THE WILD CARD is kind of like that roll of bills stashed in the sock drawer. Or algebra. Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.
Both the Phillies and Giants still have hopes of winning their divisions. It's the easiest path to the postseason and eliminates the need to rely on outside help. Still, if the season ended today, both would need the wild card to advance. And, it so happens that they are in a virtual tie for the best record among non-first-place teams in the National League going into tonight's game at Citizens Bank Park.
Few would dispute that the Phillies have the better offense. The defending National League champions are fourth in the league in runs scored (552) while San Francisco was eighth (518) going into play last night, just one ahead of the Marlins and two up on the Dodgers.
Starting pitching is the great equalizer, though. So, even though the matchups for the next three nights won't necessarily be the same as they would be in the rotation, here's how the Phillies and Giants compare.
For the Phillies, it's clearly Roy Halladay. For the Giants, even though Tim Lincecum has the higher national profile, righthander Matt Cain has the better stats.
Cain, who starts tomorrow night, has a misleading 9-9 record. The Giants have been shut out four times in his starts, been held to a single run twice and have scored two runs in four other games.
But Halladay, who has also suffered from a lack of run support, has been everything the Phillies hoped for when they got him from the Blue Jays during the offseason. And he's making a serious run at his second Cy Young Award, going 5-0 with a 1.62 ERA while holding opponents to a .203 batting average and walking just three in 39 innings over his last five starts. He also leads the majors in innings pitched.
Lincecum has won the last two NL Cy Youngs, but has lost his last three starts while giving up 14 earned runs in just 14 innings. Lefthander Barry Zito, meanwhile, is undergoing a renaissance after being unable to live up to expectations in the first 3 years of his free-agent contract.
Lincecum was knocked around by the Padres on Sunday with a fastball that averaged 90.55 mph and topped out at 92.9, according to the BrooksBaseball.net PitchFX Tool. When he dominated the Phillies at AT&T Park on April 28, he averaged 91.51 with a peak of 93.6. That suggests that he isn't injured, which in turn means that he might be right when he suggests it's just a matter of mechanics and mental approach.
Cole Hamels has snapped back to form for the Phillies, although, like Cain, lack of run support has kept him from having the victories to show for it. He's lost his last two starts, 1-0. The Phillies have scored three or fewer runs for him 12 times. Roy Oswalt, a three-time All-Star with Houston, doesn't appear to have lost a thing.
Slight advantage: Phillies.
While the fourth and fifth starters are far less important in the playoffs than during the regular season, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner give San Francisco's rotation tremendous top-to-bottom depth, with five pitchers posting earned run averages of 3.62 or lower.
The lefthanded Sanchez pitched a no-hitter last season. Another lefthander, rookie Bumgarner, just turned 21. And since he started the season in the minors he doesn't have enough innings to qualify for the leader boards. If he did, he'd rank respectably in ERA (3.27), WHIP (1.33) and strikeout-walk ratio (2.59).
For the Phillies, Kyle Kendrick has pitched well in four of his last five starts and Joe Blanton is showing signs of turning the corner. But their numbers don't match up to Sanchez and Bumgarner.