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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Thoughts on the Phillies-Giants: That's Why They Play the Games

Many observations, as follows:

1. The Giants' starting pitching is that good. Phillies' fans hoped last season that the Giants wouldn't make the playoffs because no one wanted to face Lincecum, Cain and Company. Sure, the Phillies are slumping, but some pretty good pitchers are making them miss.

2. Buster Posey has a very bright future (and more upside by far than any Phillies' position player, as most of them are older than 30). It's rare when such a dynamic and influential rookie comes along, but Posey is tremendous.

3. Post-season series are full of the Bucky Dents of the world, and this year's version is Cody Ross (who killed the Phillies when he was with the Marlins).

4. How sweet must the revenge be for Pat Burrell and Aaron Rowand? Three years ago, the Phillies had four outfielders, and it was obvious that the gritty Rowand would command (way) too much on the free-agent market (he got 5 years at $12 million per), so the Phillies let him go to make room for (a cheaper and faster) Shane Victorino. Burrell slumped pretty badly during large portions of the 2007 and 2008 season, and despite fans' frustrations drew praise for the way he handled himself when he knew he wouldn't return. Tampa Bay signed him to a 2-year, $16 million deal (before the recession of '08 hit, he thought he'd get more), but he wasn't fully healthy in Tampa and struggled mightily. Tampa Bay put him on the scrap heap at mid-season, and some thought he might be done. Instead, he sucked it up, went to AAA Fresno to show the Giants he still could play the outfield, and he's contributed mightily to the Giants' cause. And, to top it off, he's contributed more than the older player the Phillies replaced him with, Raul Ibanez.

5. Phillies' fans love Charlie Manuel, but last night he managed more like the guy who couldn't get the team to the World Series in the 1970's (Danny Ozark) than the Charlie Manuel of most recent memory. Why? For a few reasons. First, he elected to start Joe Blanton, who hadn't pitched in almost 3 weeks, instead of Roy Halladay on three days' rest. So what does Blanton do? He throws two wild pitches in the first inning to set up the Giants' first run when he only threw two wild pitches all season (in 175 2/3 innings). Then, he cannot go five innings, exposing the Phillies' bullpen. Compounding that issue was the fact that he pitched a fair-to-middling reliever -- Chad Durbin -- much more than a reliever who had a very good season -- Jose Contreras. Durbin was awful, and that decision cost the Phillies. Then, Manuel opted to warm up and use Roy Oswalt, which had many Phillies' fans livid, if for no other reason than if this were such an important game to go to such a big guy like Oswalt in relief on very short rest, why didn't Manuel start Halladay on short rest to begin with? Atop that, third-base coach Sam Perlozzo almost killed a rally by sending Carlos Ruiz on a not long enough single to center (indicating that the 3B coach had no faith that the next hitter, Chase Utley, would get on base -- which Utley did). Okay, so Manuel isn't Perlozzo, but he could have bunted a struggling Jimmy Rollins in the sixth with no outs and Jayson Werth on second to advance Werth, and he failed to do so. In contrast, Giants' skipper Bruce Bochy continues to manage like Merlin, moving players around, double-switching, substituting, as though he has an old car trying to win one more race and he'll borrow parts and fuel to get the car around the track one more time. Charlie is an excellent manager, but Bochy is outpointing him in this series.

6. If you had told me that the oft-injured, battered Phillies team of July would a) have the best record in baseball and b) get to the NLCS, I would have asked for some of what you were on and taken a large dose, and, yes, settled for that. That's true, and I think that most Phillies' fans would agree. That said, the way the Phillies have played dishonors the noble efforts of the late summer and September. They are pressing, lurching and struggling. True, the Giants don't want to go back to Philadelphia for a sixth game, but you'd rather be the Giants right now than the Phillies.

7. Do injured players continued to get injured once they've shown that they have had a tendency to get injured, and, do they get more injured as they age? If so, the Phillies will have some real (future) concerns with their lineup, as everyone is 30 or older, and many have been hurt for significant periods of time (Utley, Rollins, Victorino) in more than one season. Put differently, the Phillies will not be able to count on this lineup's staying healthy for 140+ games a season. But that's next year's problem. Tonight's is figuring out a way to beat Tim Lincecum. If they can hit Lincecum around a bit, then perhaps they'll shatter the Giants' well-developed and rightfully confident outer shell, and then anything can happen in Philadelphia. But right now the favorites look tired and the underdogs look like the favorites, and, yes, that's why they play the games.

Kudos to the Giants for not listening to the pundits and battling each game like there's no tomorrow. Some Phillies' fans are questioning whether the team got "dumb, fat and happy" after the success of the past four regular seasons, and I don't think that's the case. It's a team that probably peaked too early, a team that has gaps in the ways it hits, a team whose catalysts are not at full strength, and a team with gaps in its bullpen. That's the thing with some thoroughbreds -- they need the right track with the right conditions to win. In contrast, the Giants seem to be able to win anywhere -- with many fewer thoroughbreds in their stable.


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