The critics favor the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League, but, up til now, the San Francisco Giants have a better offense.
As a result of Sunday's one-run stinker against the Pirates, the Giants fell from their lofty pedestal of "top-five National League offensive team." (Yes, the standards are quite low around these parts, thanks for asking.)
But here's the thing heading into Monday's matchup against the would-be NL favorite Phillies: the Giants are still a better offensive team through the first half month of the season. Yeah, that's a shorter sample size, but it's not necessarily about the Giants outperforming their expectations so much as the Phillies offense being a shadow of its former self.
As a team, Philadelphia has a higher average (.260) than the Giants (.252), but the Giants are rocking an OPB of .312, an OPS of .721 and an OPS+ of 102. The Phillies have team-wide OPB of .297, OPS of .643 and an OPS+ of 78.
Philadelphia's most dangerous hitters are Jimmy Rollins (33) and Hunter Pence. Unfortunately, like the Giants, they have superb starting pitching.
Fortunately for the Giants, they only have to go up against two of Philadelphia's three aces.
Game 1, Monday April 16, 7:15 p.m. PT: Tim Lincecum (0-1, 12.91 ERA) vs. Roy Halladay (2-0, 0.61)
This is just about the best pitching matchup you could ask for over the past five years. Halladay's been superb already this year and Lincecum's scuffled, but he also hasn't pitched at home yet, and this is his chance to make the Giant faithful breathe easy. Oddly, though, Lincecum was worse at home last year than he was away.
Looking at a current list of Phillies who have batted against him, only Juan Pierre (2/6, one walk) and Carlos Ruiz (5/22, 1 homer, three walks) have had any success against him. It's a good potential bounceback game.
The Giants will need it, because no one in the lineup really hits Halladay (but who does?). Pablo Sandoval is 3/7 lifetime, which is great, but a ridiculously small sample size. Only Melky Cabrera has a homer against Halladay, but he's hitting .200 in 45 career at bats. Aubrey Huff, oddly, is 18/72 (.250) against Halladay. Expect very few runs.
Game 2, Tuesday April 17, 7:15 p.m. PT: Madison Bumgarner (1-1, 3.97) vs. Joe Blanton (1-1, 2.35)
No offense to Joe Blanton, but wouldn't it be more fun to watch Bumgarner and Cliff Lee square off in a battle of lefties? It might be even more fun if Chase Utley and Ryan Howard were in the lineup -- those dudes are K machines against southpaws. Alas, the Giants can probably deal.
Bumgarner hasn't faced any of the Phillies more than 10 times in his career, so it's unfair to dive into those splits. He did improve his performance while at home last year -- he had 109 strikeouts in 104 home innings, versus 82 strikeouts in 100 away innings, and his ERA and WHIP were both lower. In one outing against Philly in 2011, he went eight innings, gave up two earned runs, struck out nine and got tagged for the loss. Of course he did.
Angel Pagan has two home runs in 12 career at bats against Blanton. That's kind of mindblowing. Huff and Melky both have experience against him as well. Blanton's 2-3 lifetime against the Giants with a 4.73 ERA -- he's also 0-1 lifetime in AT&T Park with a 3.57 ERA over 17.2 innings. It hasn't been that kind to him. This is the one game in this series the Giants should win.
Game 3, Wednesday April 18, 7:15 p.m. PT: Matt Cain (1-0, 3.00) vs. Cliff Lee (0-1, 3.46)
Of course, if Matt Cain continues to pitch at home like he did on Friday, all bets are off, and this is a series the Giants should take. Yes, I'm aware that assumes that Cliff Lee won't pitch perfectly, and he might.
But Cain was filthy dominant at home in his last outing and there's no reason it shouldn't continue. OK, perhaps there's some reason -- a few of the Phillies have hit well against him. Jimmy Rollins is 7/20 against Cain lifetime, with two doubles, three triples, one home run, five RBI and two walks. Good gravy. Laynce Nix is 8/20 lifetime and Hunter Pence is 5/15 with one double, one triple, one home run, 4 RBI and a walk against Cain. What is it with these triples guys? Even Carlos Ruiz -- who probably runs the 40-yard dash in about 4.5 weeks -- has a triple against Cain. Mercy.
Here's the payback: Aubrey Huff has a triple off of Cliff Lee! That's about the extent of the good news -- he, Ryan Theriot and Melky have faced Lee more than 10 times; Huff and Theriot actually have a pretty good history, both hitting .296 or higher against Lee.
Lifetime, however, Lee is 3-0 at AT&T Park, having pitched 25 innings there and posting 0.72 ERA.
The bottom line is this: both teams are 4-5 heading into Monday's action. Both are dealing with surprisingly hot starts from bottom dwellers (the Dodgers and Nationals are -- combined! -- 16-4) and both the NL East and the NL West are looking tougher this year.
These aren't the same teams that hate each other because of postseason battles (Brian Wilson's strikeout of Ryan Howard in the 2010 NLCS should seem particularly distant today ...) but there is still a rivalry here.
No doubt there's a question about who's got the best pitching. The edge, for the moment, is with the Phillies. But a strong offensive performance against either Halladay or Lee over the next few days could turn the tides on the staff debate.
Not to mention prove that the offense the Giants have shown thus far in 2011 is legit.