Friday 16 September 2011

Playoff Primer- Philadelphia Phillies

Crazy old me suggested at the start of the year that Atlanta would win the NL East, and that Philly would be fighting for a wild card.  I must be going CRAAAAAAAZZZZYYYYYYYYY.  No seriously, I actually thought that Philly's offense would be bad enough that it would undo pretty much all the amazing that the rotation did, and that there was enough parity in playing 100 1-run games that it's tough to give them enough wins in what was supposed to be a halfway decent division.  Give it another year I guess.

The Phillies have definitely emerged as the class of the National League, though that whole thing is just a complete joke beyond a couple of teams really (more on that when other primers come along *cough but also say 'Milwaukee' at the same time*).  The offense, while below average, has been good enough to accumulate a run or two per game, which is typically plenty for quasi-human pitchers like Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee.  Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt are both plenty good as well, though this has certainly been an off-year for Oswalt.  He's still miles better than any other #4 pitcher in baseball.  Beyond that, Vance Worley has been an excellent #5.  Beyond that, the bullpen has been pretty good as well, with guys like Antonio Bastardo coming from mediocrity to become a bullpen ace.

The fact that most playoff teams will carry a longer bullpen in exchange for 3 or 4-man rotations is a massive advantage to a team like Philly.  Between Halladay, Lee and Cole Hamels, the Phillies have a front three that will eat up a shitload of innings, giving the Phillies a chance to send out an ace every single game, and even if the need to use Worley or Oswalt arises, they have legitimate pitchers going out there.  Compare this with, say, the Red Sox, who have Jon Lester, and then a bunch of question marks.  Boston doesn't have the depth without Clay Buchholz in the rotation, especially if Josh Beckett isn't 100% healthy.  The way the schedule is going to work, offdays are only on travel days, and thus, Boston will probably need to use a 4-man rotation since the only real robot there is Lester.  As result, we're going to see at least one of Erik Bedard, John Lackey, Tim Wakefield, Andrew Miller or Kyle Wieland make a start in the first round, and against a better offense than whoever the Phillies play.  Philly can probably get away with throwing Halladay-Lee-Hamels in the first three games, and if they don't sweep away whoever they play, Halladay and Lee probably have the ability to throw in games 4 and 5 if needed.

The obvious chink in the armor of the Phillies is their offense.  Beyond Shane Victorino, nothing is really a sure thing.  Utley is great, but he's only played 90 games this year.  Howard is good, but is also probably the most overrated baseball player of our time, and Jimmy Rollins is worse, and almost as overrated.  Left and right fields and third base are essentially a revolving door of replacement level players.

Basically, this is going to come down to the pitching.  If the rotation can crush as they have all season, and I'm sure they can, than the slightly-below-league-average offense can get away with scoring 2 or 3 runs a game and still be successful.  Fortunately for them, the Phillies are going to face either Arizona or Milwaukee in the first round, and either should be a cakewalk.  I certainly see Philadelphia winning the pennant without a ton of fanfare.