The Phillies seem unstoppable in 2011. Are they really?
With the Phillies signing Cliff Lee, they create an unstoppable rotation that seems poised to steamroll the competition in 2011 to a World Series title.
Few teams will be able to stand in their way, but one team poses the greatest threat to them: the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Cardinals have the pieces in place that could help them stand up to the Phils and beat them in a five- or seven-game series.
Here are the top 10 reasons why.
Molina may be the best catcher in the NL.
The Molina brothers—Bengie, Jose and Yadier—are the best sibling catchers in baseball history.
At the moment, Yadier is the best of the lot. He is the best defensive catcher in the game and can shut down an opponent's running game and is also one of the best at handling pitchers.
For a catcher, he has a great bat and is clutch. Molina definitely gives the Cardinals an advantage over the Phillies and in fact gives the Cards their greatest player-for-player advantage over the Phillies.
Stan the Man represents the best of one of the greatest franchises in sports.
With the exception of the New York Yankees, no team in baseball has a richer history than the St. Louis Cardinals. They consistently make the playoffs and have more World Series titles than any other team but the Yankees.
This history creates a mystique that could help psyche out the Phillies—a franchise with 10,000 loses.
Berkman is a consummate pro and will fit in well in St. Louis. He was signed earlier this offseason to a one-year deal, and hitting in front of Alert Pujols and Matt Holliday will benefit both his and the team’s production.
Berkman may be a liability in left field, but he is adequate. Berkman’s bat will win the Cardinals more games than his glove loses, and hitting in front of Pujols will send lots of fastballs his way.
If he still has enough bat speed, he could hit 35 to 40 home runs, and he will be instrumental in a showdown for the pennant with Philly.
One of the best managers in the game, La Russa will play an important role in possibly deafeating the Phillies.
I’ve long considered Tony La Russa the Joe Torre of the National League. Much like Torre, La Russa manages to get the most out of his players and seems to get the Cardinals perpetually in the playoffs come October.
He is one of the most respected managers in the game and is currently the longest tenured with the same team.
While La Russa’s managerial style is a bit awkward, it is also unlikely he is out-managed by any other manager, even Charlie Manuel. This could come into play in a playoff showdown between the Cardinals and Phillies.
Carpenter could meet Cliff Lee in Game 2 of the NLCS.
Over the last decade, few pitchers have had more ups and downs than Chris Carpenter. He’s been hurt for long periods of time but has also won a Cy Young Award and NL Comeback Player of the Year TWICE.
When Carpenter is right, he is one of the best in the game. The key to him being right is his health. If Carpenter stays healthy, he will help form a rotation that is the biggest threat to Philadelphia.
Holliday will be instrumental in protecting Albert Pujols in the lineup.
Albert Pujols may be the most feared hitter in the game, but Matt Holliday keeps opposing pitchers from walking the Machine in every at-bat. Holliday is a great all-around player who is also one of the most feared hitters in baseball.
Holliday seems to have found a nice comfort zone in St. Louis, and a year of hitting behind Lance Berkman and Albert Pujols will ensure him more RBI opportunities than any other player in the game.
Wainwright is striving to be #1 in 2011.
Adam Wainwright is the bridesmaid of NL pitchers. He finished in third and second for the Cy Young in 2009 and 2010 respectively and actually got more first place votes than 2009 winner Tim Lincecum.
Simply put, Wainwright is one of the best pitchers in the game today and can definitely go up against any of the Phillies’ aces. Wainwright is younger than all of the Phillies’ aces except for Cole Hamels, so expect him to continue to get better this year.
What kind of a person would boo Santa Claus?
Numerous baseball players agree that there is no better city in the country to play than St. Louis. St Louis is an easygoing atmosphere that puts no pressure on its ballplayers.
Contrast that with the city of Philadelphia, which will boo any player that slumps a little. Heck, Philadelphia sports fans even booed Santa Claus.
St. Louis also won’t put Herculean expectations on the Cardinals as Philadelphia will pressure the Phillies.
All in all, it could provide the Cardinals with the intangible edge needed to best the Phils over the course of a long season or in the playoffs.
Duncan will play a key role in keeping the Pitching staff right for the Cardinals.
Dave Duncan is the Napoleon Bonaparte of pitching coaches. Duncan is a rare genius worth at least four aces over the course of a season, as Napoleon was worth 40,000 men on the battlefield.
Duncan is so good at what he does that he managed to get the most out of pitchers formerly on the scrap heap like Jeff Weaver, Joel Pineiro, Jake Westbrook and most notably Chris Carpenter.
If Duncan can fix another pitcher, the Cards might be able to take on the Phillies and neutralize their aces with Wainwright, Carpenter and another Duncan reclamation project.
Albert Pujols is simply the best baseball player in the world today. If any one man can stop the Phillies’ fearsome foursome, it is Pujols. His five-tool skills allow him to dominate the game, and he is a near impossible out for any pitcher.
He anchors a loaded lineup, but Philly will always worry about the Machine, who is great even in the playoffs.
The key for the Cards’ success this season is Pujols, who must maintain his epic stats. Being sandwiched in the lineup between Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday will create the best 2-3-4 punch in baseball, and if the Cardinals can acquire an elite leadoff hitter, they will have the best lineup in baseball.