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Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Why the Phillies Will Win the World Series -- Or Not?

Here are the reasons for (and against):

1. They have the best 1-2-3 rotation in baseball for the playoffs. In Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, they have three #1 starters, each of whom pitched great baseball during the last six weeks of the season. Counter: Halladay hasn't pitched in the post-season before (and C.C. Sabathia, an ace, had two bad post-seasons before his first good one -- last year -- with the Yankees), and the Braves hit Oswalt hard in his last start. Also, #4 starter Joe Blanton has pitched well lately, but overall had a rather dismal season.

2. They've been there before, and they're vying to be only the third NL team ever to go to three straight World Series. They have a lot to play for (win this one, and they're the best NL team since the Big Red Machine of the 1970's. Win this one, and they're close to being a dynasty). That counts for a lot. Counter: This is not the same team as 2008. First, they've been battered with injuries all year. Now, Placido Polanco has an iffy elbow that will require surgery after the year, Carlos Ruiz was hit by a pitch in the season finale and is sore, and Jimmy Rollins is recovering from a nagging hamstring injury. Also, stars Chase Utley and Ryan Howard didn't play full seasons. Finally, they're bullpen was lights out in 2008; it hasn't been lights out this season (even if it's better than 2009's).

3. They hit like an AL team. Counter: That was more true in '08 and '09. This year the injuries and some major droughts take them out of the "elite" status of offensive teams. They are potent, but they haven't been consistent. Still, there's not an "easy" out in the lineup. Sure, you can look at utility infielder Wilson Valdez's numbers and cry out that he's a weak hitter, but he's been clutch during the year. Also, watch Jayson Werth with men on base. He has good numbers overall, but he has been subpar with men on base.

4. They have their full lineup reasonably healthy. Counter: See my counter to #2. Yes, they'll all play, but some of them are banged up.

5. Brad Lidge is pitching much better than he did in 2009 (when his ERA was over 7). Counter: Yes, but he's still a heart attack waiting to happen at times, and your 92 year-old Aunt Nellie with the orthopedic shoes and pacemaker might have outpitched Lidge in 2009, so beware of your comparisons. He's not the elite closer he was in 2008, but he's better than he was in 2009.

6. Ryan Madson is one of the best set-up men in baseball. He faded a bit at the end of '09, because he was the only Phillies' reliver not to have spent time on the DL. This year he did 2 months on the DL because he kicked a chair, then he came back to pitch great baseball. If the starters can go 7 or 8, the Phillies should be in good shape. Counter: Lidge still follows him, and that should trouble Charlie Manuel and the Phillies.

7. The Phillies' bench was spectacular this year. Boy, was it. Lose all the players they lost to injuries for the durations they did and still have the best record in baseball, you have a very special team. Everyone seems to chip in, including some guys not on the roster now, such as 3B Cody Ransom, whose game-tying 3-run homer with 2 outs in the bottom of the ninth against the Reds in July helped fuel the Phillies' turnaround from a moribund team to an electric one. Contributions from guys like him, Ross Gload, Dane Sardinha, Wilson Valdez and others kept the Phillies within striking distance of the Braves until the big guys returned. Counter: Lefty PH Greg Dobbs' average flirts with the Mendoza Line, and he is a questionable choice as a PH because his average as a PH isn't Major League worthy. That's the only negative.

8. Charlie Manuel should be named Manager of the Year for what he did with this team this year, precisely because of all the injuries. He'll be ready to manage in the World Series, and he's got one under his belt (and you can count on Dusty Baker to make a goofball move or two during the post-season, as he has done it before). Counter: Pitchers need to pitch, hitters need to hit and players need to be healthy. Charlie's job gets much easier if all of those things happen, but give him a lot of credit -- he's a great skipper for this group of guys, and they would crash through walls for him.

9. They have a good "up the middle" defense with Carlos Ruiz, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino. These guys cover a lot of ground and make the plays. Counter: Rollins and Ruiz need to be healthy. Counter to the "counter": Back-up SS Wilson Valdez might have the best arm at SS in the NL, and he is excellent defensively.

10. Somehow, the rest of the Phillies' bullpen not named Lidge and Madson managed to get the job done. Counter: That's not exactly the most confident line of reasoning, is it? Chad Durbin, Antonio Bastardo, Jose Contreras, J.C. Romero and others aren't exactly awe-inspiring, but they just might have enough "oomph" to get the team home. Remember, when the Phillies played the Braves at CBP in the third week of September, the Braves dazzled stat head fans with how good each and every one of their relievers were. The problem was, their starters were iffy, and the Phillies hit the 'pen a bit. If the Phillies' starters can go deep into games, their bullpen can do just fine.

11. It feels like 2008 and not 2009 for the Phillies. Yes, it does, because a) the Phillies were on a tear in September, just like 2008, and b) Lidge is more like the 2008 Lidge than the 2009 version. Plus, in '09, the Yankees were clearly the team to beat; this year, the Phillies are. Counter: but didn't you write in '08 that you liked the Phillies's chances because they were flying under the radar screen? After all, the Dodgers were the NL favorites because they got Manny Ramirez before the trading deadline and he was on fire, the Cardinals had good pitching and Albert Pujols and the Brewers hadn't been there in a while and had obtained CC Sabathia for the home stretch. Few were giving the Phillies much of a chance. This year, they're in everyone's crosshairs. So, who are the Phillies of '08 now, so to speak, the team that few are paying attention to? In the NL, it's the Reds, isn't it, because the Braves' have Bobby Cox, the Giants have awesome pitching and the Phillies have been to 2 straight World Series. In the NL it's either Texas or Minnesota, precisely because neither plays in the same division with the Yankees.

Conclusion: That's why they play the games and simply don't anoint the team with the best record. The Phillies do have a good chance to win their second World Series in three years if a) the Big Three pitch as expected, b) they get on base and hit consistently enough, and c) the bullpen gives them a plus effort. Not too original, but true enough.

Play ball!


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