The 2011 Phillies

As the regular season begins to wind down and as post-season races heat up, I imagine I’ll be writing about baseball every five days or so. Consider this installment one now that September is here.

I’m going to start with the presumptive World Series favorites and the best team in baseball now and for the entire season — the Philadelphia Phillies. My beloved Cubs have been out of the playoff picture since about the third week of April, so I have no compunction when it comes to rooting for the Phils to win it all this year. Roy Halladay has been my favorite athlete — across all sports, comfortably filling the vacuum adolescent Brett Favre left when I realized he was a franchise-retarding douche — for quite some time, and I’ll root for him on any team against any team except the Cubs. He’s going to win another Cy Young this year. That will be number three. You might have recalled from last season that he pitched only the 20th perfect game EVER and only the second post-season no-hitter EVER. Major League Baseball’s current complete game leader with 63 (19 shutouts, and in an era that’s decidedly hostile to the complete game, though don’t tell James Shields that). Career record of 184-91, and a definite possible for the first 300-game winner of the 21st century, among pitchers who have exclusively started in this century. (Yes I know Halladay came up in ’98, but really, his pre-2000 career in the bigs doesn’t count)
But I digress. I could gush about Doc all day and how he makes me mourn for a glorious baseball past I wasn’t alive to see. Let’s talk about the Phils in general. Anchored by Halladay, that staff is ridiculous. Cliff Lee (15-7, 2.59 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, third pitcher EVER after Walter Johnson and Bob Gibson to post two months in the same season with an undefeated record with at least four wins and a sub-1.00 ERA) is a proven post-season maestro, and gives the Phils the opportunity to go R-L-L-R in a series, or even R-L-R-L to really fuck with the opposition. Those second two, by the way, are Cole Hamels (13-7, 2.58 ERA, 0.97 WHIP) — who’s seemingly finally mastered his wicked stuff — and Roy Oswalt (6-8, 3.77 ERA, 1.41 WHIP but 156-91, 3.21, 1.19 career). Think about that. In a seven-game series, the Phillies can send out Halladay-Lee-Hamels with Oswalt in the pen or Halladay-Lee-Hamels-Oswalt to save Halladay and Lee for the NLCS/World Series.
Am I forgetting someone? Ah yes, Vance Worley. Who? you might ask. Just the Phillies’ number five 23-year old rookie starter who would be the ace of at least half of MLB clubs. For numbers, how does 10-1, 2.85 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, .224 BAA sound? He’ll be a reliever when the postseason rolls around. Add to that bullpen the man with the best name in baseball — Antonio Bastardo, he of the 1.38 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, 3.26 K/BB, .114 BAA (!) — Brad Lidge, charter member of the mercurial 21st century closer club and still capable of the 10-pitch 1.0 IP, 0/0/0 3K line, with the extremely reliable Ryan Madson (2.96 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 26/28 in saves) to finish things off.
In short the 2011 Phils could score two runs per game and still kick ass. However…
There’s the lineup. Let’s start with Shane Victorino, number two or lead-off guy with Jimmy Rollins on the 15-day DL. Has a .919 OPS. I’m too lazy to check right now, but I’m pretty sure that’s top three among current lead-off hitters in all of baseball. Hits for average, doesn’t swing at bad pitches, power to both fields, not super-speedy, but smart on the bases and steals when available. Rollins — who should be back in form for the postseason — has been overrated his entire career, yet still can hit for power, steal bases, and is above average defensively at short. I really think Victorino is the better choice at 1, based on OBP, but it’s hard to argue with a one-two punch of Rollins-Victorino especially with three and four. Speaking of whom… Moving along the infield, you’ve got Ryan Howard, who is also overrated with an .827 OPS at the power position, yet who can also change a game or series with one swing. Chase Utley has been injured and is slowly coming back, but should get better as September moves into October. When he’s right, he’s without doubt the best all-around second-baseman in the game. At third you have a platoon of Michael Martinez and Wilson Valdez. Neither amounts to much. Carlos Ruiz and Brian Schneider behind the plate, neither of whom could hit an eephus pitch, but both of whom are solid defensively and definitely can call games.
Outfield isn’t much better. Hunter Pence was a huge upgrade in left, both defensively and in terms of adding a power bat who gets on base fairly reliably (.366 OBP). Victorino is about average defensively in center, already mentioned his offensive production. Ibañez in left has been a liability all season — like the guy, but his 39 years are showing. His mobility defensively has been suspect all season, and a .288 OBP is inexcusable. At least he has postseason experience, and with 17 HR out of 107 hits, does damage when he does connect.
All in all, the Phillies will rise or fall on the basis of their loaded pitching staff. Their offense is less than average, defense slightly better than average, but three runs in the postseason will all but guarantee a win.
Prediction: World Series champions, beating the Boston Red Sox 4-2.
Up next: the Boston Red Sox.
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~ by Benji on 1 September 2011.

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