The bar was set high for the 2011 Phillies when they signed Cliff Lee this past offseason. And with the acquisition of Hunter Pence, there is now little doubt that anything short of a World Series Championship is going to be considered a failure by the team and fans alike.
The Phillies currently boast the best record in all of baseball (74-40), but if they hope to translate their regular season success into playoff success, here are five guys that are going to have to lead the way towards another championship for the Phillies franchise.
Antonio Bastardo and Michael Stutes have really been pleasant surprises for the Phillies’ bullpen this year. Going into the regular season, the Phillies had major concerns as to who was going to fill the voids in the pen left by Chad Durbin, who signed with the Cleveland Indians, and Brad Lidge, who was going to be on the Disabled List for a couple of months. Both Bastardo and Stutes answered the call and have really made the bullpen into a strength rather than a liability for the Phillies.
Looking at Bastardo in particular, one can’t help but be impressed by what the 25-year-old has done so far in the 2011 season. Bastardo is 8-for-8 in save opportunities and is the only reliable lefty for the Phillies coming out of the bullpen. With Ryan Madson back from the DL, Bastardo’s primary role going forward will most likely be as the setup guy in the eighth inning. The Phillies will definitely rely a lot on Bastardo in crucial situations come playoff time; it’ll be interesting to see just how well the southpaw responds.
Speaking of bullpen guys, Ryan Madson is the 2011 Phillies closer, and as with any other closer, the most important guy in the bullpen. Madson is 19-for-20 in save opportunities this season but is still trying to find consistency after coming back from the DL.
The Phillies have high hopes for Madson this season and for the future. With Brad Lidge’s contract up at the end of the season, Ryan Madson is currently being groomed to take over that role. The Phillies will see how Madson handles the pressure and examine if he is worth giving “Closer Money” to. Whether the Phillies win or lose in the postseason may well hinge a lot upon Ryan Madson’s ability to close in the clutch.
Moving from one Ryan to another, Ryan Howard has been the Phillies premier slugger for the last five seasons. Howard is on pace for another 30-plus home runs and 100-plus RBIs regular season.
However, his success or failure will have little to do with regular season stats. Ryan Howard had zero RBIs in the 2010 NLCS against the San Francisco Giants. His ability to rebound this postseason will ultimately determine how he will be measured by fans and management alike.
Howard will without a doubt see a lot of left-handed pitching in the postseason, and he’ll have to find a way to produce against them. Howard has yet to hit a home run off of a left-handed pitcher so far in the 2011 season; that will have to change in the postseason if the Phillies hope to make a World Series run.
The Phillies got Cliff Lee for one reason and one reason only. They believed that he was the missing piece in the starting rotation for another World Series Championship. It is hard to argue with that logic considering Lee's impressive postseason resume. Lee started the only two games that the Phillies won in the 2009 World Series against the New York Yankees. In that 2009 postseason, he was 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA. Cliff Lee had a valiant effort for the Texas Rangers in the 2010 postseason as well, posting a 2.78 ERA, but would go on to lose both his starts against the San Francisco Giants in the World Series.
Lee is in a different situation this year. He is surrounded with arguably the most talented team in baseball and certainly the most talented team he has ever played on. He has also endeared himself to Philly fans on a level that very few athletes can reach in Philadelphia when he rejected more money from the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees, wanting to come play for the Phillies instead.
All that will mean little if the Phillies don’t win the World Series this year, but Cliff Lee will definitely have a big say as to whether that happens or not.
Come on, who else did you think was going to be No. 1 on this list? “Doc” Halladay is the best pitcher currently playing in baseball. He is bidding for his third Cy Young and second straight in a Phillies uniform. There is little doubt as to who is going to be the starting pitcher for the opening game of any postseason series for the Phillies.
Last year, the good doctor showed that there was no stage too big to throw off his game. He went out and threw a no-hitter in his first ever postseason start against the Cincinnati Reds.
Roy Halladay ended the 2010 postseason with a 2-1 record but fell short of leading the Phillies back to a World Series appearance for a third time in as many years. Doc has every accolade a pitcher could want; the only thing missing from his resume thus far is a World Series Championship, something I'm sure he looks to add this year.