Philadelphia Phillies: 4 Bold Predictions for the Phils' 2011 Postseason
It's been a while since the Phillies have had to worry about getting into the postseason.
Still six games ahead of Atlanta in the NL East despite recent struggles, Philadelphia is virtually a lock for continuing into October. All fans can do now is wait in anticipation for the uncertainty that is the playoffs.
As the world witnessed last year, being the widely-held favorite to return to the World Series means nothing on the diamond; much to Philadelphia fans' chagrin.
There are a couple of teams likely to earn playoff spots this year that would love to repeat the toppling of the "NL Yankees," as the San Francisco Giants did in the 2010 NLCS.
What's worse is that they believe they can.
That being said, you never know what is going to happen when the calendar turns past September. Here are some scenarios on how it might play out.
1. Halladay Doesn't Look Like an Ace
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Needless to say, expecting another postseason no-hitter out of Roy Halladay would be foolish.
But expecting him to be great is something he has delivered on time and time again over the past two seasons.
There are indicators, however, that Doc might not be the ace we've come to rely on through another postseason run.
The aging star has already shown signs of fatigue over his past two outings—both Phillies losses—as Charlie Manuel piles onto Roy's second-most 189.2 IP in the majors.
If Cole Hamels' struggles with dead arm are any indication, the Phillies rotation is susceptible to wearing down as the season drags on.
Halladay has thrown 225 or more innings in each of the past four seasons, and eventually that may take it's toll on the righty. Even if arm health doesn't become in issue, there are other worrisome aspects of Halladay's postseason future.
Doc has a losing record against three of the four most likely postseason opponents this season.
In fact, he doesn't have one win against Atlanta, Arizona or Milwaukee. He hasn't faced possible NL West comeback-kids San Francisco yet this year.
In just four outings against these playoff contenders, Halladay accumulated 14 earned runs. His ERA against the Brewers this season is an abysmal 8.10. Some of you may argue that that was only in one game, but reality is that over the past six years, he has failed to keep his ERA below five in any of his three starts against Milwaukee (5.14 in 2010, 6.00 in 2005) and has gone 1-2 in those appearances.
2. At Least One Regular Starter Won't Play an Inning of Postseason
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Swollen knees, dead arms, sprained groins, blown elbows, torn shoulders, pulled backs, sports hernias, heat exhaustion—the injuries plaguing the Phillies have taken their toll on several key players this season.
Staying healthy has not been one of the team's strengths in 2011.
Placido Polanco, who has battled through a sports hernia, back problems and a sore hip recently, may be the guy to take a seat in October. Chances are that if one of his previous health problems doesn't catch up with him, there will be another ready to bring him back to the DL in the next month.
My second guess is Raul Ibanez, whose age is catching up with him at the same pace John Mayberry, Jr. is heating up in his position every day he sits.
This prediction depends largely on Charlie Manuel's schedule for resting Philadelphia's injury-riddled roster, something he has done well in the past.
But with the way the season has gone so far, I don't see any way the Phillies enter the postseason with all their guys. Moreover, the Phils still have to play 33 games in 31 days to close out the season.
3. The Bullpen Blows a Few Key Saves
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Until recently, the Philadelphia bullpen has been a surprisingly reliable complement to the team's strong starting pitching.
Unfortunately, it appears they have come back to earth a little in the past couple weeks. This staff is fairly inexperienced, and it's beginning to show.
The Phillies wouldn't be a Philadelphia sports team unless they had fans pulling their hair out in frustration at some point in the season, and I think it's a bad omen that I haven't had to yet this year.
The fact is, the probable playoff opponents this year are really good teams. Teams that believe they can win, that don't give up, especially once the starters leave late in the game.
Rookie reliever Michael Stutes started the season strong but has been having problems lately (six runs, 11 hits in last five appearances).
Brad Lidge has been shaky coming off surgery this season. Only Ryan Madson and Antonio Bastardo have looked solid, but both have a couple blown saves in recent weeks.
If this is what happens in a relaxed, playoff-locked atmosphere, I'd hate to see what's going to happen when the pressure gets turned on in October. What Phillies fans wouldn't give for 2008 Brad Lidge right now.
4. The Phillies Win the World Series
The truth is that none of those negative predictions are enough to hold back this Phillies squad.
So Roy Halladay doesn't toss a complete-game shutout—it doesn't matter. A poor outing for Doc means at most six runs, and if the Phils' offense is hot, that's still a winnable game.
If they lose the first game of every postseason series, the team gets to show what makes them so great.
Their strength isn't having one of the best pitchers in baseball—it's having three of the best pitchers in baseball. Both Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee are proven postseason performers. Halladay is Philadelphia's least experienced big-game pitcher.
So the Phillies go into October missing one or two guys—it doesn't matter. They have been rolling out what is essentially an offensive B-team all year due to injuries and rest.
They still have the best record in baseball. They have even found potential postseason performers in John Mayberry, Jr. and Wilson Valdez that could be just as productive as some of their slumping, injured starters.
Despite injury problems all summer, their worst losing streak is just four games this season.
So the bullpen blows a couple saves in big games—it doesn't matter. If there's one thing we know about the new Phillies clubhouse culture, it's that they win.
The Phillies haven't been swept in a three- or four-game series all season long. When they lose, they bounce back with a fresh ace and short memories the very next day.
2011 has been an historic year for the Philadelphia Phillies. Every guy on that roster has known since opening day that this team is special. They've been mentally preparing for a World Series run for months. I expect them to put that preparation to good use in October.