The Phillies are considered the favorites to get back to the World Series. Not only is this a new concept for the Comeback Kids of Broad Street, but a prospect that seemed as likely in July as Eagles coach Andy Reid replacing Kevin Kolb at QB after the first game of the season.
Think back to July…The Phillies had just closed out a terrible 2-6 road trip to Chicago and St. Louis by beating the Cardinals 1-0 in 11 innings on July 22. They won that game because Cole Hamels allowed only one hit through eight stifling innings in the heat and humidity of Missouri summer.
The Phillies were just three games over .500, third in the National League East, 7 games behind the Atlanta Braves. The offense was in such a funk that hitting coach Milt Thompson was fired just as the team arrived back in Philadelphia later that night. Trade rumors were everywhere, and those included dumping Jayson Werth, Raul Ibanez and half of the bullpen. Media in Philly were calling for Domonic Brown to be the Savior of the Franchise while national media didn’t even have this team in the hunt. The fans however kept selling out CBP and the players kept showing up to play.
There was little talk of reaching the World Series for the third straight season, something that hasn’t been done in the National League since the Cardinals did it from 1942-44. Yet here they are, about to start their fourth consecutive playoff season when the Phillies play Game 1 of the NLDS against the Cincinnati Reds at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday. Only two other NL teams have reached the postseason four consecutive seasons. One of those teams would be the Atlanta Braves 1991-2006, who wound up at the NL Wildcard after losing that NL East lead.
Nobody expects the Reds to have much of a chance in the NLDS. Good hitting, not enough pitching. Nobody expects the San Francisco Giants to knock off the Phillies in the NLCS, either. Great pitching, not enough hitting. That is not to mention the Braves as a possible NLCS opponent. They lost two of three this past weekend to the Phillies’ JV team, nearly costing themselves a playoff spot. But this role of favorite is so new to the Phillies.
That was never the case during the Phillies recent run, and that was true even when they won the World Series in 2008. That season, and the season before, they reached the postseason after the Mets choked the division away. In 2007, the Phillies trailed the Mets by 7 games with 17 to play. They had to overcome a three-game deficit over the final 2 weeks of the 2008 season to overtake those same New York Mets.
Now the favorite sons of the city of brotherly love embark on their fourth straight postseason and try to make their third World Series appearance in four years. They won it all in 2008, fell a game short to the vaunted Yankees in 2009 and 2010 has seen this team accomplish a new feat. The Phillies’ lineup card for Game No. 162 included the same eight names, excluding the pitcher as the lineup card for Game No. 1 did. In between, manager Charlie Manuel was able to play all eight regulars together just 13 times. With so many injuries to so many key players, it wasn’t at all surprising that the Phillies finished the season atop the standings. What was a surprise is that it was the Phillies’ 97 wins — the most in the majors — came with 1 players spending significant time on the DL while the lineup often bore names like “Valdez” or “Schnieder” or “Sweeney.”
“It says a lot, and we have a very talented bench,” said second baseman Chase Utley, who missed nearly two months of the season with a thumb injury. “It just shows that we never made excuses or threw in the towel at any part of the year. We kept playing.” Their reward might be a serendipitous bit of timing now that the playoffs are here. While Manuel has gone to his bench to fill holes virtually all season, the Phillies are finally close to full strength for the postseason.
The eight regulars haven’t played more than two consecutive games together all year, but with Jimmy Rollins being worked back into the lineup last week, the Phillies are expecting some consistency at long last. Not that the team has been complaining.
“I don’t even think we consider whether we have a full lineup in or not,” said Rollins, who made two trips to the disabled list this year, then sat out nearly three weeks in September with a hamstring injury. “I can’t think of any years in this run we’ve had a completely healthy lineup. A key part has always been down.”
The other common thread, however, has been that bench players have stepped up consistently. That has been particularly true this season. Ben Francisco, Wilson Valdez, Ross Gload, Domonic Brown — all have played a part in the Phillies’ run to a fourth straight division title, which has Manuel optimistic about just how deep this Phillies team will be now that the playoffs are here.
“I think those guys, they definitely can get to you,” Manuel said. “They’ve been doing it all year long.” Valdez found a home in the lineup this season, filling in at three different positions and adding a surprisingly quick bat. Francisco didn’t see a ton of playing time, but he enters the playoffs as hot as anyone on the team, batting .412 and driving in six runs in the past five games. Gload led the team with 15 pinch hits, including three home runs. Then there are Brian Schneider and Mike Sweeney — two veterans in their first season with the Phillies. Both have made an impact on the field, and have also helped with the team chemistry that has allowed the Phillies to fight through so many injuries and remain strong.
“They’ve done a great job of filling this team with guys with the right attitude, and the guys coming in know what’s been expected of them and have done a great job,” Rollins said. That will likely benefit the Phillies during the next month when those players are called on again, While Charlie Manuel’s bench players have enjoyed their share of big moments in the postseason the past few years, this group might be his best.
“If you look at it, our bench is right-handed and left-handed,” Manuel said. “We have some pretty good hitters.” Of course, the Phillies have some pretty good hitters in their everyday lineup, too. They just haven’t seen much of them all together this year. But a little adversity is nothing new for the Phillies, and at this time of year, having weathered those storms might be their biggest asset.
“We can’t make excuses,” Rollins said. “So we don’t.”
All games on TBS
Game 1: Wednesday, Reds (Volquez 4-3) at Phillies (Halladay 21-10), 5:07 p.m.
Game 2: Friday, Reds (Arroyo 17-10) at Phillies (Oswalt 13-13), 6:07 p.m.
Game 3: Sunday, time TBD, Phillies (Hamels 12-11) at Reds (Cueto 12-7)
Game 4: Oct. 11, at Reds, if necessary
Game 5: Oct. 13, at Phillies, if necessary
About the Author
Written by Christopher Rowe
Contributing writer Comcast Sports, NY Times contributing stringer 1996-2000, Contributing writer Yahoo Sports (2001 World Series). Contributing writer Newsday Long Island (1992-1994, Jets Training Camp) and Newak Star Ledger. Freelance Copywriter, Editor/Founder Atlantic Times Weekly (1993-2003) fantasy football magazine, produced screenwriter and general humorist. Hofstra University grad, Marist College honorary alum, Salesian; Purveyor of the Value and Valor of Philadelphia Eagles 1960 NFL Championship; Adrent believer that Eagles could have won Super Bowl XV...and Super Bowl XXXIX...plus modern decade of Eagles 5 NFC Championships... Believer in the Broad Street Bullies and the 1983 Sixers... Witness to Philadelphia Phillies World Series championships 1980 & 2008, Suffered Phillies first pro sports team to reach 10,000 losses,witnessed "1980 Cardiac Kids," 1983 "Wheeze Kids," 1993 "Macho Row" and many, many, many not-so-memorable seasons in-between... until the Philadelphia Baseball Renaissance of 21st Century, Five NL East division titles 2007-2011, 3 NLCS appearances 2008-2010, 2 consecutive World Series berths 2008 & 2009. 2008 World Champions of baseball [miss ya Harry and Richie]; "collector" of MLB ballparks (42 stadiums including 15 which are gone); Fantasy Football & Baseball player since 1992. Always a sports fan... Tenui Nec Dimittam Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org