Yes, it's that time of year again. The time of year when I grow yet another hideous playoff beard.
My wife hates it. It's itchy. It's ugly. It's embarrassing. It has no redeeming qualities. And to make matters worse I have to shave my mustache which is incredibly patchy and unbalanced. This results in an Amishesque look which is none too becoming. That said, it has to be done and that's all there is to it.
While I realize that the vast majority of you are here for my playoff beard analysis and predictions, we will instead take a look at game 1 of the National League Divisional Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Cincinnati Reds.
The matchup is intriguing. Philadelphia is coming off two straight trips to the World Series and yet they continue to show a hunger to reach the pinnacle of baseball once again. The injury-riddled 2010 version of the team often showed no resemblance to the one that torched the National League in 2008 and 2009.
And yet here they are again, anointed the favorite to once again lay claim to the National League Championship. They are the team to beat and they know it.
An unparalleled starting rotation fronted by Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels form an intimidating top three. The drop off to Joe Blanton is precipitous, but as the Yankees proved last year, a dominant trio can get the job done. And this Phillies threesome trumps the Yankees.
Much was made of the Phillies offensive struggles this year, though the team hit its stride when it mattered most. While the greatest strength of this team is its starting pitching, its offense isn't far behind.
And while the stars didn't shine as bright as they have in years past, the depth of this lineup is what truly separates it from the rest. There are no easy outs.
The loss of Placido Polanco could hurt the Phillies though I believe him to be their most replaceable starter. Wilson Valdez should fill in nicely at third base equaling Polly's sure-handedness while providing a stronger arm and perhaps a bit more range.
At the plate, Valdez is a downgrade but he did manage to hit .313 in the months of September and October. He is also faster than Polanco which should not be overlooked.
I believe the absence of Polanco hurts the team more in terms of depth as I do not see a significant downgrade in their starting lineup. Danger could present itself if Jimmy Rollins re-injures himself and Polanco's back does not allow him to return to the field quickly. The Phillies do not want to have to play Greg Dobbs regularly, if at all.
There is a soft spot in my heart for Cincinnati as I once played alongside (OK, OK, mostly watched from the bench) Chris Heisey, a reserve outfielder on the team. I wish him the best, but sadly I cannot say the same for the rest of the Reds.
Cincinnati has two very scary hitters: Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. Votto's crushed the ball all year long, but it took until the final two months of the season for Bruce to come on. The former #1 prospect in baseball is still just 23 years old and he mashed 15 of his 25 home runs in his final 33 games.
In addition to their left-handed stars, the Reds have a nice mix of veterans and to fill out their lineup. Scott Rolen provides playoff experience and leadership as well as a solid bat and a great glove. Brandon Phillips can be a sparkplug, though he has struggled of late, possibly due to injury. Jonny Gomes, though streaky, once again provided great production.
Perhaps the biggest offensive key for the team could be the play of Drew Stubbs who has provided more pop in the Major Leagues than he did in any of his Minor League stops.
Pitching wise the Reds boast a solid bullpen but cannot matchup with the Phillies starting pitchers. Of course, no other team in baseball can do that right now.
Edinson Volquez pitched well in his final four starts of the year, but these starts came against Pittsburgh, Arizona, Milwaukee and Houston. With 62 2/3 innings pitched on the year, throwing Volquez in Game 1 is a roll of the dice, but I don't think Dusty Baker has a great alternative. When healthy Volquez was an ace, and if he is back to that form, he will give the Phillies trouble.
We've got about an hour to go before today's game so I'd better get this wrapped up, incomplete as it may be.
Roy Halladay takes the mound against Volquez. This is a mismatch, but Volquez does have the raw stuff to come up big for the Reds.
If Halladay can prevent Votto and Bruce from hurting him I don't see the rest of the lineup doing much damage. The Doctor will be pumped and I wouldn't be surprised to see an erratic first inning by him. I'd be shocked however if he doesn't provide his typical 7 or 8 strong innings.
Volquez might cruise through the lineup his first time through, but this Phillies team is patient. Volquez walked 35 batters in his 62 2/3 innings this year (Halladay walked just 30 in 250 2/3 innings!) and walks turn solo home runs into two and three run bombs. Not good!
That's it, have to go shave now for the last time in hopefully about a month.