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The Top 5 Teams that could kill the Phillies’ World Series title hopes

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With a win against the Oakland A’s Sunday, the Phillies clinched their first winning record in June since 2007. The most important series of this season to date starts Tuesday, as three-game series (and possible World Series matchup) with the Boston Red Sox gets underway. Boston is a team that could easily damage the hopes of the Phillies bringing home another championship, so we thought it would be fun to look ahead and break down several of the teams in MLB that could give the Phightins a run for their money come October (if they win the division, of course). The road to another Broad Street parade won't be easy, and here are some possible playoff scenarios.
 
5. Cardinals- The redbirds are currently three games in back of the Brewers in the NL Central. Overall the Phillies are better than St. Louis, but facing Albert Pujols and co. is never an easy task (assuming that he is healthy when he returns). Moreover, the prospect of left-hander Jaime Garcia in a five-game series is never pleasant either. Although Chris Carpenter (4.26 ERA) and Jake Westbrook (5.32 ERA) have struggled mightily this season, those two both schooled the Phillies in their respective outings against them this season (but then again, who DOESN’T have a chance of schooling the Phillies on any given day?).

This series could most likely come down to the Phils’ starters shutting down Pujols, Matt Holliday, and Lance Berkman. Also keep in mind that the Cardinals’ bullpen is quite flammable (as they showed last week against the Phils). Depending on how St. Louis does without Pujols however, they might be an afterthought by the time September rolls around anyway.Ryan Braun could be a strong candidate for NL MVP by seasons end. Photo: www.thegoldensombrero.com

4. Brewers- The Brewers are serious contenders. Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder are slowly becoming this generation’s Robin Yount and Paul Molitor. The Brewers’ pitching is also nothing to sneeze at. Despite an ERA of 4.72, former AL Cy Young Award Winner Zack Greinke has a 7-2 record, Shaun Marcum is having an All-Star season and is just the type of pitcher who gives the Phillies fits, Yovani Gallardo is not the same starter the Phillies faced in Game One of the 2008 NLDS, and former Phil and lefty Randy Wolf can always surprise you.

Like the Cardinals however, the Brewers’ bullpen is completely flammable. Once again, if the Phillies don’t hit, it won’t matter. It could be a very tough series.

3. Braves- If the season were to end today, the Braves would take the NL Wild Card. Atlanta’s offense is actually ranked lower than the Phillies’ offense, but the real surprise here is how well the Brvaes’ starters have performed. As heralded as the Phillies’ starting pitching was going into 2011, the Braves’ staff is statistically the best in the game. Jair Jurgens has as many wins as Roy Halladay with a lower ERA (although Halladay has thrown considerably more innings than Jurgens) whileTommy Hanson is also coming into his own. Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe aren’t having great years by any means, but I can't crack another joke about the Phillies' offense. Well, maybe one more later.

With the exception of last September’s series at Citizens Bank Park, the Braves always play the Phillies tough. They are a year older and have some playoff experience under their belts. Not a team the Phils want to face in October.

2. Giants- Need I say more? We all know what happened last year. As bad as the Giants’ bats were in 2010, they are worse this year- ranking dead last in the majors in offense. Some of this has to do with the loss of Buster Posey for the season after that home plate collision. Can lightning strike twice? That remains to be seen. Posey was a big part of their championship run. But despite his absence combined with the ineffectiveness of Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner, the Giants have proven to be resilient. They are currently leading a weak NL West, which works in their favor. Any time you have Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain in a short series, you’re never too much of an underdog. Even when the Phils were an offensive powerhouse, they still couldn’t hit at AT&T Park. Not a favorable matchup for the Phils whatsoever.

1. Red Sox- Here, I said it: The Red Sox are  the only team in the American League that could give the Phils a run for their money. The Fightins are more than capable of beating an aging Yankees team in a seven game series.  Adrian Gonzalez is currently the best hitter in baseball. Photo: www.myredsoxtoday.com

It’s not that Boston is that much better (although their offense certainly is), this is just not a good matchup for the Phillies and it hasn’t been for a decade. The Phils are 6-18 against Boston since 2003.

Cole Hamels usually fares pretty well against the Sox, but neither he or Cliff Lee are your typical “tough on lefties” types of pitchers, which is what Boston’s lineup consists mostly of. Adrian Gonzalez, who is probably the greatest hitter on the planet right now, has absolutely torched those two in recent years. Moreover, Roy Halladay is 14-15 lifetime against Boston (Yes, Roy Halladay actually has a losing record against a team in Major League Baseball.)

The Phillies' pitching is better than Boston’s, but the Red Sox are not to be completely underlooked in the arms department. Josh Beckett is 8-4 against the Phils since 2001, and his 1.86 ERA going into Tuesday’s game is absolutely sickening. Although John Lackey has struggled this year, left-hander Jon Lester is probably drooling at the sight of the Phillies’ weak hitting left-handed hitting dominant lineup. Because the Phils’ bats are more unpredictable than Donovan McNabb in an NFC Championship Game, it's not too much of a stretch to see Halladay, Hamels or Lee surrendering just two to three runs per game with Phillies not scoring any. I know I'm ragging on their offense a little, but pitching will only get tougher come playoff time.

Please take note that we are looking several months ahead. So many things can change over one game let alone four months (for example, the Phils haven't even gotten that right-handed bat they need yet. Ruben, are you reading this?) Who knows? Maybe the Phils have taken their lumps against Boston for a greater payoff in the future. After all, they had a 6-12 lifetime record against the Tampa Bay Rays prior to 2008, and look how that ended........

 

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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Thumbnail: www.myredsoxtoday.com

Braun photo: www.thegoldensombrero.com