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Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Phillies Have Done It Again!

Last year, the pre-post-season talk was all about Manny Ramirez's amazing dash through National League pitching (hitting almost .400), C.C. Sabathia's carrying the Brewers on his back, and the 100-year drought of the Cubs, who had the best record in the National League. Somehow, the Phillies were just another team, there, but with no special mojo according to the cognoscenti. In the post-season, much of the talk focused on the Tampa Bay Rays, with their great farm system and their exciting young lineup. Funny how the team that got the least attention going into the post-season ending up getting the most.

Because they did their talking on the field and didn't have to reply upon know-it-alls in the booth, on the internet or in the print media play the games for them.

This post-season took a similar path, although to be honest the Phillies deserved less attention going into the post-season this year. The reason -- they didn't hit well with men on base, their bullpen was beset with injuries, and their closer had a record more worthy of an about-to-be-released rookie-league baller than that of the team's most valuable player from the previous season. In comparison, the Cardinals had the one-two punch in their lineup of Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday, and two of the best three starters in the National League in Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter. The Dodgers boasted a strong lineup and one of the best bullpens in baseball, along with the best record (by a hair) in the National League. And the Colorado Rockies played at a clip of 35 games over .500 after mid-June.

And that was just in the National League. In the American League, the Yankees were bashing everyone, the Angels once again were a perennial stalwart, the Red Sox boast great pitching and the Twins were the comeback story, winning their division after being down 3 with 4 to play (the only comeback of that type ever to happen in Major League Baseball history).

But that's the beauty of the post-season -- those who go in as favorites can and frequently do emerge as also-rans. You'll read about the Phillies' triumph last night elsewhere. All I'll say on the subject is that those who are quick to anoint the New York Yankees as World Champions must understand that the Yankees locomotive must run through tough tracks in the Cradle of Liberty.

And recent history says that the Phillies don't believe a word of what people say or write about them.

Yes, Derek Jeter is an icon and future Hall of Famer, Alex Rodriguez is a great hitter, Jorge Posada has had a great career, Mark Teixeira is an awesome first baseman, C.C. Sabathia is a dominant pitcher and Mariano Rivera is the best closer of all time. I and all Phillies fans get all that. The Yankees are a great team, worthy of great respect. They have had a great season and deserve to be on the cusp of returning to the World Series for the first time in 8 years.

But the Phillies have a most formidable lineup. The names Rollins, Victorino, Utley, Howard, Werth and Ibanez scare everyone, and, if they don't, they should. Pedro Feliz led the team in the category of batting average with runners in scoring position, and Carlos Ruiz is one of the most dangerous .250 hitters in all of baseball. Their defense is outstanding, and in Cliff Lee they, too, have an ace. True, their bullpen has been beaten up and a question mark, and, yes, doubts remain about Brad Lidge despite his good post-season to date and his looking more relaxed now than any time all year. Cole Hamels has had a disappointing year, and Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ haven't pitched great in the post-season. In contrast, Pedro Martinez wowed everyone with his effort against the Dodgers.

On paper, the Yankees might just rate a slight edge -- at least according to the pundits that cover baseball 365 days a year. But at this time of the year "on paper" doesn't mean very much. The Phillies have taken the past two plus weeks to show that 100% of baseball life is all about showing up -- under the bright lights, on the big stage -- and playing the game to the very end. The team has a lot of pluck, a lot of patience, and a lot of fight in it. It will take a great team to beat them.

Sure, I'm a partisan, and, yes, I'm picking the Phillies. But my reasoning is quite simple: they're the defending champions, and, by definition, because they've returned, they are the team to beat.


Anonymous Amy said...

I was rooting for the Dodgers, but Congratulations to the Phillies and I hope they win the world series.

1:31 PM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

It should be a good World Series. Both teams are tough, and both have vocal fan support.

5:26 PM  

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