Phillies capitalize on Giants’ mistakes, push a Game 6 in NLCS

Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Roy Halladay in the 2nd inning during the National League Championship Series at AT&T Park in San Francisco, on October 21, 2010. UPI/ Bob Larson Photo via Newscom

For much of this year’s NLCS, it’s been the Phillies that have made costly fielding errors, timely mistakes, and have not created their own breaks. And it’s been the Giants who have capitalized on those errors and those mistakes to build a lead in the best-of-seven series.

But on Thursday night, it was the Phillies who capitalized on Giants’ miscues in the third inning in order to take Game 5 by a score of 4-2 and stave off elimination.

The game was hardly the pitching match for the ages that most people expected it would be. Roy Halladay (who pitched through a mild groin pull) and Tim Lincecum weren’t their dominant selves and instead of coming down to pitching, the game was won by the team that made the fewest mistakes.

In that pivotal third inning, Raul Ibanez reached base on a weak single off Lincecum, who then hit Carlos Ruiz after building a 0-2 count. Roy Halladay then bunted a ball that was clearly foul, but home plate umpire Jeff Nelson must have forgotten his contacts because he ruled it fair. Buster Posey’s throw to Pablo Sandoval at third was a little off the mark and Sandoval, who isn’t the fleetest of foot at defensive tackle-like size, missed the bag as Ibanez slid in safely. Ruiz went to second on the play and Halladay, who knew the ball was foul and didn’t even run, was thrown out at first.

Shane Victorino then hit a hard ground ball to first baseman Aubrey Huff, who had it ricochet off him into centerfield as if his entire body and glove were made of rubber, and both runners scored. Placido Polanco then singled to center to score Victorino and all of a sudden the Giants’ 1-0 lead (a lead they earned in the first inning) evaporated into a 3-1 deficit.

The Phillies never trailed after that. Cody Ross (the greatest postseason player alive, apparently) hit a double to right to score Pat Burrell in the fourth, but that was all the fight the Giants had in them. Jayson Werth homered to right in the top of the ninth to give the Phillies breathing room and then San Fran quietly went down in order in the bottom half of the inning as Brad Lidge earned the save.

Now the series shifts back to Philadelphia for Game 6 on Saturday and probably a Game 7 on Sunday. I say “probably” because if anyone thinks the Phillies are done then you haven’t been paying attention the past couple of years. Their Game 5 victory has given them new life and while they still trail 3-2 in the series, they’re traveling back home to that Little League Park they call a stadium where a routine fly ball can travel over the wall. They’ll also have Roy Oswalt (Game 2’s winner) and Cole Hamels set to start.

The Giants missed a huge opportunity to let a sleeping dog lie. Now they have to earn a victory in hostile environment against a veteran squad that’s used to winning in October. Strap it up – I can feel a Game 7 coming on.

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Giants making the right decision to start Jonathan Sanchez in Game 2

San Francisco Giants pitcher Jonathan Sanchez delivers a pitch to the Atlanta Braves in Game 3 of their MLB National League Division Series baseball playoff game in Atlanta, Georgia October 10, 2010.  REUTERS/Tami Chappell (UNITED STATESSPORT - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

Every manager would love to have the problem Bruce Bochy currently has. He has to set his rotation for the NLCS (which starts this Saturday in Philadelphia) and even though Matt Cain is arguably the Giants’ second best pitcher, he won’t be starting in Game 2.

That responsibility falls on Jonathan Sanchez, one of two lefties San Francisco will throw at the Phillies’ struggling lineup in the best-of-seven-game series. (Rookie Madison Bumgarner is the other.) Sanchez will get the nod over Cain because Bochy prefers to go righty (Tim Lincecum), lefty (Sanchez), righty (Cain), lefty (Bumgarner), when laying out his rotation.

It’s the right move given the Phillies’ lineup and the ballpark they play in. Chase Utley is a left-handed hitter, as is Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez. All three of them can hit for power and given the Little League stadium that they play in, they can do some damage against a hard-throwing pitcher like Cain who relies on his fastball.

But Sanchez’s go-to pitch is his slider, which is much harder to hit out of the ballpark than a fastball. In other words, he’s the better pitcher to throw at Citizens Bank Park (where Game 2 will be played) and considering he took a no-hitter into the sixth inning against the Braves in Atlanta on Sunday, he obviously doesn’t have any qualms about pitching on the road in a pressure situation. (Although that certainly wasn’t the case earlier in his career when he was an emotional roller coaster in every start.)

The Giants have a huge mountain to climb if they want to reach the World Series. The Phillies have the best collection of talent of all of the remaining teams and their pitching staff is expected to put the clamps down on San Fran’s offense, just as the Braves’ starters were able to do in the NLDS. That means the Giants’ spectacular pitching staff will have to be even more spectacular (maybe even perfect) if this club hopes to move on.

But Bochy can only put his players in the best position to win and then trust that they’ll execute. There’s a possibility that Sanchez could get destroyed in Philadelphia and then Cain blows it in Game 3. However, in setting his rotation the way he is, he’s arguably giving the Giants their best chance to win. Now they just have to go out and execute.

What has happened to the Phillies’ offense?

There’s simply no excuse for a lineup that consists of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth, Raul Ibanez and Shane Victorino to score only 13 runs in 10 games. Yet somehow, it has.

In their last 14 games, the Phillies have scored three or fewer runs 12 times. Howard went deep on Tuesday night in a 7-3 loss to the Braves, but that was the first home run that Philadelphia has hit in 68 innings.

So what’s the problem?

Hitting coach Milt Thompson’s resume speaks for itself. In his first five seasons with the Phillies, the club led the National League in home runs, RBI, runs scored, total bases, and extra-base hits. He suddenly hasn’t forgotten how to coach, yet the Phillies have suddenly forgotten how to hit.

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2010 MLB Preview: NL East

In order to help get you ready for the MLB season, we’re doing division-by-division rankings with quick overviews on how each club could fair in 2010. Next to each team, you’ll also find a corresponding number written in parenthesis, which indicates where we believe that club falls in a league-wide power ranking. Be sure to check back throughout the next two weeks leading up to the season, as we will be updating our content daily. Enjoy.

All 2010 MLB Preview Content | AL East Preview | AL Central Preview | AL West Preview | NL East | NL Central | NL West

Next up is the NL East.

1. Philadelphia Phillies (2)
Much like the Yankees in the American League, it’s hard to find bad things to say about the Phillies. They’re the three-time defending NL East champions and considering they’re ready to bring back the same core of players that got them to the World Series the past two years, there’s no reason to doubt them. Oh, and they added Roy Halladay. Roy, I’m going to dominate your face for nine innings, Halladay. If Cole Hamels rebounds and J.A. Happ’s 2009 wasn’t a fluke, the Phillies won’t suffer a setback this season. In fact, the pitching doesn’t even have to be that great with the likes of Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez taking up the first six spots in the order. The problem, however, is that Hamels might not bounce back and Happ’s ’09 season may have been a fluke. There’s also that nagging Brad Lidge closer issue that could haunt this club as well. That said, odds are that the Fighting Phils will be right back at the top of the NL East again this season. They’re too good, too talented and too experienced to fold and they have a great chance to reclaim their title back from the Yankees.

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Phillies take Game 1 of NLCS

Carlos Ruiz and Raul Ibanez hit three-run homers as the Phillies beat the Dodgers 8-6 in Game 1 of the NLCS on Thursday. Ryan Howard also hit a two-run double and closer Brad Lidge pitched a scoreless ninth to protect a two-run lead.

Since the NLCS moved to a seven-game format in 1985, the team that takes a 1-0 lead has won 16 of 23 series, including 14 of the previous 16. In fact, eight of the 10 National League teams that took a 1-0 lead on the road have reached the World Series, including the past seven times.

Usually teams in the playoffs look to, at the very least, earn a split when they’re on the road. For Philadelphia to jump out to a 1-0 lead in the NLCS is huge, especially considering how good their bats looked.

Game 2 is set for 4:07 p.m. ET on Friday and will feature Pedro Martinez vs. Vicente Padilla. It’s kind of amazing that Martinez is back pitching in a championship series again and hopefully for the Phils’ sake, he produces some of the magic that made him a lights out pitcher in Boston.

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