Make no doubt about it, folks. The Yankees were the better team. They had three reliable workhorses who left little to guesswork.
They synchronized timely hitting with flashes of power. And, much like the Phillies did last year, had the luxury of summoning an absolute stopper to put the game away.
Back-to-back National League titles is no simple accomplishment. Completing such a feat required every ounce of grit this Phillies team had.
While the Phillies had very little trouble dispatching those two stoutly built teams, the Yankees were not only more talented than the Phil’s previous challengers, but more intelligent.
Every single weakness was exploited.
The lack of a DH. The breaking balls down and away that Ryan Howard just couldn’t lay off. The bullpen no more stable than a ticking time-bomb.
All of it was exposed. All of it was revealed. The 10 scouts that watched this team in the NLCS compiled the perfect blueprint to take this giant down.
And thus, today begins the march to next year. This is not a team that was built to win now and flounder. This is not a team that was built on career years.
In fact, it may be quite the opposite. Cole Hamels was awful this year. There’s no way around that. He flashed very little of the form that made him a household name just one year ago.
Brad Lidge’s most recent meltdown carried all the way over into Game Four of this series. Chase Utley started the season with a questionable hip. After a blazing start, Raul Ibanez settled into approximately his career norms.
Jimmy Rollins was one of the least productive players in baseball for three months. Yet despite all these shortcomings, the Phils still comfortably won the NL East and cruised through their foremost competition in the NL playoffs.
Considering those circumstances, the fact the Phillies even stretched the Yankees to six games is incredible.
But nonetheless, this team has weaknesses. The most glaring hole in this team is in the bullpen. Many a win was lost in the back-end of a formerly lock-down bullpen.
Does Phillies’ GM Ruben Amaro address the closing situation? How much longer can Charlie answer questions about who his closer will be? Aside from Ryan Madson — who wasn’t even close to good this year — who did you ever feel comfortable with out of the ‘pen? Chan Ho Park, maybe?
J.C. Romero, who missed nearly the entire season due to a 50 game suspension and then an injury, will provide a boost to the ‘pen. But where else will they find help?
The starting pitching, which at the trade deadline looked to be phenomenal, now also faces questions.
Cliff Lee will undoubtedly be back next year after the Phils pick up his option. Cole Hamels, like it or not, will be the No. 2 starter, hopefully with a reliable third pitch. Right now, Joe Blanton will settle in as the No. 3. After that, who’s throwing?
Will Pedro return? We could have seen the last of Jamie Moyer this year. What about potential R.O.Y., J.A. Happ? Could blue-chip prospect Kyle Drabek pitch his way into the rotation?
This will be an interesting situation to monitor over the next three moths leading up to spring training.
The lineup is pretty much set. The only position that might be upgraded, or at least looked at, is third base. The Phillies have to decide whether Pedro Feliz is the best option there. He's by no means even a decent hitter. But that’s not what he’s there for.
The Phillies basically concede sports two spots in the order in return for a solid defense. A sound decision in my estimation, but it might be something Amaro addresses with perhaps a more reliable option than Greg Dobbs or Eric Bruntlett.
Which brings us to the bench. This has been a glaring weakness all year for the Fightins. The likes of Miguel Cairo, Eric Bruntlett, and Matt Stairs simply are not good enough.
Ben Francisco was a welcome addition to this group, but he alone is not enough. They need another right-handed bat off the bench. They need a better utility player than Bruntlett or Cairo.
They need to be aggressive. Complacency cannot set in. Ruben must not be happy with what he is.
Constant improvement with sustained continuity will bring more success. Last offseason, the Phillies seamlessly plugged Ibanez in for the castoff Pat Burrell in LF and a move that paid dividends in spades.
There needs to be that type of aggression again. There needs to be a sense of urgency.
We’ve had a taste of what it feels like to win. Now it's time for more.
What’s needed is not an overhaul, but a fine-tuning. With a few soundly calculated moves, this team could find itself another advantageous position entering October.
What a run it's been over the past two seasons. It's a run the likes of which Philadelphia has rarely seen. But let's not be satisfied. Let's not be happy.
This could be the greatest era in Phillies history. Enjoy it. But don't settle.
Few franchises ever have this opportunity. Embrace it.
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