Over the course of the off season I’ve read my fair share of articles listing teams and their power rankings or their projected records for the 2011 season.  One trend that I’ve noticed is that the Philadelphia Phillies are the favorites of the National League (maybe all of MLB, but the Red Sox really stepped it up this year). Usually, the team to beat is the reigning World Series Champion, which this year is the San Francisco Giants. Even though some credit is given to them, they seem to not be given as much attention as the Phillies. Usually, a fan of the Giants such as myself would cry foul “East coast bias” or something similar to that, but let’s look at this for a bit.

First of all, the biggest debate won’t be decided until at least the All-Star Break come July. Whose pitching staff is better, San Francisco or Philadelphia?  Many have looked into this, so I wont go into too much detail, but it looks as if the starting rotations are both excellent.

Philadelphia has Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hammels, and Joe Blanton as their starting five.  Roy Halladay is great, amazing even.  He won the NL Cy Young award this year.  How? He threw two no-hitters last year, one of which was a perfect game, and then he no-hit the Reds, who had a very nice offense all year that included the NL MVP Joey Votto.  He is no doubt an ace.  

Cliff Lee is next.  He has a career record of 102-61 with an ERA of 3.85, ERA+ of 112 and a WHIP of 1.256 all of which are not bad.  His real value is in the playoffs where, until this post season, he was undefeated with a 7-0 record in 10 games started.  Even with the two losses to the Giants, he is 7-2 with an ERA of 2.13 and a WHIP of 0.816.  Not bad at all, not the ace with Halladay up there, but a very solid pitcher.  

Oswalt is another solid pitcher.  Similar win-loss percentage and ERA to Lee, and a better ERA+ and WHIP.  He has completed 10 years in the majors.  Oswalt had a bit of a rough start in Houston in 2010, but really turned it around in Philly, as he went from a 6-12 pitcher to a 7-1 guy as soon as he ended up there.  

Next up is Cole Hammels.  Cole is 26, and getting better each year.  3.53 ERA, 1.176 WHIP, 123 ERA+, above an “average” pitcher, and I am going to guess that he’s going to improve.

Finally, we get to Joe Blanton, the number five starter for the Phillies.  Like most fifth starters, we see a drop off in the stats.  He has an above .500 win-loss record, but his ERA is 4.30, and his ERA+ is 99, below average.  His whip is around average at 1.343, but he gives up an average of 10.6 hits/9 innings.

Now to the San Francisco Giants.  The number one pitcher is Tim Lincecum.  The Giants ace is a former two-time Cy Young award winner.  He had a down year in 2010, as evident in his horrific August showing.  He still led the NL in Strikeouts with 231, and had an above average 119 ERA+ as well as having a 9.8 K/9 innings.  The playoffs showed what Lincecum could do when he was on.  He had a 14 strikeout game vs the Braves in his very first playoff appearance.  Additionally, he helped the Giants win their first Word Series title since moving to San Francisco by beating Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. 

Matt Cain is second up.  The Workhorse of the Giants staff, Cain is also the “Veteran” of the staff, as he has been in the Giants’ rotation the longest of any of the current starters.  This year, Cain showed his usual consistent self posting a 3.14 ERA, 130 ERA+, 1.084 WHIP, and four complete games including two shutouts.  We also can’t forget his stellar post season.  Cain went 2-0 in three starts with 21.1 innings pitched, a WHIP of 0.938, and an ERA of 0.00.  He gave up one unearned run through 21.1 innings.  

Now on to Jonathan Sanchez, the only Giants starter with a no-hitter.  As many have said before me, Sanchez’s stuff is nasty.  If he was more consistent, Sanchez could very well be the ace of the staff. Sanchez may have an ERA+ of 101, barely above average and an ERA of 4.26, but he is very much improved over the past years, as his ERA dropped 1.17 points from 2009 to 2010.  While Sanchez led the league in Walks, he also led the league in batting average against, allowing an average of 6.6 hits per nine innings and a .204 BAA.  In September and October, Sanchez showed how good he is when he is on.  He was 4-1 with an ERA of 1.01, a WHIP of 1.037, and a BAA of .151.  Unfortunately, he sometimes can let games get away, as seen in the playoffs, especially in the NLCS when he had to exit the sixth game in the second inning after giving up two runs and three hits as well as walking two batters.  Overall, Sanchez is improving though, and I expect more improvement in 2011.  

The Giants’ fourth starter is young Madison Bumgarner.  Because he has only played in parts of two seasons, we’ll just look at his 2010 stats.  He has a 7-6 Win Loss record, an ERA of an even 3.00, a WHIP of 1.306, and an ERA+ of 136.   Not bad at all, especially considering his rookie status.  Moving into the postseason, Bumgarner went 2-0 with an ERA of 2.18, and a WHIP of 1.113, including his eight-inning shutout performance vs. the best lineup the AL had to offer in the World Series.

Finally, we arrive at Barry Zito as the Giants’ fifth starter.  Zito is the only starter on the starting rotation that is over 30.  That being said, he has also performed the worst.  A three time all-star and former Cy Young award winner, Zito was a promising player when he crossed the Bay into S.F, but he has not performed well since then.  He’s gone 40-57 with an ERA of 4.45, a WHIP of 1.408, and an ERA+ of 97. He did show promise at the end of 2009 and the beginning of 2010, however, and is solid as a fifth starter.  I have faith that he will step up as his contract is nearing it’s end, and I hope that he can pull it together and at least grab a .500 record in 2011.

As you can see, both rotations are stellar.  In numbers, I can now see why people are saying that Philadelphia has the best rotation, however, we have to keep in mind that in the post season, the Giants beat each of the Phillies pitchers (except Joe Blanton), and the Giants have a much younger squad.  While injuries are possible for anyone, with age comes the greater risk, so I’d say that the Phillies are more likely to get unlucky.  That being said, and because I am a die hard Giants fan, I’d have to say that it could go either way, but I’ll lean towards the Giants and their torture.

Staring Pitchers aren’t the only pitchers though, the bullpen plays a huge part of a team’s success. This is the weakest part of the Phillies’ pitching staff.  Their closer, Brad Lidge had a perfect season in 2009, but in 2010 only had 27 saves.  While his ERA and WHIP are both better than average, he is still somewhat inconsistent.  The rest of the Phillies bullpen is average at best with Madson being their best reliever.  Besides his 2.55 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 64 K’s, the next best is Conteras with a 3.34 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP, and ends up with Baez at a 5.48 ERA and a 1.64 WHIP.

The Giants on the other hand have a very good bullpen that includes former TYIB Reliever of the Year Jeremy Affeldt, Santiago Castilla, Javier Lopez, Sergio Romo, and Brian Wilson.  Affeldt was injured for part of the year and didn’t seem to bounce back too well until his masterful relief appearance in game six of the NLCS. Santiago Casilla is a great strikeout pitcher with a K/9 of 9.1 and a nice 6.5 H/9. Lopez was wonderful at shutting down left-handed batters, and Romo is a good set up man for the man who led the league in saves, Brian Wilson.  As proof to the bullpen’s strength, anyone can look to that sixth game of the NLCS when the ‘pen had to pitch seven innings of shut out ball to stop the Phillies and take the Giants to the World Series.

Now that we’ve finished with pitching, we can move on to hitting.

The Phillies will probably have a lineup consisting of:

1. Jimmy Rollins    

2. Placido Polanco

3. Chase Utley    

4. Ryan Howard  

5. Raul Ibanez    

6. Shane Victorino  

7. Domonic Brown  

8. Carlos Ruiz      

All in all a very reasonable threat to score.

As we move to the Giants, we see they’ll have: 

1. Andres Torres

2. Freddy Sanchez

3. Buster Posey

4. Aubrey Huff

5. Pat Burrell

6. Pablo Sandoval

7. Miguel Tejada

8. Cody Ross.


Looking at the two lineups, I would say Philadelphia has an edge in the hitting department, unless Sandoval really steps up his game to his 2009 numbers, Aubrey Huff, Andres Torres, and Freddy Sanchez all do as well as or better than 2010, and Miguel Tejada becomes the power boost that S.F. needs.

Looking at the numbers, I can still see why Philadelphia is the “team to beat”, but you can never write off the San Francisco Giants.  They were written off in 2010, and they made it all the way.  The base statistics may say one thing, but team chemistry also matters, and the Giants have a big advantage on that aspect of the game.

As we look forward to the beginning of Spring Training and the 2011 season we don’t know if the Phillies will be the best team out there, and we don’t know if the Giants will repeat as World Champions. All that is certain is that we are all looking forward to a great season and hopefully a fun and eventful rematch between the Phillies and the Giants.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com