I have to admit that of all the Philly teams with the potential to win a championship, I would have placed the Phillies third behind the Flyers and Eagles. That was prior to the season, before we saw how good the Phillies’ pitching staff was to become, particularly the bullpen. As the season began, most people thought the Phillies would give up a lot of runs and score a lot of runs, but virtually the opposite happened. The pitching staff kept the Phillies in almost every game, while the supposedly potent offense would go through long stretches of struggling to score runs and a frustrating inability to manufacture runs without the benefit of a home run. That has continued in the postseason to some degree, but the offense has also found a way to produce runs when it counts, particularly with two outs, as they showed again in Game 5 against the Dodgers.
Another sometimes unappreciated aspect of the Phillies postseason success is their fantastic defense, especially the infield. Feliz, for instance, may be mostly a waste at the plate, but at third base you know he’s going to gobble up almost everything that comes his way. Also, the ability to easily turn a double play to escape a jam cannot be underestimated—it can often mean the difference between winning and losing—and Utley and Rollins are among the best at it. Meanwhile, Victorino covers so much ground that he could practically play the entire outfield by himself, ala Bugs Bunny against the Gas House Gorillas. People can talk about offense and home runs all they want, but defense and pitching wins championships. The Dodgers found out the hard way in Game 5 what can happen when you don’t play good defense.
Speaking of pitching, Hamels is showing the world why he is one of the best pitchers in baseball. Even when he didn’t have his best stuff early on in Game 5, he fought through and eventually dominated. When he’s on the mound you never have to worry about being out of a game. The outcome of the series with Tampa, however, will hinge on the performance of the 2-4 pitchers. Myers has actually been more of a hero at the plate than on the mound, but he has also pitched effectively enough to help the Phillies win his two starts. Unfortunately, he won’t be able to add to his postseason legend at the plate since both of his scheduled starts are DH games, but it also may allow him to pitch more deeply into games. Since coming back up from the minors, he has been mostly dominant (except for a couple of late season starts), so the hope is that we’ll continue to see that Myers and not the one who began the season. Moyer is perhaps the biggest question mark, as he has been shelled in his two postseason starts. He is the consummate professional, though, so I have faith that he can recapture the ageless magic he displayed during the regular season. Blanton, for his part, has been solid since coming to the Phillies. He eats innings and keeps the score manageable, and there’s no reason why that shouldn’t continue.
It’s hard to make a prediction because I admittedly know little about Tampa as I don’t follow the American league much. What I do believe is that the Phillies’ pitching and defense will keep them in almost every game, and if the offense can keep coming up with clutch hits, they have a great chance. Everyone seems to be picking Tampa, but they also all picked the Dodgers, and we know how that worked out. I’ll say Phillies in 6.