Rivalries are a strange thing. Being a fan of Philadelphia sports, you always feel a bit on the outside. We hate the Cowboys, but the Cowboys fans hate Washington more. We hate the Celtics, but the real rivalry is with the Lakers. One of the great things about the Phillies is that they’ve become targets. They get everyone’s best. I remember the Pirates beating them in a series last year and celebrating like they had just won the World Series. That’s something the Phillies would have done against the Mets in 1988. It’s a little embarrassing. It’s a little brother thing to do. The Phillies are the big brother now, though, and every team out there wants to be on their level, considered the chief rival. For now, I suppose the Giants have that title. They beat the Phillies in the NLCS last year, and whether or not they have the Phillies’ number, they certainly have Phillies fans under quite a spell.
Disliking the Giants is a relatively new phenomenon for me. Back in the day, when my allegiances were a little more widespread based on whose rookie card I wanted to increase in value, I would root for the Giants on occasion. I was a huge Will Clark fan. The Giants had pretty sharp uniforms, even in the no belt era, and anecdotally I remember them being a team with a lot of guys who wore eye-black–which was bad ass. After Will Clark left, though, and I focused my loyalties, I never paid the Giants much attention. Even when Barry Bonds was there. They were very quietly a team in a long championship drought until last year when they snapped it in a most disagreeable fashion. I properly hate the Giants now, but they’re just a placeholder. I don’t expect a long and ongoing rivalry.
This four game series will probably set the mood for Phillies fans for the rest of the month, possibly the entire year. It shouldn’t, but it will. A four game sweep and the Eagles’ brief flirtation with hype and cockiness over last weekend will look like humility. God forbid the Phillies get swept, and we’ll be playing out the string on the most miserable 100-win season in the history of Major League Baseball. Those are unlikely scenarios, though. The Phillies don’t need to win any of these games, but they should win at least a couple, and I’d be surprised if they didn’t. The pitching match-ups are a little better this time around. No Zito. No Kendrick.
Things I’m looking for:
1. How will Cliff Lee pitch tonight? He’s been either dominant or average this year and that sums him up against the Giants. He’d owned them prior to the World Series last year and then got hit around. I think it’s important for him to have a good game tonight.
2. Phillies vs. Left-handers. The Giants start the series with Bumgarner and Sanchez. Sanchez is erratic and Bumgarner has been up and down as well, but they both have the capability of shutting down the Phillies lineup. With the addition of Hunter Pence and Polly coming off the DL, you’re seeing a complete Phillies lineup for the first time all year. It’s likely that in an NLCS the Phils would have to get to one of these guys. They didn’t see either in Philly. Should be a fair representation, though Utley will likely get one of these games off.
3. Matt Cain. I think Cain is the guy that frustrates Charlie Manuel the most. I think when he says, “I know we can hit them,” he’s talking about Cain. Right-handed, hard thrower, there are no real tricks. The Phillies had success against him earlier in his career, but his last two starts (one in game 3 of the NLCS) were dominant. I was at the game he won in Philly, and he pitched great, but the Phillies had their chances and hit some balls hard. It’d be nice to nick him for a few this time around.
4. Oswalt. Roy Oswalt is pitching Sunday after a long DL stint and two rehab starts. Oswalt admitted that since about his fourth start this year he hasn’t been feeling right, but now is pain-free. If you remember, Oswalt started better than any of the other “aces.” If he approaches that form it’ll be a big lift for the Phillies and of course we remember how hot he was down the stretch last year. With all do respect to Kyle Kendrick, the Phils could use a healthy Oswalt.
5. Ryan Howard. Howard has exploded since Hunter Pence arrived. He claims to be getting more fastballs. This seems unlikely, regardless of Pence’s presence. I think he’s probably a little more relaxed, and the fact that Pence has come through with the occasional hit and RBI has helped him too. He’s finally got a home run off a lefty and he was pinging balls all over Coors Field. If he can stay hot through this series, or at least warm, then we might really be in for a big Ryan Howard surge.
Predictions? I don’t know, it feels like a split. I don’t feel great about that Sunday game with Oswalt having to match Lincecum his first day back. One of these days Hamels will beat Cain. So, maybe L-W-W-L? Swing game is probably tonight if they want any chance of taking three.
Fantasy Football News:
First, we’ve had a good response from last year’s DA participants, so that’ll be a go for year two. We may need one more person, but I think we’re set. If you want to play, there is probably room to expand it to 10 teams, so speak up.
Also, I happen to know a few people who are kind of “homeless,” in terms of Fantasy Football. Either their leagues died, or they just can’t enter enough leagues, so I said I would offer to try to recruit people. I’m not going to do it with less than 10 people, I’d say without any solicitation I can think of about 4 right now. So, if you need a 7th league, or you hate your league, or you are out in the cold, send me an email or leave a comment and if there is interest, I’ll set it up. I’d be open on all scoring rules, keepers, draft styles, etc. But, probably just keep it social for something like $50. Definitely not more than $100.