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Phillies Chances of Repeating Unlikely

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When people laugh at my concerns regarding the Phillies these days, they call me crazy.

I beg to differ.

Watching almost every Phillies game since 1985-86 will give you an insight that casual Phillies fans can't and won't understand.

Personally, I don't think that the Phillies will pull a "2007 Mets" and end up losing this division to the Marlins. They are too good of a team for that. I am thinking past the division and into the depths of October baseball, when the holes of this team can and most likely will come to life. Here are several things to keep an eye out for as the regular season comes to a close.

1. Situational Hitting- This has become so horrendous it's comical. Combine this with an unreliable closer and you see the results right before your very eyes. THAT has become the new book on how to beat the Philadelphia Phillies: keep them to a low scoring game and get to Brad Lidge. It's gotten so bad that the team is now second in the league in runs scored. If the Phils even got as much as one additional run home Saturday or Monday, their chances of winning those games improve drastically. They got away with this in the World Series last year because their pitching was outstanding, and the team "magically learned" how to manufacture runs. Lighting however, rarely strikes twice, and if a team like the St. Louis Cardinals or Colorado Rockies are hitting well come October, this will cost the Phillies dearly. We won't even get into how an American League team could capitalize on this (see Memorial Day Weekend: Phillies vs. Yankees). I won't be that foolish. Moreover, the pitching the Phillies face will most likely be top notch every night in the post season, where they could face Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, and Joel Pineiro. Oh yeah, there's that possible matchup with Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain from San Fransisco. To be honest,I think the Giants are on the outside looking in on the Wild Card race. Their pitching is stellar, but their offense isn't. The Phils beat Wainwright earlier in the year, but were handled rather easily by Pineiro. To be fair, the playoffs are a whole new ballgame. Depending how you look at it, this could hurt or benefit the Phillies.

What can they do to improve their situational hitting? It's simple: Start getting hits with runners in scoring position. After all, it IS what championship teams do. This has probably become more mental than anything. A string of hits may be all it takes to get them back on track, but when or will it happen? There HAS to be players who can bunt on this team. If not, they'd better learn fast, because if you keep waiting for that home run.................

2. WHO can step up and be the team's ace in the playoffs? Not sure. Cliff Lee was left off Cleveland's post season roster in 2007 and is unproven in the playoffs. His last two starts have been horrendous. Not exactly the type of outings you like to see from your prized acquisition at the trade deadline. To make matters worse, Cole Hamels has been more off than on this season. J.A. Happ seems to have hit a snag in confidence after two straight losses, as well as suffer an apparent oblique injury.

Remember when everyone thought too many starters was a problem? Well here is when it could come in handy. Despite the uncertainty of Lee and/or Hamels, one of the two will be a game one starter if the Phils make the playoffs. Charlie Manuel is a loyal guy, so my guess is that he will start with the post season proven Hamels and have Lee pitch game two. The two dark horses here are Joe Blanton and Pedro Martinez. Blanton has been their most consistent starter all season, and proved last year he is more than capable of holding things together in a big game. If Happ continues to have rough outings or his injury is more serious, the Phils will probably go with Martinez. His career track record speaks for itself, and his most recent outing showed that he can still shut a team down if called upon. Whether Martinez can continue to pitch that well at age 37 may be unlikely. But like I said, the playoffs are a whole new ball game.

3. The bench, or lack thereof- As discussed in previous articles, Ruben Amaro  did NOTHING to improve the bench on August 31st. This is a disgrace. When Eric Bruntlett is your main pinch runner, or one of your right handed bats off the bench, something is seriously wrong here. It is an insult that he is still on this team. Does Paul Bako have any other reason being here besides catching Cliff Lee? Matt Stairs hasn't gotten a hit for two months, and Greg Dobbs hasn't put things together all year either. Neither Bako or Stairs can give you anything athletically. Ben Fransisco has shown signs of getting the big hit, but he's not exactly the second coming of Del Unser. And Miguel Cairo is....Miguel Cairo. I find it beyond my comprehension to accept that there was NO veteran bat available last week. This may annoy me more than anything the club has or hasn't done this year. These guys better get some decent playing time during the next three weeks. That is the only way they can be half decent at best in October.

4. Bullpen Roles- I have watched this team EVERY day for five months now. WHAT are the roles of anyone in this pen besides the closer? (whose job is a little TOO secure if you get my drift) Last year, it was Chad Durbin and/or J.C. Romero in the 7th inning. Scott Eyre was your lefty specialist. Ryan Madson was your setup man in the eighth, and Brad Lidge closed the ninth (every time).  The inconsistencies of almost everyone in the pen at one point or another in 2009 have made all of these roles unclear. Eyre continues to be excellent after being left for dead by the Cubs last summer. And the emergence of Tyler Walker has helped ease Durbin's ineffectiveness this season. Chan Ho Park had his first bad outing in months yesterday. Park has arguably has been their most consistent pitcher all year out of the pen, and most likely be used as a seventh inning and/or eighth inning option. Don't worry, I haven't forgotten about Romero or Clay Condrey. I'll get to them in the next topic. Even though he left us high and dry with our Philly2Philly interview, you have to give credit to Jamie Moyer, who seems quite effective playing the role of "Pissed Off Wiley Veteran." But can he become your other lefty out of the pen in the playoffs? The answer is, he's better than Jack Taschner. In saying that, Moyer isn't exactly the kind of pitcher you can count on to get out of a bases loaded jam in October. Especially if a home plate umpire isn't giving him the calls. I really would have liked George Sherrill in these situations, but that's another story. If Happ is healthy, where is your roster spot for Martinez? Or do you make Happ your other lefty if he is healthy? If you don't use Lidge as your closer, do you leave him on the roster? He surely won't pitch in the seventh or eighth inning. These decisions will be tough for Manuel, who will spend this September determining the roles of many players who are on the bubble of making a possible post season roster. One thing is for sure: there WILL be a veteran who will not be included. Who will it be?

5. Injuries- The injury bug is hitting this team at the wrong time. Chase Utley's foot must be pretty bad in order for him to miss a game. Shane Victorino's knee has bothered him since the Arizona series in late July. Raul Ibanez  has showed some signs of a resurgence the last two games, but is his groin fully healed? Former World Series hero Romero has never been able to get back on track this season, which saw him suspended for the first 50 games. His failure to recover from his forearm injury suffered in late July could possibly have him miss the remainder of the season. Romero is undisputedly your other left hander coming out of the pen if he is healthy, but there is no certainty to this. The news is worse for long-man Clay Condrey, whose recurring oblique injury most likely has him shelved for the year. How bad is Ryan Madson's or Happ's injury? Brad Lidge is now reported to have a blister on his pitching hand as well.

6. Team Complacency- Manuel got very testy after yesterday's game about the attitude and recent overall play of the team. In an expletive filled speech, Manuel stated that he thinks his team is too complacent. I would have to agree. The team looks lifeless, as if they are passing time waiting for bigger things. Whatever happened to the "Not get too high, get too low" mumbo jumbo that Chase Utley always preached? Do they know something we don't? Last time I checked, they don't have the best record in baseball. They don't don't even have the best record in their league. In last year's playoffs, the Phillies lost three games, and none of them were at home. In September 2008, the Cubs and Angels were passing time, and they were home one week into October. Home field advantage for those playoff games is huge. It's a shame that the Dodgers and Cardinals are probably going to have it instead of the Phils.

7. Team Darkhorse: Brett Myers- I know he has only pitched two games since his return from a hip injury. However, Myers looked good and he is fresh. Lidge does not. Myers obviously needs some more games to get his rhythm going. It's not a stretch to say you can put him in the seventh, eighth, or dare I say it, ninth inning. He will take the ball whenever or wherever you need him. If the Phillies even stand a chance of repeating, and he's given the opportunity, Brett Myers is your X-Factor. Bank on it.

8. Brad Lidge- It is with extreme sadness that I think this is the ultimate reason why I don't think the Phillies will repeat. With his loyalty, Charlie Manuel may be on his way to becoming the Jim Fregosi of the new millennium. That will not be pretty. The Phillies can fight like hell to win every game they play all they want. Bottom line: you have to get those last three outs. Right now, our closer can't do this (For all you young kids out there, cross reference "Curt Schilling" and "towel over his head"), and shows NO signs of getting his groove back. You can't even use your closer in back to back games? Houston, we now have YOUR problem. Now, and for the next two years.

The last National League team to repeat as World Series Champions were the 1976 Cincinnati Reds- the ONLY team in baseball history to go undefeated in the post season since the inception of the League Championship Series in 1969. Before that? The New York Giants in 1922. Ironically, this series featured the last post season game to be suspended or end in a tie until Game Five: Part One, of last year's World Series. Only two teams bringing home back-to-back titles in 87 years does not bode well for the Phillies chances of repeating in 2009. Throw in the multitude of the team's deficiencies and there's not many reasons to be optimistic. Then again, one championship in 126 years aren't very good odds either when a team is trying to win ANY kind of championship. Nonetheless, last Halloween's parade down Broad Street proved that it can happen. The Phillies in 2008 were healthy, consistent, and had many things bounce their way to become the champs. It's tough to do that two years in a row let alone at all.

Just ask a Chicago Cubs fan...................

 

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