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Top 5 Concerns for Phillies as they clinch NL East and head to the playoffs

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"KEEP ON PHIGHTIN' WITH JOE VALLEE"

Pop the corks!

The Phillies have won the National League East for the fourth consecutive year!  Their 94th victory leads all of baseball, and on paper the Phightins are considered heavy favorites going into the 2010 postseason. Let's look ahead now to the playoffs, and although they don't have many, the team has some concerns as Red October begins. Here are some of ours.

1.  IS Roy Halladay tired?

After tonight's performance, it doesn't look like Halladay seems too tired at all. Nonetheless, Halladay most likely needs rest after nine complete games this season.  Halladay on his B game is probably better than any starter in the majors, he redefines the term "horse," and he has pitched more innings than any pitcher in Major League Baseball this year. That's why the team has to keep an eye on him. As great as Steve Carlton was during the 1980 season for the Phillies, his tank was running low by the World Series. Lefty was still good enough for two wins in the series as the Phillies clinched their first World Series title, so hopefully a fatigued but effective Halladay can duplicate Carlton's performance in the 2010 postseason.

Unlike Roy Oswalt  and Cole Hamels, Halladay has NEVER pitched in the playoffs, and the spotlight will be on him like never before.

2. The Phillies don't have that much-needed, reliable lefty in the pen:

Joey Votto, Adrian Gonzalez, and Jason Heyward are some of the left-handed hitting monsters the Phillies could possibly face in the playoffs. As reliable as J.C. Romero was in 2008, he is that inconsistent now. Brian Fuentes was available for just $1.8 million from Los Angeles, but was acquired by the Twins. The Phillies seem to be going with a five-man rotation lately (the big three, Ryan Madson, and Brad Lidge) However, you know there's going be THAT close game in the playoffs where the Phillies' bats can't get things going, either Halladay, Oswalt, or Hamels will throw too many pitches, the opposing team will manage to load the bases with their stud lefty at the plate, and Charlie Manuel will have no choice but to go to his pen. Scenarios like this can be the difference between winner takes all and second best. Somewhere, Scott Eyre is crying...........

3. Will the offense stay awake? Or hibernate again?

It's no secret the Phillies' offensive numbers are drastically lower when compared to the last two seasons. And as they showed again this weekend, it can still vanish at a moment's notice, and then return with an eight-run outburst. It looks like Major League Baseball is returning to a "pitching dominant" league and the Phillies are feeling the repercussions. Despite the lack of offense at times, the Phillies have more hitters (Placido Polanco, Jayson Werth, Carlos Ruiz) hovering around the .300 mark than they've had during the last two years, and the team's normally high strikeout totals are amongst the lowest in the league in 2010.

Lost in the euphoria of the 2008 championship season was the ten-week hitting drought the Phillies endured that summer. It returned by September and for the most part was consistent in the playoffs. The 2010 squad clearly relies more on pitching than offense. There will be some tight games come playoff time, so the team will need to continue manufacturing runs like they have done in September. The starting pitching has masked some of these problems, as the Phillies were to win all three games versus Atlanta last week outscoring them by a combined five runs.

4. Just where will Jimmy Rollins bat? And will he be a factor?

Truth be told, Rollins is probably best suited batting seventh right now. The offense did sputter against the Mets. But to be fair, the team has only lost four games all month. Manuel can't afford to take Shane Victorino out of the lead-off spot right now and Polanco is the perfect number two hitter. 1-5 in the lineup is generating some pretty good chemistry, which won't be altered all that much if Rollins is hitting seventh. With Chooch most likely returning to the eighth spot, the Phillies will be very tough to beat offensively if they are running on all cylinders, and Rollins could flourish hitting in front of him. It might not be his choice, but this is about the team.

5. Is this team peaking too early?

Up until last weekend, the Phillies looked absolutely unstoppable. They are 20-5 so far in September, and this is even more of an impressive run than their 17-8 mark in September 2008. The clincher on Monday night allows the team to get their pitching staff lined up for the NLDS. There didn't seem to be too much of a sense of urgency versus the Mets and the energy level wasn't quite where it was versus the Braves. Let's hope they haven't hit their stride too early. 

Bottom Line:

When insiders like Ken Rosenthal start picking the Phillies to win the World Series, you feel pumped, but then start to get a little uneasy. The Phillies the favorite to win it all? What? The Phillies are NEVER considered favorites!! This team relishes the role of the underdog, so it will be interesting to see how this scenario plays out. The legacy of this Phillies era as well as the franchise itself could be defined by this postseason. This team seems determined, so fasten your seat belts.

And in the meantime, Keep on Phightin'

 

Joe Vallee is a lifelong Phillies fan and former Phillies batboy. Joe has claimed to have seen about 98% of every Phillies game since the early 1980's.

Contact Joe at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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