What are the 10 ways the Phillies can turn the NLCS around and become the first NL team since the 1940s to reach three straight World Series?
Thank you for asking.
After doing nothing against Matt Cain and Co. in Game 3, how do the prohibitive National League favorites right the ship?
Can they afford to lose Game 4, pinning their hopes on H20 to carry them the next three games?
How can they revive their offense? It has been somewhat erratic in the regular season, yet it is still one of the best lineups in baseball and much better (on paper) than the Giants.
Does their ever-faithful skipper Charlie Manuel need to make any changes?
Check out my 10-point prescription for how the Phillies can turn around this series. Some points may be obvious, one or two may be satirical, and a few may even be insightful.
The Phillies need to get the Big Guy hitting and smiling
Ryan Howard, as most baseball fans know, has been baseball's top RBI man the last five years.
He has also has a good postseason resume, with his supposed, "Get me to the plate, boys" comment in the NLDS at Coors Field last year now part of Philly folklore.
Simply put, the Phillies need to see, and feed off, their big man driving in runs again.
It has not been all Howard's fault, and one can point to the fact that he is hitting .364 in the NLCS (easily the top mark on the club). He is 4-for-11 with two doubles.
On the other hand, in his six 2010 postseason games (counting the three games versus the Reds) Howard has neither scored nor driven in a run. That's almost physically impossible for a cleanup hitter to manage.
He has also struck out 10 times, something Phillies fans could live with if he were otherwise producing.
One has to think that if the Phillies get him to the plate with runners on base, he will start producing. An RBI or two today—and maybe a homer—will go a long way toward restoring the team's confidence.
"One can't stop Cody Ross; one can only hope to contain him."
These words were once spoken with hushed reverence by the great John "Mugsy" McGraw, manager of the Giants...
Hold on: What in the name of Connie Mack is going on here?
Cody Ross is a decent player (.265 BA with an OPS of .788, earned in seven combined seasons with five different clubs). But why is he the most talked-about player in the 2010 postseason not named Cliff Lee?
Again, he's just an ordinary, decent player, but he's 4-for-9 (.444) in the NLCS with three homers and four RBI. His two solo shots off Halladay essentially won Game 1, he homered for the only run in Game 2 off Roy Oswalt, and his RBI single in the fourth in Game 3 was the only run the Giants needed.
So, what to do? I don't know why Ross has decided to become Albert Pujols right now, but how about not throwing him a strike?
Institute the Babe Ross Rules. The guy—despite being listed at a generous 5'10"—does not draw walks, and has a career OBP of .323, aka Jimmy Rollins territory.
Let someone else beat you, Phillies.
I know that this sounds ridiculous, talking about Cody Ross, but it has come down to this, and who else scares you in that SF lineup?
Raul Ibanez is a true professional hitter and was one of the best Phillies hitters (if not the best) after the 2010 All-Star break, but...
...he is not hitting right now. He's really cold in this series, 0-for-11 with five strikeouts and no walks, which translates into a BA, OBP and OPS of .000.
Sure, that's a very small sample size, but the Phillies are down 1-2 in a best-of-seven NLCS.
I'm an Ibanez fan, but I would sit him down for at least Game 4 versus the rookie left-hander Madison Bumgarner.
Raul is a professional and will handle it well.
Let's see Ben Francisco in San Francisco; he may even unleash his inner Cody Ross.
In Game 3, they unfurled a beautiful, majestic American flag and had one of those awesome flyovers, and then...
...some dude named Ben Gibbard from some band called Death Cab For Cutie sang the most listless Star-Spangled Banner ever. The Phils probably wished they were on a death cab, and played like it.
They did wake up (well, a little bit), and then God Bless America was badly butchered by Zooey (I prefer her sister) Deschanel.
So, Phillies players, please be prepared for some horrific, flaccid renditions tonight. Sneak an iPod under your uniform if you need to, just to get through the pregame anthem.
And if you did not know these two people, and I told you that Ben Gibbard was the starting pitcher in Game 4 and Madison Bumgarner (man or woman?) was the Star-Spangled Banner singer in Game 3, would you be surprised?
In the space of a couple games or so, the rants about Jimmy Rollins have gone from "sit him, and bring in Valdez" to "put him back in the leadoff spot."
I said "no" to the first and "no" to the second.
It was great to see Rollins hit that insurance, three-run double in Game 2, and he came a few feet or so from hitting a homer off Brian Wilson in the ninth yesterday. (Have you ever seen Rollins hit a single off the wall?)
Rollins is still not 100-percent, and Victorino has not been bad in the postseason. Well, not terrible. He is hitting .208 with a .298 OPS, not exactly Lenny Dykstra in 1993.
On the bright side, Victorino has stolen two bases in the postseason, and Rollins is not healthy enough right now to fly around the bases.
Phils fans: Let's just hope the Flyin' Hawaiian gets it going now, as J-Roll would not be any better there.
Game 2 was about as frustrating as it ever gets for Chase Utley.
He was 0-for-4 at the plate, and twice made the third out with runners in scoring position and two outs. He didn't whiff, but he didn't have any good swings all day off a pitcher (Matt Cain) on whom he usually feasts.
He may have been even worse in the field. The second run scored on a ball that bounced off his outstretched mitt. It was ruled (correctly) a hit, but that's a play that Chase makes almost routinely.
The Giants' third run came on a two-out one-hopper that fooled Chase, bouncing off his right arm and allowing Aaron Rowand to score from second.
Moving forward, one has to trust that Utley will bounce back from a forgettable game and deliver some big hits and key defensive plays.
If not, it's going to be hard for Philly to turn things around.
I now that you're thinking, "No stuff, Sherlock."
Game 4 is not technically a must-win game as it's not an elimination game, but consider these two scenarios:
With a win, the Phillies regain home-field advantage, and have their ace among aces (Roy Halladay) going in Game 5 before playing the last two (if needed) in Philly.
With a loss, the Phillies must beat Tim Lincecum, the Giants' ace among aces, in SF just to stay alive.
So it's elementary, my dear Watsons, that the Phillies must impose their will on Baumgarner, an impressive 6'4" lefty who just turned 21.
In his last outing, Bumgarner pitched six strong innings to win the deciding Game 4 in Atlanta.
Will the bright lights get to him tonight? Will the Phillies offense show up?
(And in the meantime, I can't decide whether Madison Bumgarner is a cool name or a putrid one.)
Unless Charlie Manuel pulls an Andy Reid and flip-flops, it seems that Joe Blanton will get the all-important starting assignment in Game 4.
He will be open to a lot of second-guessing for not starting Roy Halladay on short rest if Blanton gets lit up.
Blanton has not started a game since September 29, but to his credit, he has won his last six decisions. On the other hand, those wins boosted his season mark to 9-6, with an ERA of 4.82.
I agree with Manuel's decision, as Doc had the biggest workload of any pitcher in baseball in 2010. And we knew that one of the non-H20 starters would probably have to go in Game 4. We just thought he'd be doing it with a 2-1 lead.
So, go with Blanton and keep all hands on deck, treating this as a must-win. Your bullpen is relatively well-rested, and you know that Doc will go deep in Game 5 with a travel day to follow.
So, Joe, we have all the faith in the world in you, but...you will be on a short leash.
Whether the Phillies win Game 4 or not, they will still be alive in Game 5 with Doc Halladay on the hill.
Of course, he will be matched up with that curiosity named Tim Lincecum, a great pitcher in his own right.
Somehow the Phillies have to get to Lincecum early and give Halladay a lead. Although the series opener was an off-day by Halladay's considerably high standards, he did not pitch poorly at all, and mostly just ran into the torrid bat of Babe Ross. The other two runs scored on a catch-able double one pitch after Halladay thought he had struck out the side.
So, let's see how Game 5 plays out if the Phillies even manage to score one run in the top of the first off Lincecum. Timmy is great, but not invincible,and Phils batters should force him to throw some of those nasty pitches for strikes.
Force the Giants to hit uphill—literally and figuratively—versus the 6'6" Halladay, arguably the best starting pitcher in MLB.
(By the way, that take-a-pitch-or-two strategy may not work against Cliff Lee, who does not know how to walk batters. But let's just get there first.)
The Phillies do not always do things the easy way, as Phillies Nation well knows.
And it probably does not matter what the fans think; it's all about the inner belief of Cholly and the boys who have mostly risen to every big challenge over the last three seasons.
If they win Game 4, they are in the catbird seat, with the Giants having to beat two of the Big Three, with two of those games to be played at Citizens Bank Park.
Even if they lose, they have Halladay going in Game 5 and then the Giants would have to figure out how to beat either Oswalt or Hamels in Philly.
At the plate, guys like Howard, Utley, Victorino and Werth have been here before and delivered many key hits.
It won't be easy, but the Phils have to keep their self-belief and rediscover their swagger if they are to beat the pretty good (and seemingly unfazed) San Francisco Giants.
So...what are your (lively and civil) thoughts? Please feel free to comment below.