitches more often and getting more swings and misses than ever on his changeup down and away to right-handed hitters.
Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel said his team has to be disciplined at the plate and lay off Lincecum's offspeed stuff, which was good enough against the Braves to generate an astonishing 31 swings and misses -- five more than any other pitcher this season.
Cutting to the Chase: The Phillies haven't lost a Game 1 in the last three postseasons, and their star second baseman is a big reason why. Chase Utley has either scored or driven in a run in all eight of the Game 1s he's played in, dating back to the 2007 NL Division Series. Utley is 10-for-32 overall in Game 1s with seven runs and nine RBIs, including a sacrifice fly in the first inning of the Phillies' 4-0 Game 1 win over the Reds in this season's NLDS.
Closing it down A Philadelphia reliever hasn't pitched in a game since Game 2 of the NLDS, way back on Oct. 8. Halladay and Cole Hamels went the distance in their NLDS starts, meaning the Phillies' bullpen has combined to toss a total of four innings in the two weeks since the regular season ended. How the Phillies' relievers respond to the long layoff -- during which they've thrown more and longer bullpen sessions than usual -- could be the difference in tight, late-game situations.
San Francisco, meanwhile, relied on its superb bullpen throughout the season to pull out a number of close games. In the NLDS, though, that relief corps showed some signs of wear, with setup man Sergio Romo coughing up leads in Games 2 and 3. How will Romo respond, or how will Santiago Casilla perform in his place as the bridge to Brian Wilson?
The running game: In a game where runs will almost certainly come at a premium, the little things -- such as stealing a bag or taking an extra base on a hit -- could be the difference. The Phillies have the clear advantage in that department, with nearly double the amount of steals as the Giants (108 to 55). Furthermore, Philadelphia has been caught only 21 times -- fewest in the league -- compared to San Francisco's 32.
Each team is led on the basepaths by its speedy center fielder, with Shane Victorino stealing 34 bases and Andres Torres recording 26 thefts. Of course, the biggest stolen base in the playoffs so far belongs to Giants catcher Buster Posey, who swiped second and scored the only run of San Francisco's Game 1 NLDS victory over the Braves.
Tim Britton is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.