As in life, timing is everything in baseball.
For the San Francisco Giants' talented, young starting pitchers - Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez and Matt Cain - the time may be right to bring down the favored Phillies in the best-of-seven National League Championship Series that begins Saturday at Citizens Bank Park.
After the Giants finished off Atlanta on Monday in the NL division series, the most frequently asked question by the media in their joyous locker room was: Can your Big Three match up against the Phillies' Big Three of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels? The answer was, "Absolutely."
"We know our strength is our pitching," catcher Buster Posey, a contender for NL rookie of the year, said Monday after the Giants punched their ticket to the NLCS. "We've heard a lot of talk about how good the Phillies pitching is, and we have the guys to match up with them."
Lincecum, Sanchez and Cain have been at their best when the Giants needed them the most. They had a combined 12-2 record after Sept. 1 in the regular season. The day after Halladay no-hit Cincinnati in Game 1 of the NLDS, Lincecum shut out the Braves on two hits and struck out 14.
Along with fourth starter Madison Bumgarner, a hard-throwing 21-year-old lefthander who would have the edge over Joe Blanton in a possible Game 4 matchup, Giants starters had a 0.93 ERA, struck out 36 and walked five in the series against Atlanta.
As a staff, the Giants had the best ERA (3.36) and the most strikeouts (1,331) in the majors.
The Giants' top four starters are homegrown, each drafted by the club.
Lincecum is the ace and one of the most entertaining pitchers to watch simply because it's remarkable that someone who looks like a roller-board dude can lead the NL with 231 strikeouts.
It will be understandable if Lincecum gets the once-over by security when he enters Citizens Bank Park for his anticipated matchup against Halladay in Saturday's Game 1. He's 5-foot-11 (maybe), weighs 170 pounds and has shoulder-length hair. He's also only 26, yet he's been the NL Cy Young Award winner the last two years.
When Lincecum goes against Halladay on Saturday, it will be the first time since 1991 that a Cy Young Award winner faces the anticipated Cy Young winner in a league championship series. The Braves' Tom Glavine dueled with the Pirates' Doug Drabek in '91.
Lincecum overcame a terrible August, losing all five starts with a 7.82 ERA, fueling speculation his wheelhouse delivery was finally taking a toll on his arm. But when the calendar flipped to September, he returned to Cy Young form, going 5-1 with a 1.94 ERA. Including his Game 1 gem against the Braves, Lincecum has whiffed 66 batters in his last 502/3 innings.
This will be the first time the Phillies face him since he added an effective slider to his arsenal.
"It's something I've been refining the last month or so, and it's come around," Lincecum said on MLB.com.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy moved Sanchez up to Game 2 starter against Oswalt. Sanchez may prove most problematic to the Phillies of any Giants starter, because he's a lefthander with a wicked slider that goes with a fastball consistently clocked in the mid-90s.
Sanchez, 27, went 4-1 with a 1.03 ERA in September and allowed two hits and one earned run while striking out 11 over 71/3 innings in Game 3 against the Braves. His last five starts on the road, Sanchez has allowed four earned runs over 33 innings. In his last eight starts overall, he has given up more than one earned run just once. He won both starts against the Phillies this season by 5-1 and 5-2.
Cain is a burly righthander who went 3-0 with a 2.19 ERA in September, got roughed up for six runs in four innings Oct. 1 against San Diego, then held the Braves without an earned run in Game 2. He'll face Hamels in Game 3 Tuesday in San Francisco.
"This might be the best top three pitchers' matchups the world has ever seen," Giants first baseman Aubrey Huff said. "It's going to be fun to watch for the fans."
"They're as good as I've seen them," Posey said of Lincecum, Sanchez and Cain. "These guys just go out, and they've got a confidence about them, and they get the job done."
Bochy had enough confidence in Bumgarner to start him in Game 4 against Atlanta rather than bring Lincecum back on short rest. Cool in his first appearance in the postseason, Bumgarner's fastball was consistently in the mid-90s as he held the Braves to two runs over six innings.
"This kid just surprises the hell out of me every day," Huff said of Bumgarner. "He's just a big old country boy who goes out there and doesn't look like he has a care in the world. He reminds me of a young Andy Pettitte."
With so much focus on the matchups of each club's top three, the lefty Bumgarner could end up turning the series in the Giants favor.
"I don't know what's going to happen," Giants closer Brian Wilson said, "but we know we're going to face their best, and they're going to face our best."