So, the Phillies are playoff-bound for the second consecutive year and for just the third time in the last 25 years. The question now is: will this year’s trip resemble 1993, when the team thrilled the whole city and came within spitting distance of a title, or last year’s version, when they went down in a ball of flames without winning a single game? Or will it be somewhere in between?
Obviously, this team isn’t all that different from last year’s, but there’s plenty of reason to believe the outcome will be different and they can make a push for the pennant. The main difference is the first-round opponent. Last year, the Rockies claimed the wild-card spot in a one-game playoff and came into the NLDS having won something like 20 of 21 games. They went on to sweep the NLCS before finally being subdued by the Red Sox in the World Series. It was a classic case of a team being on a hot streak at the right time, and the Phillies just happened to be in their path. That is not the case this year.
The ups and downs of this Brewers team have been well-documented, culminating in the dismissal of manager Ned Yost just two weeks ago. It was the quintessential example of a franchise hitting the panic button, and apparently it paid off, as the Brewers outlasted those Amazin’ Mets in an epic choke-off (the Mets specialty, of course). The Phillies, as opposed to last year, got a huge break when the Brewers won the wild-card, because the Dodgers have been the hot team in the NL this September, and they would’ve been a much more imposing opponent.
I’ve watched the Brewers a lot this season, and they’re really just not that impressive. They have three great players: C.C. Sabathia, Ryan Braun, and Prince Fielder. With Ben Sheets injured, there’s really not much else on the team that scares you. Their bullpen is horrible, and they are not deep in position players or starting pitching. That being said, Sabathia figures to pitch two games in this series (Game 2 on three days rest, and Game 5, if necessary, next Tuesday), and that makes the series anything but a foregone conclusion. On the other hand, the Brewers starters in the other three games will be question marks. They will pick from among Jeff Suppan (a hero of the 2006 Cardinals team, but he’s been unimpressive since then), Dave Bush (a Conestoga High grad and acquaintance of Bry’s), Yovani Gallardo (a very talented 22-year-old that pitched last week for the first time in almost five months), Manny Parra (a lefty that really struggled over the past month), and Seth McClung (who was just put into the rotation when Dale Sveum took over as manager). Honestly, all of those guys are decent, but they’re also guys that this Phillies line-up should score some runs against.
The other main reason for optimism is the improved situation of the Phillies pitching staff. The bullpen is deeper than it was last year, and it has one of the premier closers in baseball in Brad Lidge, who didn’t blow a save all season. If there’s one key player for the Phillies in this postseason, I think it’s Brett Myers. He was lights-out for almost the entire second-half of the season, but his last two starts were ugly. If he can resemble the pitcher he was in July and August, the Phillies have what it takes to win a series against any team in baseball. Along with a legitimate ace in Cole Hamels and the dependable Jamie Moyer (who has been much better this year than last), the starting pitching could be more than enough to pick up wins, especially if Ryan Howard keeps mashing home runs. Also, I think the Phillies should go with Myers in Game 2, mainly because he has pitched much better this season at home, while Moyer has been better on the road.
So, for my prediction, I’ll go with the Phillies in four games. I’ll give the Brewers a win in the Game 2 Sabathia-Myers matchup, then the Phils take both in Milwaukee, and Hamels is ready again for a Game 1 start in the NLCS. Look for the Phils to go with Joe Blanton in Game 4 if they’re up 2-1, but it will probably be Hamels if they’re facing elimination. I’ll be rooting for the Dodgers in the other series, because, as hot as they’ve been, I still would love to see the Cubs out of the way because they are definitely the class of the league.