I watched every pitch of last night’s once-in-a-decade pitchers’ duel, which turned into a coming out party for Cody Ross. With the exception of a few (possibly unnecessary, depending on your opinion of ball one to Pat Burrell) pitches in the sixth inning, Halladay looked better than Lincecum, and the Phillies’ bats looked better than the Giants’ (is Juan Uribe really a major league hitter?), but as we’ve learned so many times in baseball, the better team doesn’t always win.
Before this series started, the Phillies looked like the better team, at least in terms of offense and starting pitching. Last night, the Giants showed that, at least for nine innings at a time over a few games, they can swing the bats as well as the defending league champs. But is the pitching advantage still there for the Phils?
According to fangraphs’s WAR, which is just one imperfect measure, but may be the best single measure we have, Tim Lincecum was the 5th-best pitcher in the NL this year. Still, he trailed league leader Halladay by 1.5 wins, not an insignificant margin. When Roy Oswalt faces Jonathan Sanchez tonight, the Phillies will have a 2.1 win advantage, just slightly more than Halladay over Lincecum. Matt Cain was .2 wins better than his game three opponent, Cole Hamels, and Madison Bumgarner earned 2 WAR in just 18 starts this year, .1 more than his counterpart, Joe Blanton, earned in 28 starts.
Throw in the Giants’ bullpen advantage (their four best relievers compiled 5.4 WAR this season, compared to Philadelphia’s 2.9), and the Phillies’ offensive edge is more than neutralized when the series moved out west. Looking at the next three games individually, the Phillies should be favored tonight, with slight edges to San Francisco in games three and four. If the Giants can go up 3-1, they would have Lincecum at home in game five and a slight potential edge with Cain going in game seven.
We learned last night (unless we’ve been paying attention for years) that a starting pitching advantage doesn’t mean a whole lot in one baseball game, so don’t take this as a change in my prediction, but after the favorites squandered one of their best chances to demonstrate their superiority last night, it’s hard to imagine them winning in five now, isn’t it?