NLCS redux: How Phils and Giants have changed

NLCS redux: How Phils and Giants have changed
July 25, 2011, 5:38 pm
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With the Phillies and Giants set to meet for the first time since the 2010 National League Championship Series, CSNPhilly insider Jim Salisbury and CSNBayArea insider Mychael Urban discuss how the teams have changed since last season.

Salisbury on the Phillies

The biggest difference between the 2010 Phillies and the 2011 Phillies is who is here and who isnt. Cliff Lee is here; Jayson Werth is in Washington, having signed there as a free agent. The Phillies signed Lee to a five-year contract in December. The left-hander, however, will not pitch against the Giants. He took a 9-6 record and a 2.83 ERA in 20 starts to the mound Monday against San Diego.

The Phillies will send right-hander Vance Worley to the mound in the first game of the series. A year ago at this time, the Sacramento native was just arriving in the majors and had not started a big-league game. Ace Roy Halladay, as well as Lee, will not pitch in the series, but the Phils have developed a sense of confidence playing behind Worley. Why not? He is 6-1 with a 2.02 ERA and the Phils are 10-2 in his 12 appearances. Worley has held opposing clubs to one or zero runs in his last six starts and he is coming off eight innings of one-run ball in a victory over the Cubs.

A year ago, the Phillies bullpen was starting to put together a good second-half run with Brad Lidge as closer and Ryan Madson as setup man. Now, Madson is the Phillies closer or at least has a share of the job with Antonio Bastardo. Charlie Manuel can call on either pitcher for a save. Madson entered Monday having converted 17 of 18 save chances and Bastardo eight of eight. Injuries have stripped Lidge of the closers job. He is working his way back from shoulder and elbow woes in a setup role.

Bay area native Jimmy Rollins has come alive at the plate this month. In his first 18 games in July, he hit .338 with a combined on-base and slugging percentage (OPS) of .928. Rollins has hit well from the left side of the plate (.286 batting average, .708 OPS) and struggled from the right side (.238, .605). Last year, it was just the opposite as he hit .218.637 from the left side and .297.773 from the right side.

A year ago at this time, the Phillies were on their way to posting the best record in the majors, but they werent there yet. They didnt start showing consistency until the final two months of the season and didnt take over first place in the NL East for good until Sept 7. This year, theyve shown great consistency all season. Theyve been in first place in the division all but one day and enter the series against the Giants having won nine straight series. They have not lost two games in a row since June 3-4.

Urban on the Giants

The easiest answer to what's different about the Giants in 2011 is a kidney shot at the Phillies: They wear 2010 World Series rings to dinner these days.

Eschewing the petty, junior-high route in favor of fairly serious baseball analysis, however, henceforth are presented five ways in which the Giants of 2011 can be easily distinguished from the 2010 version that stunned the baseball world by beating the Phillies in last fall's National League Championship Series on the way to setting off the biggest party that the City by the Bay has ever seen.

1) No Buster Posey: One of the two most pure hitters on the team, even as a rookie last season, is out for the season after suffering horrific injuries in a controversial collision at home plate that still sparks high emotion in San Francisco. Against all odds, the Giants have actually hit better and compiled a better winning percentage without Posey this season than with, but there's no question they miss his steady presence behind the plate and his steady production in the middle of the order.

2) No Freddy Sanchez: The Giants' second baseman is as pure if not as powerful as Posey at the plate, and as he recovered from surgery on his right shoulder with an optimistic eye toward returning for the stretch run, there was a revolving door of far less gifted fielders at his position until the recent arrival of Jeff Keppinger via trade. While the Giants clearly miss his bat control and professional approach at the plate, they miss his rock-steady glove work every bit as much.

3) Ryan Vogelsong: Although the Phillies aren't expected to see San Francisco's unexpected breakthrough pitcher, Vogelsong's ascent from non-roster camp invitee to National League All-Star has forced at least a touch of reconsideration among those who, prior to the start of the season, considered the Phillies' rotation the best in the league by a long shot. Vogelsong's emergence has further infused the Giants with the confidence that they'll send out a starter with a tremendous shot at winning every single game.

4) An utter lack of fear: Winning the World Series does wonders for any club's confidence, and the Giants are no exception. They're convinced they can beat anyone, any time. But that sense stems not solely from winning their rings. It stems from having proved, time and again, that they are among the best if not the best in the game at winning tight, pressure-packed games, often overcoming late-game deficits with contributions from an up-and-down the roster. Two down in the eighth? Even on the road, the Giants feel right at home.

5) A better bullpen: That might be difficult to fathom for Philly fans who watched the parade of relievers who prevented Game 6 of the 2010 NLCS in Philly from spinning out of control after Jonathan Sanchez's early struggles, leading the riveting comeback and the series-clinching win, but it's true. Lefty Jeremy Affeldt is back to his 2009 form, lefty Javier Lopez has proven he can get righties out, too, giving manager Bruce Bochy incredible flexibility in terms of matchups, and righty Sergio Romo has ramped up his game. That trio, combined with closer Brian Wilson's standard excellence, is a huge reason why those close games for which the Giants have a penchant for playing have become so winnable.

E-mail Jim Salisbury at jsalisbury@comcastsportsnet.com. E-mail Mychael Urban at murban@comcastsportsnet.com.

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