Phillies manager Charlie Manuel still talks about getting another shot at the New York Yankees in the World Series.

The oddsmakers in Las Vegas list the pitching-rich Phillies and the Boston Red Sox, with their lethal lineup, as the most likely teams to reach the Fall Classic.

Cliff Lee is the only one who gets it.

"Obviously the Giants" are the team to beat, the Phillies lefthander said during a Philadelphia Auto Show appearance last week at the Convention Center. "I mean, they're the defending champions still, and until someone takes it from them they're the champions. I think it's going to go through them."

The fact that the Giants won the World Series last year is not nearly as daunting as the pitching staff San Francisco has assembled through astute drafting. It was the addition of Lee that enabled the Phillies to leap over all the other contenders in the eyes of the Vegas oddsmakers.

But the Giants are the one team in baseball that can still argue they have a better pitching staff than the Phillies, which is why they are the team to beat. The key here is that we're talking about the entire staff and not just the starting rotation.

With Lee on board, nobody has a better top four than the Phillies, but the Giants are close.

Tim Lincecum proved in October that he can match up with Phillies aces Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee in a seven-game series. Matt Cain also proved he could come through in the clutch. Jonathan Sánchez had a shaky final three starts in the postseason and still has to prove he can be a consistent winner, but he had handled the Phillies before that. Madison Bumgarner, meanwhile, looks as if he can be every bit as good as the Phillies' Cole Hamels.

Even if you extend the argument to the fifth starter, the Giants may be the one team that can make a case that they're better off with Barry Zito than the Phillies are with Joe Blanton.

The overall edge goes to the Phillies, but it is close.

When the comparison switches to the bullpen, the advantage goes to the Giants and is more distinct.

In Brian Wilson, the Giants may have the best closer in baseball. At 28, he is entering his prime and the pressure of the postseason did not bother him one bit. He struck out 16 batters in 112/3 scoreless postseason innings. The Phillies struck out seven times in five innings against him.

As well as Brad Lidge pitched down the stretch and in the postseason, he is now three years removed from that magical 2008 season. It would be crazy to suggest he's better than Wilson.

A better argument could be made on behalf of Ryan Madson in the setup role, although the Giants' Sergio Romo is coming off a better season.

If you were looking for one difference between the Phillies and Giants in last year's six-game NLCS, the bullpen was probably it. The two runs Chad Durbin surrendered in the Game 4 loss at AT&T Park were critical in that Giants victory. The Giants bullpen, with some major help from a Bumgarner relief appearance, did not allow a run in seven innings during their clinching Game 6 victory that silenced Citizens Bank Park.

Beyond Wilson and Romo, the Giants have a better lefty specialist in Javier Lopez and two other veterans - Santiago Casilla and Jeremy Affeldt - who have proven to be quite capable.

The Phillies, on the other hand, are relying on 39-year-old Jose Contreras as their No. 2 setup man and J.C. Romero as their lefty specialist.

On paper, the Giants have a decided edge in the bullpen, although relievers can be more unpredictable than the weather.

Shortly after the end of last season, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said the bullpen was his biggest concern. After doing little more than re-signing Contreras and Romero while letting Durbin walk away, it remains this team's biggest concern.

If the Phillies have a decided advantage over the Giants, it's on the offensive side.

Both teams lost some significant contributors from last season, but Jayson Werth's departure to Washington was bigger than any subtraction suffered by the Giants.

Amaro and Manuel are counting on bounce-back seasons from Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and others to rejuvenate the Phillies' wildly inconsistent offense from last season.

The Giants finished ninth in the league in runs scored last season and seventh in team batting average, but they play in one of the toughest hitting parks in baseball. The fact they will have catcher Buster Posey for an entire season should help them, and don't underestimate the confidence they gained by beating Lee twice during the World Series.

A young boy asked Lee last week if he could name the toughest team he ever faced.

"The Giants were pretty tough last year," he said. "At least they were in the World Series."

There's every reason to believe the Giants will be a major obstacle for the Phillies again in 2011.

Contact staff writer Bob Brookover
at 215-854-2577