Walcoff: Giants head to Philadelphia as underdog

Goodbye Southern hospitality, hello toughest town and team in the National League. The Giants should be writing thank-you notes to the bumbling Braves for committing seven errors and scoring only nine runs in gift-wrapping the NLDS for San Francisco. But don’t expect such generosity or meek hitting from the four-time reigning NL East champion Phillies. Although the Giants and Phils split their six regular-season meetings, the playoff matchup is decidedly in favor of the men in red.

PITCHING

While Giants’ starters were great against Atlanta — Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner combined to give up just three earned runs in 29 innings — The Phillies’ Big Three of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels were every bit as masterful against the Cincinnati Reds, surrendering just two earned runs in 23 innings. If either team goes to a fourth starter, Bumgarner has pitched better down the stretch than Joe Blanton.

The Giants have a deeper bullpen and the game’s best closer in Brian Wilson, while Brad Lidge is back in top form, having allowed just one earned run in his last 15 outings. Advantage: Even</strong>

FIRST BASE

Aubrey Huff was the Giants’ regular-season MVP, leading the team with 26 homers and 86 RBIs, but he appeared to be pressing in his first postseason. Although Huff was on base seven times against the Braves, he also struck out six times and drove in only one run. Ryan Howard didn’t do much against the Reds (3-for-11 with five strikeouts and no extra-base hits), but the past five seasons Howard has been the game’s most feared slugger, averaging 46 homers and 136 RBIs. Advantage: Phillies

SECOND BASE

Freddy Sanchez had a Gold Glove-caliber season while batting .333 over the past two months of the regular season. But Sanchez hit only .261 on the road and was only 2-for-16 in the NLDS.

Chase Utley is every bit Sanchez’s equal in the field and a whole lot more dangerous at the plate, as evidenced by his record-tying five homers in last year’s World Series. Advantage: Phillies

SHORTSTOP

Juan Uribe had a career year with 25 homers and 85 RBIs, but in the series against the Braves he was just 1-for-14 with five strikeouts, rarely backing off from the swing-out-of-his-shoes approach.

Former MVP Jimmy Rollins, battling an assortment of injuries all season, probably welcomes the week off to rest his strained hamstring. Advantage: Phillies

THIRD BASE

Pablo Sandoval played or maybe ate his way out of the starting lineup. Uribe and Mike Fontenot are able fill-ins, but neither can match 2009 Gold Glove winner Placido Polanco, who hit .298 with only five errors in his return season in Philadelphia. Advantage: Phillies

OUTFIELD

All three Giants starters, Pat Burrell, Andres Torres and Cody Ross, began the season on the bench or with other teams. Ross was easily the best of the bunch in the playoffs with a pair of game-winning hits. Torres followed up his breakthrough season with only two hits in 16 at-bats against the Braves.

Burrell, who of course won a world championship with the Phillies in 2008, remains a long-ball threat. But the Giants’ trio comes up short against Raul Ibanez, 50 homers in two seasons in Philadelphia, Shane Victorino, a career .302 postseason hitter, and Jason Werth with 11 postseason homers. Advantage: Phillies

CATCHER

Buster Posey continued to embellish his Rookie of the Year credentials with a strong series against the Braves, batting a team best .375 (6-16). Carlos Ruiz hit a career best .302 this year to go along with a .333 average in the 2009 World Series. Advantage: Even

Bottom line: If you thought rooting for the Giants was torture during the final weeks of the regular season and in the NLDS against the Braves, the NLCS could be an early Halloween nightmare for the Orange and Black.

KGO (810 AM) Sports Director Rich Walcoff can be heard weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m. on the KGO morning news. He can be reached at RichWalcoff@gmail.com.

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