To mark the momentous occasion that is the 2008 Playoffs we asked a couple of esteemed guest writers to talk about their favorite team's chances this postseason. Harry Kalas and Mike Schmidt were unavailable, so we recruited Matt P of The 700 Level to pen this preview. Please to enjoy:.
Nothing Like the Smell of Unanimity in the Morning: By nearly all accounts, the Phillies are the favorite to win the NLDS series with the Brewers. In Philadelphia, we unanimously see this as more of a curse than an accurate prediction. Ten out ten ESPN headshots pick the Phillies? Ah shit.
If History Tells Us Anything: With very little faith in augury, I usually look to past experience as an indicator of future outcomes. Problem is, we have conflicting data in this case. When they last met, the Phillies swept the Crew in a four-game series at Citizens Bank Park just over two weeks ago. The series loss was so devastating that the Brewers up and overreacted, firing manager Ned Yost. So, that's probably in the Phillies favor.
But if you look further back, at the Phillies' last showing in the playoffs, the picture gets a little fuzzy. After leapfrogging the Mets to win the East in 2007, the Phils shat the proverbial bed against the Rockies in the NLDS, with just about nothing in the way of offensive production. We'd like to chalk that up as the detriment of October inexperience, something the Brewers now face, but we've seen that offensive absolute zero rear its head for several stretches this season. We also can't get too hung up on that mid-September sweep. The first two pitchers the Phillies face this week didn't chuck in that series, and one of them happens to be the most dominant starter in baseball over the second half. CC Sabathia will face Brett Myers, who also had a great second half, including a CG gem against the Brewers, but he has been battered in recent appearances. Just my luck, the tickets I have for this series are for Game 2, Myers vs. Sabathia. Still, with CC on 3 days rest again, the Philllies need to be able to win that game.
Doctor Says I Need a Bachiotomy: The developing storyline in Philly is that in Tuesday's BP, Pat Burrell experienced some discomfort in his back. The severity still isn't known, but there's a chance the Phils will be without him to start the series. The Bat would be missed more than his .205 September average might indicate; the only time the Phillies have faced Brewers' game 1 starter Yovani Gallardo, they managed only one run, a solo shot by Mr. Burrell. I think he plays though. I woke up with some back discomfort, and you don't see me not blogging. All I'm sayin.
The Strength No One Saw Coming: Speaking of the folly of predictions, in early April, I don't think anyone saw the Phillies bullpen as the biggest factor in repeating as NL East Champs. But while the Mets blew save opps like johns in Queens alleyways, the Phillies' late-inning crew was among the best in baseball. They weren't all perfect down the stretch, but Brad Lidge has been, converting 41 saves in as many opportunities, earning him the Hey, Didn't You Used to Suck? award.
With Eric Gagne getting off to a hairy, Failing start, Salomon Torres did a decent job after replacing him as closer for much of the season. But he hasn't been lights-out--certainly not in the past month, when he's posted an 8.53 ERA and a WHIP over 2.00. Just as it's been for most of 2008, the bullpen looks to be a distinct advantage for the Phillies in this series. Mr. 41 for 41 needs to stay perfect, because I really don't feel like hearing the massive amount of "He waited til the playoffs to blow his first save" coverage.
The Weakness We Didn't Know Was Possible: What shocked Phillie-ans even more than the dominant bullpen was the way the once formidable offense just died once inter-league play started. Their flacid performances continued for what seemed like forever, although with familiar NL competition, they resumed winning more than they lost. They're hotter now than they were for much of the season though, and it's all about timing your streak. Chase Utley, at one point considered the top premature MVP candidate, disappeared at the plate for months, but has played solidly of late. WIth his horrific performance in the 2007 NLDS, we're wondering which Chase shows up for this series. Fortunately, this year's Aaron Rowand Award goes to Jayson Werth, who has taken his game way up, earning him just about full playing time. Shane Vic is feeling it too, at the plate, on the basepaths, and in the field.
Because Mr. [Month] Designations Never Get Old: Any time a ballplayer has an outstanding hitting stretch over the course of a calendar month, you can be sure we'll all invoke Reggie and assign that month to the slugger. Like, A-Rod being Mr. April, for instance. This year, despite Mendoza-level averages for the early portion of the season, Ryan Howard has maintained his power totals. A late-season surge has brought his average up to .250, and the homers and ribbies are far and away the best in the bigs. The Brewers will have their hands full with Mr. September's girth.
Predictions: Ten ESPN employees can't be wrong. The Phils win this series, and it might be a sweep. They need to start by winning with their ace on the hill, with Colbert Hamels facing Gallardo at 3PM today. Next, CC's been a god, but I'm reminded that previously, the playoffs haven't really been his thing. Still, there's a better than 50% chance the Brewers win at least one, with Game 2 being the most likely opportunity. Mostly because I'll have taken a half day from work to be there. If Brett can't keep up, Charlie will probably publicly argue with him on the mound, while JA Happ waits to get some warm-ups in. After that... he may be getting AARP letters, but Jamie Moyer is still a decidedly effective and winning pitcher, and I think he controls Game 3, leaving it in the hands of the Phillies bats. If a Game 4 is necessary, word around town is that the Phils will roll the dice with Joe "No Decision" Blanton. He probably won't win the game for the Phils, but there's a good chance he won't blow it such that they can't just outslug the Brewers.
After Milwaukee, the Phils will get either a Dodgers team that they traded 4-game sweeps with in the second half, or the Cubs. The Cubs are everyone's NL favorite, but the Phillies matched up fairly well with them in their most recent series, taking two of four at Wrigley, and handing the Cubs their two wins. Plus, the Cubs are one of the few teams more cursed than the Phils. If, praise Jeebus, the Phillies get to the World Series, I may have to un-lapse my Catholicism, because our boys have been horrid against the AL. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.
Cole's on the hill today.