Did my usual reading of Philly.com’s comment section this morning. Actually, it’s been a while, but I assumed a third straight loss would ruffle some feathers. It did. About the fourth guy down wrote he came back from the service in 1964 to find the Phillies in first place…and, you know what happens from there. The magic number sits at one to make the playoffs, five to clinch the division and seven to clinch home-field advantage. There are seventeen games left in the season, but at least one guy out there is getting a little nervous.
The Phillies have played an uncommonly ugly brand of baseball for the last 21 innings. I’m sure most people would say it’s not the losing streak, it’s the sloppiness, the general malaise that is bothering them. Where’s the snap? Look at Detroit, gosh dang it! They’re going to sweep right into the playoffs and Verlander going to win 27 games, and someone’s going to get their Cy Young prediction right, but how the heck are we going to beat Detroit if we can’t beat Houston? It’s true that if the Phillies play like they did the last two nights they won’t beat anyone in the National League (except for maybe the Mets), but the chances of them playing that poorly are pretty slim.
After they won the first three in Milwaukee, I’m sure the fire was partially extinguished. It’s not about the magic number, but about reminding Atlanta and Milwaukee there’s still plenty of hill to climb. With that accomplished, with several guys missing action every day, and in front of 6,000 people in Houston, it’s not a surprise that the Phillies haven’t managed to clinch. They’ll rely on the inner hate and determination of Roy Halladay to try to break out of the funk today, and if that doesn’t work, I guess it’ll be up to the 45,000 at Citizens Bank Park to do the job on Thursday.
Assuming the Phillies don’t end the season 0-20, and the Cardinals don’t also win out, there are some issues floating around about the playoffs, most notably, Milwaukee or Arizona, who’d you rather? And, of course, the Vance Worley canonization committee insists that the Vanimal get that game four start over Roy Oswalt. I’ve already come down in favor of Oswalt getting the start. I don’t see how he can convert into a bullpen asset, so unless you want Oswalt to be a non-factor in the playoffs (mop-up man?) then you’ve got to send Vance out there. The Milwaukee or Arizona question is more interesting.
The two ways to look at the match-up are to try to focus on the Phillies strength, meaning which team are they more likely to shut down? Or, you can look at it the opposite way, which team are they more likely to hit, giving the pitchers that support that everyone thinks was missing in the NLCS last year. Some people would argue that the Diamondbacks are the answer to both these questions. They have the less intimidating pitching, and the Phillies’ starters fare better against them. I’m not sure that I agree.
Clearly, the Phillies pitchers are better off facing Arizona. Justin Upton is having a huge year, but the sheer inexperience of most of Arizona’s players and the way the Phillies handled them in their last visit make me think you’d see plenty of zeroes from Halladay, Hamels and Lee. Even if Upton scared you a bit, if you didn’t like that Overbay/Halladay match-up, it’s hard to compare that to the historical success that Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun have had against the Phillies. Just on the sh*t yourself factor alone, imagine Prince coming up in a tight game as opposed to say, Miguel Montero. That question kind of answers itself.
In terms of the Phillies’ hitters, though, I’m not sure if Milwaukee isn’t the better match-up. At least in regard to starting pitching. Now Kennedy, Collmenter and Saunders don’t exactly line up with Marcum, Gallardo and Greinke, but in terms of style and recent history, Arizona’s bunch in a little bit troubling. Collmenter and Saunders offer up the exact kind of slop that the Phillies have trouble handling. Now the Phillies do have a history of flipping trends during the post-season (see Hiroki Kuroda and Edinson Volquez), but I’m just putting it out there since people seem to like to have things to worry about.
It’s still clear to me, though, that Arizona is the team you need to face. It’s a better match-up for the pitchers and when you factor in the bullpen, and Arizona’s inexperience, they’re clearly the choice. But, if Milwaukee matches up with the Braves in the other series, I’ll certainly be pulling for them to make the NLCS.