A big Game 5 win is behind the Phillies and they now have today to catch their breaths and prepare for what is still an uphill climb to another title. From the very start of this postseason, there have been two big questions with the Phils: how will they use their starting pitchers? And, is the bullpen good enough? So, it’s fitting that, with a maximum of two games left, those are still the questions that need to be answered.
The good news is that if they can pull this off, if they can go into Yankee Stadium and win Games 6 and 7 of the World Series, their legacy will be written in stone. They will go down as one of the most clutch teams in the history of the sport. And Charlie Manuel, given the magic act he’s had to perform with his pitching staff, will have done as much as any manager I’ve ever seen to earn a championship. This is the opportunity the team is faced with in the next couple of days and, knowing this team, I’m guessing they couldn’t be happier about it. Teams like this aren’t just “not afraid” of pressure-packed situations, they look forward to them and thrive in them.
That being said, this sport comes down to getting people out, and it will be endlessly interesting to see how the Phillies go about getting the 54 outs that they’ll need to win the next two games. The one thing we know for sure is that Pedro Martinez will get the ball to start Game 6. He’s looked great in his two postseason starts so far, and I don’t see any reason why we can’t expect another solid outing. Also, I don’t see any reason why we can’t expect the Phils to put up some runs on Andy Pettitte. He didn’t shut them down in Game 3 (6 innings, 4 runs) and he’ll be going on three days rest, for the first time in three years, at the age of 37 (and sans steroids, let’s just add).
But what does Charlie do in the late-innings of a close game? Is it time, in Game 6 of the World Series, for a major overhaul of the bullpen? I have very little confidence right now in Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson. Chan Ho Park and Chad Durbin have looked better than them in the last few weeks, but do you decide to throw one of them out there in the 8th or 9th inning of a one-run game in Yankee Stadium? I really don’t know. One thing I do know, though, is that Charlie needs to go back to using Scott Eyre. Eyre definitely should have started the 9th inning last night (with Posada and Matsui coming up) and he definitely should have finished it (with Damon batting, after Madson had nearly imploded). The Yankees got two pretty big hits by left-handed hitters, while Eyre sat and watched in the pen. Why? Either way, Charlie will have some very tough decisions to make if the Phils have a small lead in the late-innings tomorrow night.
Of course, the final big question surrounding Phillie pitching is who would get the Game 7 start. Now, I’m not going to jump in on the Cole Hamels psycho-analysis. Let’s just say that everything I said in the second paragraph about “teams like this”, simply don’t apply to Hamels. And so, yes, it’s pretty scary to imagine handing him the ball in Game 7 in Yankee Stadium. The only alternative, J.A. Happ, is a rookie, who would be making his first start in weeks, and would be doing it in the most pressure-packed situation possible. But, Happ did pitch well in Yankee Stadium in May (6 innings, 2 runs) and, is he really that much bigger of a question mark than Hamels at this point? It would be a tough call, and I have to think Charlie would go with Hamels, but if the Phils can pull off a win on Wednesday, we’ll just have to wait and see what they do.
The good news for Phillie fans: Chase Utley and Jayson Werth are red-hot. Jimmy Rollins is starting to get on-base. Shane Victorino should benefit from the day of rest today after the injury to his hand. And, oh yeah, you’re two wins away from a world championship!