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102 in 2011 – World Series or Bust

Posted By Christopher Rowe On Sep 29 2011 @ 4:00 pm In Philadelphia Phillies | 2 Comments

After a final day of the regular season that should come with a free cardiac check-up, the playoff participants have been determined. A lot of surprises occurred with two separate nine-game collapses for both AL and NL wildcard entries capping a fantastic 2011 season.

Phillies will prepare for the postseason having clinched their spot and secured Philadelphia’s home-field advantage nearly two weeks ago. With 102 wins (franchise record) and their fifth straight NL East Division title in their pocket, Philadelphia enters the postseason as the odds-on favorite. That 102 win also set a record making Charlie Manuel the winningest manager in Phillies franchise history (surpassing legendary Gene Mauch at 645).

While they have not been to the World Series since 2009 and have not won since 2008, the Phillies are the most seasoned group in the postseason. They have played 33 postseason games over the previous four seasons and they boast the unquestioned best starting pitching among the 8 playoff teams. Second place in this regard might go to AL Wildcard Tampa Bay so the Philadelphia starting rotation may not be directly challenged in the NL. Pitching faces hitting not the opposing pitcher. Ergo the Four Aces are looking at formidable opponents like Ryan Braun, Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman, Matt Holliday, Justin Upton and Prince Fielder – and that’s just the National League.

Texas and Detroit rank first and third respectively in hitting during the regular season while St. Louis (5th) and Milwaukee (8th) are also better than respectable. Philadelphia is the most balanced overall team in the postseason but don’t sleep on the Milwaukee Brewers who have solid starting pitching, a formidable bullpen and a sterling starting lineup.

Throw out the regular season stats because Boston ranked #1 in hitting overall and they are watching the postseason on TV with the rest of us (or maybe not because it will be too painful for them). Texas, Detroit and St. Louis can all thump the ball with the best of them. The Phillies are 10th offensively but rank first in pitching across categories like ERA (3.02), W (102), shutouts (21) and complete games (18). Philadelphia also ranks third in strikeouts (1299) and first in WHIP (1.17). Second would be Tampa Bay (1.22) and Milwaukee (1.24).

The schedule for the beginning of the Phillies-Cardinals National League division series has been announced by Major League Baseball:

Game 1 is Saturday at 5:07 p.m. at Citizens Bank Park. Roy Halladay will face Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse taking the hill over Jaime Garcia. TBS is televising all of the NLDS and ALDS games.

Game 2 is Sunday at 8:07 p.m. at Citizens Bank Park. Cliff Lee will face surprising Cardinals starter Edwin Jackson. The rest of the schedule has not yet been revealed but there is some interesting fodder in the mix.

The series shifts to St. Louis for Game 3 on Tuesday. Chris Carpenter (who pitched the season finale) would be the most likely starter to face the Phillies in St. Louis. Philadelphia should feature Cole Hamels. Roy Oswalt will be ready to pitch Game 4 (if necessary) – most likely against either Jaime Garcia or  Jake Westbrook.

The fact that Garcia is being held back until Game Four suggests that Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa is either protecting Garcia from an injury or over-strategizing. How do you not start your best starting pitchers in either of the first two games of a Best of Five game series? Carpenter started the season finale so his turn in the rotation and requisite rest dictates that he be held back until at least Game 2 but Game THREE?

Why not start Carpenter in Game 2 and then left-handed Garcia to combat the Phillies dangerous lefty hitters (Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Raul Ibanez) which would also turn the switch-hitters (Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino) to the right side? This is over-management, over-strategizing and simply outsmarting himself to the detriment of his own team. Garcia is a better pitcher at home and Carpenter is a proven veteran. LaRussa maintains that he is best-served holding back Garcia for Game 4 following Carpenter opting to go with Kyle Lohse and Edwin Jackson in Philadelphia.

Dick Stockton and Bob Brenly will call the entire series for TBS. On the Phillies radio broadcasts, Scott Franzke and Larry Andersen will call innings 1-3 and 7-9. Tom McCarthy will call innings 4-6 joined by Chris Wheeler and Gary Matthews on an alternating basis.

NLDS Predictions

Phillies beat Cardinals in four games (3-1). Four Aces plus potent Phillies lineup (and underrated bullpen) overtakes St. Louis’ lousy bullpen, their formidable three-man lineup (Pujols, Berkman, Holliday) and their over-managed pitching rotation (Lohse, Jackson, Carpenter, Garcia).

Milwaukee Brewers beat Arizona Diamondbacks in four (3-1) as the upstart worst-to-first Diamondbacks are no match for Milwaukee’s pitching rotation and everyone knows how potent the Milwaukee offense can be.

ALDS Predictions

Texas Rangers sweep Tampa Bay Rays (3-0) despite some very good starting pitching for the Devil Rays. Rangers lineup is way too powerful from top to bottom and will overcome their own pitching inequities.

Detroit Tigers defeat NY Yankees in 5 games (3-2) in a series that will be largely defined by starting pitching. Verlander and Sabathia will likely face off twice in this series (Game 1 and Game 4 or 5) but the middle games will determine the winner. Can Fister and Scherzer outpitch AJ Burnett and Ivan Nova? What about Bartolo Colon?

Detroit and the Yankees boast bodacious offensive attacks with MVP candidates on either side of the diamond but the Yankees lack depth in the starting rotation. Detroit has the edge until the time would come for Mariano Rivera to get into a game – which means the Yankees would have a late lead. Not even Rivera the Great can post four saves if his starting pitchers can get a lead into the eighth inning.

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