With the attention of most sports fans shifting so drastically to college and NFL football these past three weeks, the excellence of the Philadelphia Phillies has been lost in the shuffle. With October upon us, the MLB postseason draws even closer, and the Phillies are the early favorite to hoist the championship trophy.
Since Philadelphia acquired starting pitcher Roy Oswalt from the Houston Astros on July 30, Philadelphia is an astonishing 38-16. To make matters worse for the rest of the playoff teams, the Phillies have actually been even better of late. The team that hails from the city of brotherly love recently won 11 straight games and are 20-6 this month.
Their starting pitching staff is dominant, and that might not even be a strong enough adjective to describe them. The Phillies probably have the favorite for the NL Cy Young in Roy Halladay, and the scary thing is he’s been their third best pitcher since the All-Star break. Since the mid-summer classic, fellow Philadelphia starter Cole Hamels has been on an absolute tear, with a sparkling 2.28 ERA in the second half of the season, and an even more impressive 1.93 ERA in his five September starts. Add to that the fact that Oswalt really seems to like Philadelphia and pitching in a pennant race, as he’s 7-1 with a 1.65 ERA since donning a Phillies uniform.
In the playoffs, pitching reigns supreme and the Phillies just happen to tout two aces with a sub-3 ERA and one with an ERA just a shade over 3. In what many have coined “the year of the pitcher,” the Phillies have the most dominating assortment of starters we have seen in quite some time. People can question their bullpen until they’re blue in the face, but don’t forget that setup man Ryan Madson has been great all year long, and closer Brad Lidge has converted 17 of his last 18 saves and has a sub-1 ERA over the past two months. With those three starters consistently taking the ball deep into games, those may be the only two guys from the bullpen the Phillies need.
With all this talk of pitching, one would be remiss to forget to mention the Phillies sluggers. A mid-season collective hitting swoon had people worried about the Philadelphia bats, but they are currently eighth in the majors in runs and third in the National League in that same category.
Shortstop Jimmy Rollins made his long awaited return this past Sunday, giving the Phillies their full compliment of hitters for the first time in a while. Their top five batters will consist of the following list of players, in some order; Rollins, Shane Victorino, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jason Werth. That’s a potent, run scoring group that doesn’t rely solely on one man’s lumber. The bottom of the lineup is sound as well, and Philadelphia has good bats on the bench too, which will serve them well both in big pinch-hitting situations, and when they need to use the DH if they do indeed reach the World Series.
There currently is no obvious weakness for this Philadelphia team, while their fellow NL contenders all have holes. The Cincinnati Reds lack an ace on their pitching staff. The San Francisco Giants lineup has failed to consistently produce runs all year. The San Diego Padres have a suspect lineup as well and one has to wonder how much they are going to rein in their top pitcher, youngster Matt Latos, with a possible innings limit situation. The Braves have been decimated with injuries, and they would be entering the postseason with two of their top pitchers dealing with fatigue after pitching on short rest in an attempt just to make the playoffs. The Rockies have surged of late, but outside of Ubaldo Jimenez, their starting staff is very sub-par, and their bullpen is far from a strength.
The AL teams all have big questions as well. The Minnesota Twins’ pair of prized, star hitters, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, are both currently sidelined with injuries. Despite their fantastic lineup, the New York Yankees’ starting staff is a major question mark outside of CC Sabathia. The Rangers’ ace Cliff Lee has been struggling the past two months and Josh Hamilton has missed all but two September games to this point. The Rays appear to be the AL favorites, but they mysteriously fail to score runs for stretches at a time, and their starting pitching that everyone praised early in the season has really faltered of late.
So again, it comes back to the Phillies. A high scoring team with the best starting pitching in baseball and a solid bullpen. Despite the Yankees being the defending champs, the Phillies are the team to beat come October.