One year ago, the Philadelphia Phillies (93-69) found themselves in the exact same position that they are currently in right now. They had just defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS, and they were headed to the 2008 World Series. We all know how that turned out: The Phillies won the series against the Tampa Bay Rays 4 games to 1, and there was a massive parade in Philadelphia.
Phillies fans seem to sound like a broken record from last year, claiming that the Phillies will again be crowned the best team in baseball. But are the Phillies really in the same exact position as last year?
Acquiring Raúl Ibáñez from the Seattle Mariners added 93 RBI’s and 34 HR’s to Philadelphia’s offense, and the acquisition of Cliff Lee from the Cleveland Indians will go down as one of the most successful trades by the Phillies, without losing a major piece of their pitching staff. Lee, who has started 12 games for the Phillies is 7-4, with an ERA average of 3.39. In the post season, Lee is 2-0, and has only given up two runs, which came against the Rockies in the NLDS. Since then, he was the starting pitcher in the Phillies 11-0 shutout of the Dodgers, in which he allowed only three hits.
But with the success of Lee, came the inconsistent season of last year’s World Series MVP, Cole Hamels. Hamels was 10-11 during the regular season and he had an ERA of 4.32. In Philadelphia’s loss in the NLDS against the Colorado Rockies, Hamels gave up 4 runs and 7 hits. Hamels post-season ERA has risen to 6.97, as opposed to his 1.80 ERA from the post-season last year, where he was 4-0. In Hamels two appearances in the 2009 post-season, Hamels has given up 7 runs and 12 hits.
Although the Phillies are headed to a second straight World Series appearance, they will need Hamels to have a stronger command in his pitching to avoid base hits and easy scoring opportunities for the opposing team.
When it comes to the closer position in the Phillies bullpen, Brad Lidge seemed to have made a dramatic turn for the worst, and he is not the perfect closer of last season. This year, Lidge has converted on 31 of 42 save opportunities, and had an ERA of 7.21 during the regular season. Lidge clearly seemed to be losing confidence every time he approached the mound.
Apart from the 95% of the Phillies fans that had given up on Lidge, one man that still believed Lidge had what it took to close a game, was the Phillies manager, Charlie Manuel. When Manuel inserted Lidge to close out for the Phillies 10-3 victory over the Houston Astros, the same day that the Phillies clinched the NL East, it appeared that the “Lidge of Last Year” had made a sudden return. Since that game on September 30th, Lidge has been lights out, with a 0.00 ERA, and has not given up any runs in the post season.
Despite Lidge’s sudden success, unless the Phillies bullpen can keep teams from scoring, Lidge’s success will go unnoticed. In Game 2 of the NLCS against the Dodgers, the Phillies bullpen gave up 2 runs in the 8th, which caused the Phillies to lose their 1-0 game lead, and ultimately the game. In that lost, Manuel used four different pitchers in the 8th inning alone, showing the little confidence that the team has towards their bullpen.
The Phillies have had five errors in the post-season, two of which came from 2nd baseman, Chase Utley on long passes to 1st baseman, Ryan Howard. Carlos Ruiz has been an important part of Philadelphia’s defense and forced an out at 2nd base, after catching the Dodgers, Andre Ethier, trying to steal from 1st. Overall, Philadelphia’s defense and quick plays have been consistent, which is a major reason why the Phillies are in the World Series again.
On the offensive side for Philadelphia, Ryan Howard continues to be a home run hitting machine. In the post-season alone, Howard has hit 11 home runs and scored seven runs. He currently is the NL’s leader for RBI’s. Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, and Jayson Werth, have all contributed to the offensive success for the Philadelphia Phillies, and they will need to continue to produce runs if the Phillies want to defeat the New York Yankees in the World Series. Let’s face it, the Yankees are defeating the Angles and are making it to the World Series.
Philadelphia has beaten the Yankees two times this season at Yankee Stadium, with the only loss coming from a blown save by Lidge. As long as the Phillies continue to produce runs, and their bullpen does not surrender hits in close games, the Philadelphia Phillies have a legitimate chance of defending their title as World Series Champions. So, are the Phillies in the exact same position when they headed to the World Series against Tampa Bay? No, they’re a better team. The Phillies are more experienced, and have hit 10 more home runs this season, which is important to winning games in the World Series. Besides, this scene looks very familiar to many Phillies fans, who have already witnessed a happy ending. Who’s to say the Philies can’t win the World series back-to-back?
I’m guessing A-Rod and CC Sabathia will have something to say about that.
My Take: Phillies will win the World Series in 6. They have already faced Sabathia in the post-season, (Who can forget that Victorino Grand Slam in Game 2 of the 2008 NLDS) and with Lidge returning to the closer of last year, the Phillies should not have any more blown saves for the remainder of the post-season.