2011 MLB Playoffs: In Injury-Plagued NL, Who Can Stop the Philadelphia Phillies?

John ValentovicAnalyst IMay 31, 2011

2011 MLB Playoffs: In Injury-Plagued NL, Who Can Stop the Philadelphia Phillies?

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    ATLANTA, GA - MAY 15:  Roy Halladay #34 of the Philadelphia Phillies against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on May 15, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    The laundry list of injuries in the National League continues to grow seemingly by the day.  The disabled list has already claimed the likes of Josh Johnson, David Wright, Jason Heyward and Buster Posey (out for the season), and the list will almost certainly continue to expand.

    With a number of teams dealing with some serious injury problems, who has become the favorite to win the National League?

    Well, the Philadelphia Phillies, of course. 

    The Phillies, who have been to the World Series two out of the past three years, currently sit at 34-20 and in first place in the National League East.  They are relatively healthy, have one of the best pitching staffs in baseball and also boast a dangerous lineup that will only get better once Shane Victorino and Chase Utley are fully healthy.

    When in doubt, side with pitching—and Philadelphia has plenty of it.  Their 3.08 team ERA ranks third in baseball and all four of their top starters have an ERA of 3.50 or less.

    Quite frankly, the fact that the Phillies have yet to play their best baseball—and have the best record in baseball—is a little scary.

    So, with that being said, the question becomes: can anyone stop Philadelphia from returning to the World Series for the third time in four years?

    As of now, it doesn't seem likely.  But here are five teams that have a chance of taking down the Phillies.

Atlanta Braves

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    ATLANTA, GA - MAY 27:  Tommy Hanson #48 of the Atlanta Braves pitches to the Cincinnati Reds at Turner Field on May 27, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Did somebody mention pitching?

    The Braves and the Oakland A's are the only two teams with a better team ERA than the Phillies.

    Led by Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens, Atlanta has a pitching staff made up of both savvy veterans as well as young flame throwers.  Their bullpen has been outstanding, but it remains to be seen how some of their young arms in the 'pen will hold up throughout the regular season.

    The Braves have struggled a bit offensively, hitting just .243 as a team.  However, they have a number of players with some good pop in their bats, including Heyward, who is currently on the DL.  They just need to hope for more consistency if they want to take down Philadelphia.

    But like the Phillies, Atlanta's pitching will always give them a chance to compete.

San Francisco Giants

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    SAN FRANCISCO, CA - MAY 21:  Tim Lincecum #55 of the San Francisco Giants pitches against the Oakland Athletics during an MLB game at AT&T Park on May 21, 2011 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Yes, the Giants just lost catcher Buster Posey for the season due to a knee injury.  Still, you can't discredit the heart of a champion.

    The defending World Series champions currently hold a record of 29-24, which is good for second place in the NL West.

    San Francisco has managed to win a lot of games despite having scored the second least amount of runs in baseball.  Things will only become more difficult without Posey, meaning the Giants will need young players such as Brandon Belt to provide a lift and pick the offense up.

    But just like last year, the Giants have a tremendous pitching staff led by ace Tim Lincecum.  They took down the Phillies during the postseason last year and there's no reason why they can't produce a repeat performance.

    Unless, of course, the offense becomes drastically worse without Posey.

Colorado Rockies

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    SAN FRANCISCO, CA - MAY 06:  Troy Tulowitzki #2 of the Colorado Rockies in action against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park on May 6, 2011 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    At 25-28, the Rockies are really struggling.  They have lost 10 of their previous 12 games and their potent offense has become quite pedestrian. 

    But these are the Colorado Rockies we are talking about.  They will make a run—they always do.

    Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki, two of the best young hitters in the game, have both failed to get it going yet but will almost undoubtedly begin to heat up soon.  And when they do, look out.

    Although the Rockies don't have quite as good of a pitching staff as some of the other teams on this list, they still have enough potential on their staff to hold their own, especially if Ubaldo Jimenez returns to the form of a year ago.

    Are they struggling? Yes.  But are they still dangerous?  No doubt.

St. Louis Cardinals

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    DENVER, CO - MAY 27:  Albert Pujols #5 of the St. Louis Cardinals hits an RBI single to score Ryan Theriot of the Cardinals against the Colorado Rockies in the third inning at Coors Field on May 27, 2011 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Gett
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    The Cardinals sit at 32-23, but their record could be even better if they didn't blow so many games in the early part of the year.

    Yes, I am talking to you, Ryan Franklin.  If it wasn't for your four blown saves, 0-3 record and 7.79 ERA (10.12 through the month of April), the Cardinals would probably have the best record in baseball right now.

    As opposed to some of these other teams, the Cardinals success has been based on their offense.  They have scored 268 runs, which leads the league. 

    Just wait until Albert Pujols gets it going.  The rest of the league will be in for a real treat.

Cincinnati Reds

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    ATLANTA, GA - MAY 29:  Jay Bruce #32 of the Cincinnati Reds hits a solo homer in the second inning against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on May 29, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    The Reds are another team with an explosive lineup that is capable of putting up a ton of runs in a hurry.  Jay Bruce, with his 15 home runs and 40 RBI's, has become a serious MVP candidate, although Cincinnati is just 28-27 at this point in the season.

    The real question mark surrounding the Reds is their pitching staff.  So far this season, they haven't been very good.  And Edinson Volquez, who was the Opening Day starter for Cincinnati, has been downright brutal.  In fact, his ineffectiveness earned him a trip to the minor leagues.

    If their pitching improves, the Reds will have as good of a chance as any team in the league.

    But if it doesn't, they are just another average team.