Smell that? Take a deep breath in. Repeating as NL East Champions smells sweet, doesn’t it?
The Philadelphia Phillies are ready to show why they are the champs. There will be no early exits this year; there will be no sweeping of the Phillies this time.
The Phillies will play host to the Milwaukee Brewers at the commencement of the 2008 NLDS. While I’m predicting that the Phils will win the series 3-1, there are three things to keep track of during the thrilling postseason.
1. The Phillies Inconsistencies—Which Pitching Staff and Offense Will We See?
Last year, when Charlie Manuel moseyed out of the dugout and called on the bullpen, Phillies fans let out a collective groan. This year, the bullpen was the team’s anchor. Irony, yes—but it’s about time.
As some sick joke, while this year’s team is blessed with a strong bullpen, the starting pitchers are hit-or-miss. Will fans see the “Good Brett Myers” or the “Bad Brett Myers”? Is the “Innings-Eater Blanton” going to show up or will “Innings-Anorexic Blanton” take the mound?
To add to the punchline, the intimidating offense went through phases when their vicious offensive roar was nothing but a mere purr. The team can’t afford to have their big players—Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard—swing silent bats; now is the time to make some noise.
Pat Burrell, who left batting practice today with discomfort in his back, needs to step his game up. He was hot in the beginning of the season; it’s time to regain that stride. Shane Victorino, with his double ear-flap helmet, needs to continue being part of the double dose of speed (along with Rollins).
This is the playoffs. There needs to be contribution from more than just “Teddy Bear” Howard. While the Brewers aren’t carrying a huge arsenal of dominating pitchers, they have the big guy from the Bay Area, C.C. Sabathia, and it will take more than just one hitter to win against ol’ Carsten Charles.
When the Fightins’ are on, they’re on. From the team’s performance at the end of the season, let’s hope that this issue will be one that won’t exist come October 1.
2. The Brad Lidge Postseason Carry-Over—Will 2005 Lidge Emerge?
“Lights Out” Lidge’s postseason difficulties are no secret. When the Phillies’ closer entered games this season, there were mentions of the towering home run Lidge gave up to Albert Pujols in Game Five of the 2005 NLDS more than once.
Yes, we know the ball hit the side of the roof and landed in left field. Fans are aware that in Lidge’s last three playoff appearances he was the losing pitcher. Everyone knows.
Is there a 2005 Lidge hiding somewhere deep inside the 2008 version?
Many would say that the newly-named 2008 NL Comeback Player of the Year was reborn once he slipped into Philadelphia pinstripes. For the first time in his career, Lidge has been perfect in save opportunities—41-for-41. Fans hope that his first blown save in red and white (and sometimes gray) will not come any time in October.
3. The Philadelphia Phillies Fire—Call the Fire Department or Watch the Flame Fade?
It’s not an unknown fact that Philadelphia fans are some of the most passionate fans in professional sports. When they witness a lackadaisical performance by their home team, all is not well in Phillies-land.
While the Phillies fans are some of the greatest devotees, they are also the harshest critics. They expect greatness from the players—anything less and they will let everyone know. Even Phil Sheridan of the Philadelphia Inquirer recently advocated focusing on the positive and let the negative thoughts disappear.
So as the Phillies take the field, expect passion—not just because of the fans, but also because of what they are there to prove. With the delicious taste of October baseball in the back of their minds and the bitter remnants of their playoff exit lingering, they are ready for a feast.
Expect the fist pumps and finger-pointing. Funny thing is viewers will probably see this from both the Phillies and Brewers as they share a reputation for being overly-celebratory.
Who can blame them? These two teams have been out in the cold, steaming up the windows as they peered into the glorious ballparks that housed postseason play.
I look forward to the displays of delight. Let’s just hope that, for two reasons, it won’t be the one of Prince Fielder having champagne poured on his face.
These are not the Phillies of 2007. There are significant improvements all around and they can now say they’re somewhat experienced in the postseason. The Brewers are good, but the Phillies are the better team. Let us not forget, the last time these two teams met, Philadelphia swept the Brew Crew and Ned Yost lost his job.
The Philadelphia Phillies are going to be playing deep into October.
As we count the minutes before the first pitch, I expect to see each Phillies star shine. That, and I’ll be looking the high socks. Call me a traditionalist, but you all know I’m a sucker for high socks.