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Expect thrills, chills in Giants-Phillies NLCS

Expect thrills, chills in Giants-Phillies NLCS

ATLANTA -- The Giants' charter plane is getting a workout, but it's safe to say that the men in orange and black don't mind. Having finished off the Braves, 3-2, on Monday, the National League West champions headed home, but they'll soon fly back east to take on the two-time defending NL champion Phillies.

It looks like a potentially highly entertaining NL Championship Series, with two superb pitching staffs and a good bit of star power in the lineups. Philadelphia appears to have the better lineup, while San Francisco has the better bullpen. Both rotations are absolutely stout.

Here are a few storylines to watch as the 2010 NLCS approaches. It gets started on Saturday on FOX at Citizens Bank Park.

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Rest or rust? The Giants will go four days without playing a game, the Phillies five. Baseball players are used to playing every day, so this will present a bit of a challenge to the two managers. Philly's Charlie Manuel and San Francisco's Bruce Bochy will want to give their players plenty of rest before the series, but they'll also want to keep their guys sharp.

It's good that the two clubs won't have a huge differential in rest time. Each is dealing with essentially the same thing. But it will be worth watching to see whether the time off proves to be restful or rust-inducing. Or none of the above.

Cy vs. Cy: It's hard to imagine a more exciting, more compelling pitching matchup than what we'll see on Saturday. Tim Lincecum and Roy Halladay have combined for three Cy Young Awards, and it looks very likely that Halladay will win his second this year to match Lincecum. They're two of the very best in the game, two aces who were brilliant in their postseason debuts earlier this month.

Halladay threw a no-hitter. Lincecum struck out 14. So much for playoff pressure. Now they'll go up against each other.

Catch me if you can
Rank of Giants catcher Buster Posey and Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz among all National League backstops
Stat Posey Ruiz
Avg. .305 (First) .302 (Second)
OBP .357 (Third) .400 (First)
SLG .505 (First) .447 (Fourth)
HR 18 (Second) 8 (11th)
RBI 67 (Second) 53 (Fifth)
Runs 58 (Second) 43 (Sixth)
Avg., OBP and SLG are among catchers with a minimum of 400 plate appearances

Adding to the intrigue is the contrast in styles. Halladay pounds the strike zone mercilessly with a sinker and a cutter, getting ground ball after ground ball -- not to mention his share of swings and misses, too. Lincecum tends to work up in the zone more and throws more offspeed pitches. He made the Braves look silly with his changeup and slider in Game 1 of the NL Division Series.

Oh, by the way, the next two games will feature Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez. Not exactly chopped liver.

Chooch and Buster: For the second consecutive series, Giants wunderkind catcher Buster Posey will look across the diamond and see an excellent hitting catcher. In the first round, it was Braves star Brian McCann. In the NLCS, it will be the somewhat less heralded, but utterly beloved in Philadelphia, Carlos Ruiz -- affectionately known as "Chooch."

In his first season in the league, Posey hit .305 with a .357 on-base percentage and a .505 slugging percentage. Ruiz put up a .302/.400/.447 line, walking more times than he struck out. They're both essential contributors to their respective offenses, and their performances in the NLCS will have quite an impact on their teams' fortunes.

A different environment: For the Giants, Citizens Bank Park will look awfully tiny. Their home stadium, AT&T Park, is one of the best in baseball for pitchers. Citizens Bank Park is a hitters' haven. Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels have gotten used to pitching there. It's going to be interesting to see how Lincecum adjusts. Lincecum was actually more effective on the road than at home, but there's pitching on the road and then there's pitching in Philly.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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