Philadelphia Phillies: Whom to Fear In The National League?

Charlie O'ConnorCorrespondent IOctober 3, 2010

Philadelphia Phillies: Whom to Fear In The National League?

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    Almost a week ago, the Phillies wrapped up yet another playoff berth. For the fourth straight year, Philadelphia will get to witness October baseball.

    However, this season, it feels a bit different. For the first time, the Phillies appear to be entering the postseason with unquestionably the strongest roster in the National League.

    They have the best record in all of Major League Baseball, and have the highest run differential in the NL as well.

    Anticipation has turned into entitlement. This year, fans aren't just hoping for a World Series berth; they are expecting it.

    It is a dangerous attitude. While the Phillies have the best team on paper, a short series can result in upsets. A bad pitching performance, a few errors, or an offensive cold streak could cause the heavily-favored Phils to make an early exit.

    But it will be the opposition that will be most likely to derail the Phillies chances at another World Series.

    Each of the current NL playoff contenders could give the Phillies trouble in the postseason. While Philadelphia will be favored in each matchup, their opponents made the playoffs for a reason.

    So which teams have the best chance to defeat the Phillies in the National League playoffs?

4. Atlanta Braves

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    Why They Could Beat the Phillies

    The Braves led the National League East for most of the season, and have a very strong +108 run differential. They also are a fantastic home team, as their 55 home wins lead all of baseball. '

    Their one-two pitching punch of Tim Hudson and Tommy Hanson could easily help to steal a series.

     

    Why The Phillies Shouldn't Worry

    The Phillies are 5-0 vs. the Braves in September, including two wins on the road. Those two most recent wins occurred long after the Phillies clinched a postseason berth, with the Braves desperately attempting to nail down a playoff spot.

    If the Braves can't beat the Phillies' backups to get into the postseason, how do they have any chance to beat them in the actual playoffs?

    In addition, the Braves are not at full strength. Both Chipper Jones and Martin Prado will miss the postseason, if the Braves can even find a way to earn a spot. Jair Jurrjens is battling a knee injury as well.

    Atlanta is a mess right now, as they seem to be searching for a way to blow a playoff berth that was a near-certainty only a few weeks ago.

    If the Phillies met them in the playoffs (which could only happen in the NLCS), it would be an ideal matchup.

3. San Diego Padres

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    Why They Could Beat the Phillies

    The Padres have the best bullpen in baseball, with a league-leading 2.80 ERA. Mat Latos has been one of the league's best pitchers, with a devastating fastball-slider combo.

    They also may be the best fielding team in baseball, with a league leading 47.3 team UZR. The Padres are not a team that will beat themselves very often.

     

    Why the Phillies Shouldn't Worry

    They are 5-2 against the Padres this season, including a four-game sweep in San Diego that started the Padres on their September tailspin.

    Plus, the Padres are a terrible offensive team, ranked 23rd in baseball in OBP and 28th in slugging percentage.

    With the Phillies using their big three of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, the Padres' offensive shortcomings will be even more pronounced.

    Neither Jon Garland nor Clayton Richard have a K/BB ratio over 2.00. The best way to defeat the Phillies (or any high slugging team) is with high strikeout, low walk pitchers.

    The Padres' second and third best starting pitchers will not scare the Phillies.

2. San Francisco Giants

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    Why They Could Beat the Phillies

    Starting pitching. The Giants are the only team that will not be fazed by the Phillies' big three.

    Tim Lincecum is a two-time Cy Young winner and has regained his form in September, posting a 1.94 ERA. Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez have ERA in the low-3.00s, and will be tough to hit.

    Midseason addition Pat Burrell has added punch to the Giants offense, while callup Buster Posey is a legitimate rookie of the year candidate.

    They have third-best bullpen ERA in baseball, and closer Brian Wilson is one of the league's best.

    The Giants also field well, as they have the 3rd-best team UZR in MLB.

     

    Why The Phillies Shouldn't Worry

    Even with the additions of Posey and Burrell, this is not a great hitting team.

    The Giants are also entering the postseason with little momentum. Two straight losses to the Padres have the team on the verge of a play-in game.

    In that case, the Giants would be forced to burn one of their top starting pitchers, making it unlikely that the rotation would be set for the playoffs.

1. Cincinnati Reds

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    Why They Could Beat the Phillies

    The Reds are actually a better hitting team than the Phillies. They've scored more runs than Philadelphia (787-765), with a deep lineup led by MVP favorite Joey Votto.

    With the return of Edinson Volquez, the Reds actually have a solid rotation. Johnny Cueto is a developing ace, and Travis Wood is a solid, soft-tossing lefty. The Phillies have struggled against pitchers like Wood in the past.

    They also are a very good fielding team, ranking fourth in MLB in team UZR. And recent callup Aroldis Chapman adds impact talent to a decent bullpen.

     

    Why the Phillies Shouldn't Worry

    The Reds have struggled this season against winning teams, racking up most of their wins against poor competition. They are a combined 9-16 against the Phillies, Braves, Giants, and Padres.

    In other words, when they play against playoff teams, they lose.

    But on paper, the Reds appear to be the most complete potential opponent. They hit, pitch, and field well enough to be a threat.