August 8, 2011

Death to Cain and Lincecum.

The Philadelphia Phillies cannot hit Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain.

To be fair, nor can most Major League Baseball teams. Lincecum has a career 2.98 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and .222 batting average against. Cain has a 3.39 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and .228 BAA. They've shut down their fair share of offensive juggernauts, and the 2011 Phillies (seventh in the National League in runs scored) aren't exactly that.

But the Phillies' woes against these two right-handers are getting to be more than just your typical struggles at the plate. An absolute gem from Cole Hamels was needed to overpower an almost equally excellent Cain on Saturday, and Lincecum easily shut them down on Sunday afternoon. It's a bummer to nitpick a 9-1 stretch and 3-1 series win over the defending champions, but this otherwise-wonderful journey to the West Coast was also a reminder that the road to a title probably goes through San Francisco's dual aces.

And what a bumpy road that'll be. Ryan Howard is 6 for 26 with 11 Ks versus Lincecum. Raul Ibanez is 1 for 16. Hunter Pence is 3 for 26; Chase Utley is 4 for 27. Howard is 2 for 16 against Cain. Shane Victorino is 3 for 13. Ibanez is 1 for 8.

Being unable to hit two of the 10 or 15 best starters in baseball is usually not that big of a deal. But in a seven-game series, as Phillies fans noticed last October, it can be deadly.

If push came to shove, I'd take Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels over Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and the unexpectedly resurgent Ryan Vogelsong. Hell, I'd even consider Vance Worley over Madison Bumgarner. But it's not as easy as "my top four starters are a little better than your top four starters, so we win." If it were, the Phillies would take every series.

In order to beat the Giants -- unless Jonathan "Vile Thing" Sanchez or Barry Zito are on the mound -- the Phillies need to literally shut them out. San Francisco's offense is just pitiful enough to make that a reality, but a few missteps and another crazy week from someone like Cody Ross might be all they need.

We know exactly what the Phillies are: shutdown starters, strong relievers and middle-of-the-pack hitters that tag losers but wilt against studs. And we know what the Giants are: awful hitters, solid bullpen arms and a top-heavy rotation. But their heavies have Philadelphia hitters, especially Ryan Howard, tied in knots.

So how might the Phillies overcome this obstacle? Reinvent themselves as an offense...or root for the half-game-out Arizona Diamondbacks. For the next 40 days, we should all pray at the altar of Justin Upton, Miguel Montero and Ian Kennedy. Stranger things have happened, and it would certainly make October a lot easier.

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