Sep 032010

Phillies ace Roy Halladay

September 3 Philadelphia Daily News columnist Paul Hagen

“YEARS AGO, somebody suggested that the San Francisco Giants should replace the playing surface at Candlestick Park with paper. Punch line: Because the Giants always look better on paper.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel has been preaching all year that nothing happens automatically, that all the talent in the world doesn’t matter if All-Stars don’t play up to their press clippings. And he’s absolutely right. If you don’t believe it, take a glance at St. Louis where a Cardinals team that boasts three of the best starting pitchers in baseball (Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia) and the lethal bats of Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday has somehow contrived to lose 13 of its last 17.

On paper, though . . .

The road to the World Series might just wind through Citizens Bank Park once again.

Yeah, yeah, the Phillies have the fourth-best record in the league. And, yeah, this is a team that showed plenty of vulnerability while being swept in a four-game series at home by the out-of-contention Astros last week. The Happless Phils have rarely looked so hapless, batting just .217 in the series and going 3-for-23 with runners in scoring position.

The thing is, the next four games were even worse. They batted .137 . . . and won three of four at San Diego and Los Angeles.

So that’s the first point. Even in going to the World Series the past 2 years, this team has never been especially good in low-scoring games. In 2008 and 2009, they won a total of 22 games when scoring three runs or less. This season: 18 already.

That becomes even more crucial in the postseason where teams never face a fifth starter and only face a No. 4 on occasions when it’s absolutely unavoidable. Which leads to point No. 2.

Roy Halladay. Cole Hamels. Roy Oswalt. That sort of says it all. Starting pitching is always the key once the playoffs begin.

The final point is offense. Even with terrific pitching, teams still have to score some runs to win.

It remains the opinion from this comfortable repose under a spreading shade tree, ice tinkling gently in the lemonade glass, that Chase Utley and Ryan Howard could have used longer rehab stints. Probably Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino, too.

It seems nonsensical to use real games that count in the standings to rediscover an eye and timing that have grown rusty while on the disabled list. That, after all, is what rehabs are for.”

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