This National League Division Series between the San Francisco Giants and Atlanta Braves was a whirlwind of emotion—every single game was decided by one run, and every game could have gone either way. The series featured outstanding pitching, mind-boggling horrific defense, and frustrating offense. The series also featured the end of one of the most brilliant managerial careers in all of baseball, the final game of Bobby Cox.
As last night’s game ended with a ground out and a throw to first, sending the Giants into celebration, Cox looked up briefly before walking briskly into the clubhouse. The Atlanta fans chanted his name and he came out, removed his hat, and waved to the fans. The Giants stopped their celebrating and saluted Bobby Cox, who acknowledged them back with a tip of his cap. It was then that it hit me, just how emotional this series was. Each game was stressful and down to the wire, and I wanted badly to be happy, but I could not help but tear up as Cox walked into the dugout, and off of the field for the final time in his 51 year baseball career, the last 19 years of which was spent with one single team, the Atlanta Braves.
I watched Cox’s teary eyed press conference and could not help but feel sad. I never liked the Braves, but he was managing there since before I was born. I cannot imagine baseball without Bobby Cox in the dugout. As he gave his final post-game press conference, he stopped mid-sentence and tried to hold back the tears. After pausing for a few seconds, he said, “A grown man shouldn’t do this”, before collecting his thoughts and continuing on.
In Bochy’s press conference, he referred to Cox as a “genius” and someone who he always admired. Cox returned the compliment by stating that if he had to lose to someone in the playoffs, he did not mind that it was to Bruce Bochy.
To Bobby Cox, I congratulate you on an amazing career, and hope that you will stick around in some capacity in Major League Baseball. It is suspected that he will be returning to the Braves as a consultant for the next few years.
On to the Giants, they now have to end their celebrating and look to the NLCS, a series they have not played in since they defeated the St. Louis Cardinals en route to the 2002 World Series. Deep down, I want to believe that anything is possible, and that the Giants have a chance, but after looking at the rotation and lineup of the Philadelphia Phillies, I do not think it is possible–my gut tells me the Phillies will be the 2010 World Series Champions.
The Giants will hang with them in pitching. The first three games of this series will feature incredible match-ups between Tim Lincecum and Roy Halladay, Matt Cain and Roy Oswalt, and Jonathon Sanchez and Cole Hamels.
Halladay tossed a no-hitter in his only playoff appearance this year, and the first of his career, while Lincecum struck out 14 in a complete game shutout in his first playoff appearance. Matt Cain was solid but could not defeat the Braves in game two, while Oswalt was the only pitcher to allow a run (four) against the Cincinnati Reds lineup. Sanchez himself threw a no-hitter last year, while Hamels was the MVP of the Phillies when the won the World Series two years ago.
For fourth starters, the Giants have Madison Bumgarner, who won last night’s game to send the Giants to the NLCS. The Phillies, meanwhile, could use Joe Blanton. It is expected that the teams will only go with four starters, as Lincecum and Halladay will pitch on short rest late in the series if they have to.
When it comes to bullpens, both teams are very even, but I would give the edge to the Phillies as they have more experience. They also did not surrender a run in three games against the Reds. They have lefty specialist J.C Romero, long-reliever Jose Contreras, and also Chad Durbin, Ryan Madson, and closer Brad Lidge. The Giants have a lefty specialist of their own in Javier Lopez, flamethrower Santiago Casilla, and adrenaline junky closer Brian Wilson. Sergio Romo, who usually finds himself in the eight inning, had a nightmare series but ended up getting credit for the win in game three.
For the Giants to even have a chance in this series, they need to find some hitting. The Giants went 2-0 without Pablo Sandoval in the lineup, after he was replaced by Mike Fontenot. Sandoval had a horrific series at the plate with absolutely no discipline and a high susceptibility of grounding into double plays. Another Giants power hitter, Juan Uribe, found himself swinging the bat like a woodsman trying to chop down a tree. The two went a combined two for 20, and Uribe also needs to take a seat. He can be replaced by Edgar Renteria, who is a clutch hitter with a short swing, plays better defense, and is also two for two in pinch-hitting appearances in the NLDS.
Giants catcher Buster Posey also had a big series, going 6 for 16, while Burrell and Huff struggled, even though Burrell did hit a three-run homer in game two. The real hero so far in the post season has been late-August waiver pickup Cody Ross. The right-fielder has gone four for 14 with a homer and three RBI’s. He drove in the only run in game one, and drove in the two go-ahead runs to win game four. He also has decent speed and a good arm in the outfield.
The Phillies, meanwhile, have no shortage of power in their lineup as any player at any given time can crank one out of the yard. Though the Giants hit more HR’s in the NLDS than the Phillies did, the threat in Philadelphia is still greater, and will have a larger effect on the pitching staff. They have multiple threats with Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Raul Ibanez, Jayson Werth, and Shane Victorino. Even if their numbers were down in the regular season, that still doesn’t mean that they can’t wake up in this series.
I’m still not going to make a prediction in this series, just like I did not make on last time. The edge is going to the Phillies, but with the Giants pitching and some timely hitting, anything is possible. All I know is, everyone will be watching Saturday afternoon for game one’s marquee pitching matchup between last year’s Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, and this year’s award favorite Roy Halladay. This has the potential to be the greatest post-season pitching matchup in at least the last ten years.