The Philadelphia Phillies woke up this morning and found themselves in a familiar position: For the third straight season, and only the ninth time in franchise history, the Fightin' Phils are headed for the National League Championship Series and a chance to go to the World Series.
Good job, Phils. You killed it. Really well done.
Except . . .
Is this really how we plan to get to the World Series?
It is easy to look upon the Phillies' massacre of the Cincinnati Reds and see greatness. One can't help but to be overwhelmed by feelings of dominance and glory and wonder. Words like "dynasty" and "reign" and "empire" flow through our foggy minds as our eyes dreamily see floating hearts after the amazing performance of the darlings of Philadelphia.
At the same time, though, clear your head for a second, rub your eyes, and take a look at what I'm looking at: a roster of 25 players, three of whom beat the Cincinnati Reds and 22 of whom stood around watching.
Make no mistake about it: the Philadelphia Phillies swept the Cincinnati Reds in the NLDS because in Game One, Roy Halladay and Carlos Ruiz blew the Reds away; in Game Three, Ruiz and Cole Hamels blew the Reds away; and in Game Two, the Reds blew themselves away.
Oh sure, I know that the fielders behind Halladay and Hamels had to make plays in order for the Phillies to win those two games. Show me two plays from each game which could not have been made by replacement level defenders, and I'll be impressed.
One can't really blame the Phillies hitters who, once Halladay got going in Game One, really did simply enjoy the show as though they had paid the price of admission. Halladay came within a pitch of a post-season perfect game, and from about the third inning on, the Phillies' hitters attacked the ball with the intensity of a power-nap.
And I suppose one can't help but relate to the Phillies hitters who, in Game Three, basically hung around watching the masterful back-and-forth between Hamels and Ruiz like they were at centre court at Roland Garros. It was clear from pretty much the second inning that Hamels was "on," and they have every right to be in awe like the rest of us.
But what about Game Two?
To quickly recap, the Phils went down 4-0, but were bailed out by the Cincinnati Reds when Chase Utley followed consecutive two-out errors in the 5th inning with a single to score a run. In the 6th, the Phils scored another run on a walk-stolen base-HBP-HBP-walk sequence that saw the Phils score a run with getting a hit. Then in the 7th, Scott Rolen makes a rare miscue, followed by a missed flyball from Jay Bruce that should have been out number three, and suddenly the Phils are back in the lead.
An insurance run later, and that's the ballgame.
But can we not blame the Phillies hitters for sitting around in Game Two? I think we must, because while we may very well get repeat performances from Halladay and Hamels in the NLCS, the odds of either the San Francisco Giants or the Atlanta Braves self-destructing in an NLCS game the way the Cincinnati Reds did seem slim (though Brooks Conrad may beg to differ).
Put it this way: the Phillies just swept the Cincinnati Reds three games to none with an offense that batted just .211, with a .574 OPS, and scored just seven earned runs.
Of the eight teams in the ALDS and the NLDS series, guess how many performed better, on offense, than the Phillies. The answer? Everyone except the Reds and the Atlanta Braves.
This seems like an issue.
At the end of the day, history will remember that in the 2010 NLDS, the Philadelphia Phillies' pitching staff held the Cincinnati Reds to three earned runs and a sick .124 batting average (not to mention their .373 OPS). For the moment, we have to hope that the Phillies can, in fact, "hit when they need to."
While there is no foul in enjoying masterful pitching, and winning because of it, I would certainly shudder to think that if the pitching had not been masterful, the Phillies may not have won at all.
Put another way, the Phils don't want to be in a situation where they will not win if their pitching is not masterful.
If the Phillies' hitters stand around as much in the NLCS as they did in the NLDS, because if Philadelphia draws the San Francisco Giants in the next round, their best efforts may yield fewer hits yet.
The good news is, I suspect that the Phillies' hitters will arrive just in time.