Philadelphia Phillies Beware: Starting Pitching Alone Doesn't Win in Postseason
The 2010 Phillies beat out the 2010 Atlanta Braves for the NL East title. But in the postseason, Philly will have to beat the ghosts of the 1991-2005 Atlanta Braves. What? Well, hopefully it’ll make more sense by the end of this slideshow.
Right now, the Phillies have their own “Big Three,” and with it, a great chance to win their second World Series in three years.
But if the 2010 Phils fail to go all the way this October, they might forever be haunted by the apparitions of all those rotation-rich Braves teams who seemed “built for the postseason,” but still fell short.
As expected, Atlanta usually got very good starting pitching in the playoffs during those years, but were repeatedly undone by a weak offense and a poor bullpen.
Sure, the 2010 Phils have a great rotation, but what about the other aspects of their team? Do they really have what it takes to win it all?
Trying To Keep a Level Head (Advice From The Author)
The Phillies are the clear front-runners to win the NL, and ultimately, their second World Series in three years. This team isn't perfect, but it's most likely the least-flawed team in baseball right now.
On paper, there's no team out there that should be able to beat the Phillies in a postseason series. But if baseball were played on paper, then, well, those Atlanta Braves would probably have won about nine World Series in the last 20 years.
Bottom line: Don't take ANYTHING for granted in the postseason. ANYTHING.
Plus, not assuming the Phillies will win the World Series this October will probably make you even happier when they actually do win it...
2010 Phillies: Do You Really Trust Their Back End?
Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge have been spectacular since the end of July, a main reason for the Phillies’ late-season surge.
Madson has remained incredibly sharp even while pitching seemingly every night. I’m not worried about him.
Lidge has been equally great over the last six weeks, but I’m not entirely sold. Not after last year (granted, he was hurt).
Lidge proved himself during the regular season. Now he needs to keep it going in October. Maybe I'm just a little stubborn, but I won’t totally trust him until the split second he nails down a postseason save…on the road.
2010 Phillies: Do You Really Trust Their Offense?
On paper, the 2010 Phillies have the best lineup in baseball.
But as everyone knows, there have been times this season when the Phils have slept-walked through inexplicably prolonged spells of offensive stagnancy (partially due to injuries).
Yes, the offense has been effective in the past two months, especially in September. But still, they've have the good fortune of facing a seemingly inordinate amount of flat-out poor or unproven starting pitchers in the past four weeks.
The Mets' R.A. Dickey and Mike Pelfrey have been the top-of-the-line since early September.
Unfortunately, the Phils aren’t gonna be goin’ to war against Jason Marquis or Andrew Miller in the playoffs.
True, postseason baseball tends to be low-scoring, but I'm not totally confident this team can consistently put up even three runs against the opposition’s playoff starter.
Could I see the Phillies losing a few playoff games by scores of 3-2 or 4-3? You bet.
2010 Phillies: Do You Really Trust Their Middle Relief?
Pitch counts often become more of a factor in the playoffs than in the regular season since the better teams always have more disciplined hitters.
So, what happens if one of the Phillies’ starting pitchers can only go five or six innings?
Middle relief is usually the soft underbelly of every team, and the reigning two-time NL champs should be no exception.
I have faith in righties Jose Contreras and Chad Durbin, but at some point Charlie Manuel is going to need someone to pitch to a left-handed hitter in a big spot.
Can Manuel really trust veteran J.C. Romero or youngster Antonio Bastardo? Both hurlers have been erratic this season. Will Charlie Manuel choose Ryan Madson, whose numbers against lefties have been excellent all year? He might have to.
Not having a dependable lefty could really come back to bite the Phillies.
1991-2005 Atlanta Braves: What Went Wrong?
Now let's turn our full attention to the Bravos. It’s difficult to comprehend how a team could turn 14 consecutive division titles into just one World Series championship. Somehow, Atlanta managed to do it.
The Braves always had a bunch of effective starters such as Denny Neagle, Kevin Millwood, and Mike Hampton.
Still, the majority of those Atlanta rotations were ruled by the future Hall of Fame trio of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz. In the playoffs, those guys were money-in-the-bank, right?
Well, Atlanta’s “Big Three” typically delivered in the postseason, but never actually recorded as many wins as it could have due to repeated bullpen disasters and a constant lack of run support.
Maddux went 11-13 with a 2.81 ERA in 27 playoff starts in Atlanta.
Glavine was 12-15 with a 3.44 ERA in 33 starts.
Smoltz went 12-4 with a 3.02 ERA in 27 starts (always a big-game pitcher).
So how specifically did the Braves manage to squander their starting pitching edge in the playoffs year after year after year? Let’s take a look back at a few playoff runs gone awry and get an idea...
Braves Postseason Busts (Part 1)
In 1991, the Braves lost the World Series to Minnesota, 4-3, as they dropped the final two games in Minneapolis. Twins’ starter Jack Morris hurled a 10-inning complete game shutout in Game 7, a 1-0 Twins win.
Overall, the Braves scored just seven runs in their four losses, and were held scoreless in the series’ final 13 frames.
In 1992, Atlanta lost the Fall Classic again, this time to the Blue Jays, 4-2. The Braves scored just 10 total runs in their four losses, while their bullpen failed to protect a 4-2 eighth-inning lead in Game 2, resulting in an eventual Blue Jay win.
1993 NLCS: “America’s Team” Vs. “America’s Most Wanted”
“Mitchy Poo,” as Harry would say, never looked better.
Remember those unbeatable 1993 Braves? Well, no one does now. And why would anyone?
The two-time defending NL Champion Bravos won a franchise-record 104 games thanks to a remarkable 55-19 record after the All-Star Break. They were a machine that entered the postseason with all kinds of momentum, while the Phillies had more or less been in second gear since July.
Despite all that, the Braves fell apart against Philly.
Atlanta didn’t lose the NLCS, 4-2, because the Phillies pounded Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, and Steve Avery. Oh no.
They lost because their offense couldn’t do squat against Curt Schilling, Tommy Greene, and Danny Jackson. Their bullpen lost a pair of games, too.
Braves Postseason Busts (Part 3)
After Atlanta won the World Series in the strike-shortened ’95 campaign, the Braves appeared poised for a repeat after winning the first two games of the 1996 Series in New York.
That was when the Yankees won four straight, Including three in Atlanta. Bummer.
The series turning-point came in Game 4, as the Yankees rallied to win 8-6 in 10 innings after trailing 6-0. The Yanks’ backup catcher Jim Leyritz cracked a game-tying three-run homer off Mark Wohlers in the eighth that officially turned the tide of the series.
The Atlanta offense managed just two runs in the final 23 innings of the Fall Classic.
In 1998, the Braves won a franchise-record 106 games during the season, but were upset by the Padres in the NLCS, 4-2.
Smoltz gave up two runs in seven innings in Game 1, Glavine gave up one run in six innings in Game 2, and Maddux gave up two runs in five innings in Game 3. The Braves lost each of those first three games, and each of their starting pitchers absorbed the loss.
Braves Postseason Busts (Part 4)
By now, you're clearly noticing a trend here...
In 1999, the Braves were once again beaten by the Yankees in the World Series. This time they were swept, 4-0, losing Game 1 and Game 2 at Turner Field while scoring a grand total of one run in the first 17 innings.
In 2003, Atlanta scored an NL-high 907 runs during the season, but still lost to the Cubs in the NLDS as they managed just four total runs in the three losses.
In 2005, Houston tagged the Braves' suspect bullpen for five runs in Game 1, and four runs in Game 3. In Game 4, Atlanta’s bullpen squandered a 6-2 eighth-inning lead, as the Braves eventually lost on Chris Burke’s game-winning homer in the 18th inning.
The loss to the 'Stros in 2005 marked the fifth time in six years that Atlanta had been eliminated in the first round of the postseason.
So What’s It All Mean?
Yes, a team needs good starting pitching in order to win in the playoffs. It’s essential. But that’s not the only thing it needs.
If the 2010 Phillies support their phenomenal three-man rotation with sufficient hitting and bullpen-work in October, they’ll end up as world champions.
But if the 2010 Phillies rely solely on their “Big Three” to bring home another title, they’ll end up like all those Atlanta Braves teams who were “built for the postseason.”