WASHINGTON, October 1, 2011 – Phillies-Reds, take two, this time with a twist. At this time last year, the doubt machine was flying over whether the Phillies could stand up to the offense of the Cincinnati Reds.
This time around, it’s very much the same situation, with the St. Louis Cardinals playing in a similar style as the Reds last year. Now where’s the twist, one might very well ask? It’s pitching, of course, where the Phillies have even more than a year ago, and where the Cardinals stand on firmer ground than Cincinnati did. Enter at your own risk.
The question with the Phillies is as always whether they have enough hitters to back their prodigious pitching staff. Once again, offensive potential on this team is limited, especially with the down years suffered by Chase Utley and Raul Ibañez. Even playing in tiny Citizens Bank Park, only first baseman Ryan Howard topped the 25 homerun mark, blasting 33 longballs as the main component of his .488 slugging percentage, a career low eighteen points below his previous mark, recorded last season.
The most telling statistic is that the Phillies averaged just 4.4 runs per game. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Right fielder Hunter Pence has been on fire since coming over from Houston in July, hitting .324/.394/.560 and driving 11 homers and scoring 35 runs in just 54 games. John Mayberry Jr. may end up languishing on the bench so that Ibañez can start, but his career year shouldn’t be overlooked. Of course, neither should the performances of Placido Polanco and Jimmy Rollins at the other end of the spectrum.
The Cardinals scored nearly 60 more runs over the course of the season than the Phillies did. They’ll seek to capitalize on the power at the center of their lineup driven by the trio composed of Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, and Lance Berkman. Together, those three players combined to hit 90 homers, score 278 runs, and drive in 268. And with the exception of second baseman Skip Schumaker, the Cardinals can hit from top to bottom.
Center fielder Jon Jay has ably stepped into the hole left by the Colby Rasmus trade, shortstop Rafael Furcal adds some power up the middle, and when healthy, third baseman David Freese has started to come into his own. Catcher Yadier Molina also remains a fantastic hitter in his own right, and is probably the fourth-best hitter on the team, a compliment in such a loaded lineup.
Poor Vance Worley. The fourth-best pitcher in the Phillies starting rotation, he’s also the least famous and lowest-paid, earning him a trip to the bullpen for the first round of the playoffs. The beautiful thing is, that mistake won’t hurt Philadelphia at all. When the Cy Young award could be legitimately handed to any one of three pitchers in a team’s starting rotation, that’s just not good for the opposition. (For those who live a sadly sheltered life, the three are Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels.) Of course, unstoppable was the word used to describe the potential of the Halladay/Hamels/Roy Oswalt trio last year, and we all know how well that worked out.
What makes this series more interesting than Phillies-Reds is that the Cardinals do have good pitchers to match up with Philly. Chris Carpenter is still an ace, and he matches up well against Lee in Game 2. Normally Carpenter starting Game 2 would imply that Adam Wainwright is starting Game 1, but Tommy John surgery keeps him out until next year. Instead, the Game 1 burden falls on the shoulders of Kyle Lohse, a groundball pitcher who is finally thriving in St. Louis under pitching coach Dave Duncan.
Game 3 will feature left-hander Jaime Garcia, possibly the most underrated pitcher in all of baseball. The enigmatic Edwin Jackson rounds out the quartet, should the series even go four games.
The Cardinals will test the Phillies in more games and in more ways than the Reds did last year. With Wainwright, there might even have been some predictions of a major upset. But alas, that doesn’t appear to be on the horizon. There won’t be a no-hitter, there won’t be a sweep, but there also won’t be a celebration in St. Louis.
Prediction: Phillies in 4
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