Oct 062010
Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz celebrate

Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz celebrate

by Mike Prince, Sportswriter:

Rewind back in the beginning of July. Did anyone really think we would be where we are right now? Did anyone think we would be getting ready to sit down and watch our team – the team with the best record in baseball – host game one of the National League Division Series at Citizens Bank Park? Did anyone think our favorite team would be the odds-on favorite to not only advance to the World Series, but to win it all.

It wasn’t that long ago that the Phillies were seven games out of first place. Jayson Werth was struggling as much as he ever has since he came to Philadelphia. Chase Utley was out of the lineup with an injury. Jimmy Rollins was finally back from multiple injuries, but was still struggling. Brad Lidge was blowing saves like it was 2009 again and well, everyone was struggling. The Phillies were were doing so poorly, that it’s almost unfair to single out any single player.

Even by the middle of August, the opening day starting lineup had only played together eight times during the entire season. The Phillies had seven players go on the disabled list. Ryan Howard missed a month, Utley missed two months, Rollins missed plenty of time and even Carlos Ruiz, Shane Victorino and Placido Polanco had all missed significant time on the DL.

But, as it has been for the past four seasons, there is just something about this Philadelphia Phillies team. And as the cliché says – You can never count this team out.

Fast-forward to today. It’s Wednesday, October 6, and the path to winning the World Series and holding another parade begins now. Notice, I didn’t say the path to the Pennant. Winning the National League will bring some fine memories and so will playing in the World Series, but if the Phillies don’t win it all, everything falls by the wayside. The Phillies lost in the October Classic just last year and that’s not something they, nor the fans, want to experience again.

This team is just too good to fall short.

Sure, there are the side stories. It’s Roy Halladay’s 13th season in Major League Baseball and Wednesday will be the first time he ever pitches in a postseason game. It’s Mike Sweeney’s 16th season in the Bigs, and while he may not be starting, this will be the first time the five-time All Star and veteran will be part of a playoff roster.

But even Halladay and Sweeney will brush those stories aside and realize the truth: The Phillies are the best all-around team in the 2010 postseason.

At the end of July, when the Phillies traded for Roy Oswalt, they solidified themselves as having the top rotation in the game. It certainly didn’t hurt that Cole Hamels – a number-one pitcher just last year who followed his World Series MVP performance in 2008 with a below-average season – has pitched well enough to be a top pitcher on any team in baseball for nearly the entire season. And the scary thing for opposing teams is that Hamels, who finished the season with an ERA of only 3.06, is this team’s third starter.

Halladay, Hamels and Oswalt. Is there a team that can force these three pitchers to lose three or four games combined in one series? Howard, Utley, Werth, Ibanez, Rollins, Victorino, Ruiz, Polanco. Is there a team that has pitchers good enough to shut down all of these players on offense?

More importantly, is there a team that can do both? Even if a pitcher can shut down the Phillies offense for seven or eight innings, what are the chances that Halladay or Oswalt don’t do the exact the same thing and go pitch-for-pitch with any starter they face?

This Phillies team has been there. For the fourth consecutive season, they will be hosting an NLDS at Citizens Bank Park. For the last two seasons, Philadelphia has won the NL Pennant and in 2008, it won the World Championship. This team has all the postseason experience it needs. And if anyone wants to look at the amount of pressure that comes with being the favorite to win the World Series, then just look at how this team has dealt with adversity and pressure over the past few seasons.

This team thrives on pressure. From winning the city’s first championship in 25 years in 2008 to winning 49 of their final 68 games in 2010 and not only coming all the way back to win the division, but to run away with the best record in the National League, the Phillies win and play their best baseball when the pressure is on them the most.

While some analysts and fans of opposing teams may bring up the fact that Halladay has never pitched in the postseason and bring it up as a cause for concern for Charlie Manuel’s team, I, as well as most Phillies fans absolutely have to pose the question, “Just how much better can Halladay pitch now that he’s finally in the playoffs?”

So, all that’s left to do is play the games, right? No big deal. It’s been a long time since Philadelphia fans have been disappointed by their baseball team in a National League playoff series. It sounds strange, though, doesn’t it? What, with the Phillies being the losingest team in all of sports and only winning one World Series prior to 2008 dating all the way back to 1883.

But this is a different era of Phillies baseball, and they aren’t going to let Joey Votto get in the way of advancing to a third consecutive Fall Classic.

Phillies vs. Reds, NLDS

Game 1: Roy Halladay (21-10, 2.44 ERA) vs. Edinson Volquez (4-3, 4.31 ERA)
Game 2: Roy Oswalt (13-13, 2.76 ERA*) vs. Bronson arroyo (17-10, 3.88 ERA)
Game 3: Johnny Cueto (12-7, 3.64 ERA) vs. Cole Hamels (12-11, 3.06 ERA)

While I believe that the Phillies’ rotation – which is the best in Major League Baseball – is good enough to and may even sweep the Reds, I don’t believe the Reds will go down without a fight. With their backs against the wall, and while playing in their home ballpark, I can see the Reds and their offense pulling out a win in game three over Cole Hamels and the Phillies. Johnny Cueto, who will take the mound for Cincinnati in game 3, pitched well against Philadelphia this season. In two games against the Phillies, Cueto went 1-0 with an ERA of only 1.20, while allowing just 10 hits and two earned runs in 15 innings of work. While I would choose Hamels over Cueto if I had to choose one pitcher to go in any given game, I don’t think the Reds allow themselves to get swept so easily. A sweep wouldn’t surprise me in the least bit, but if the Phillies do end up dropping one of the first three games, then I like Halladay to come back on his normal rest (thanks to MLB scheduling days off in between games 1 and 2 and 3) and shut down the Reds. Phillies in 4.

In the other National League series, I like San Francisco’s pitching staff to absolutely shut down an undeserving Braves team that snuck into the playoffs and allow the Giants to win their series in no more than four games.

The Giants should be a tougher opponent for the Phillies, but as Philadelphia has done in five of its last six playoff series, I like the Phillies to beat San Francisco in five games en route to their third consecutive National League Pennant and World Series appearance.

As for the American League, Minnesota fans can look at the Twins’ record without Justin Morneau and see that it’s better than it is with the All-Star in the lineup, but his presence will be missed and I like the Yankees to win their series in the maximum five games, while I like the Rays to beat the Texas Rangers in four games. If all goes according to plan, I predict the Yankees beat the Rays in a tough, long seven-game series.

Other than the obvious importance of pitching, if defense and timely hitting are the keys to winning in the postseason (Oh, hey, “Chooch”), then the Phillies should be the favorites to win the World Series over any team that comes out of the American League. For these reasons, I believe Philadelphia will be celebrating its second World Series championship in three seasons. If the Phillies end up facing the Yankees for the second straight year, I believe the series will go at least six games – as Yankee Stadium in October is a tough place to play – but it will be tough for a team to make the Phillies believe they aren’t the best team in Major League Baseball.

Phillies in six.”

And finally, let the champagne and the tears flow and let the party begin, as the invisible script comes to a conclusion, with the best team finishing on top yet again.

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Mike Prince writes for PSC, the Montgomery News and on his Blog.  You can also Follow him on Twitter.

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