The Philadelphia Phillies finished the 2010 Major League season with a 97-65 record, the best in all of baseball. After winning the World Series over the Rays in 2008 and losing last year’s World Series to the Yankees, the Phillies seem poised to make another run into late October/early November.
Up first for the Fightins is the Cincinnati Reds who made the playoffs for the first time since 1995 after winning the NL Central with 91 wins.
The Phillies closed out August and September in post season form going 41-18 in late summer. There are also many additions to this 2010 Phillies that make them more dangerous than the 2009 or 2008 clubs.
The first, and most obvious, is the starting pitching. Gone is Cliff Lee, the best pitcher the Phillies had last post-season. Instead the Phillies will turn to Roy Halladay (who will take the mound in game 1). Halladay is the front-runner for the NL Cy Young Award. In 2010 he became the first Phillies pitcher since Steve Carlton to record 20+ wins (finishing with 21). He finished the season as the team leader in wins, ERA, and strikeouts.
Roy Oswalt has been nothing short of spectacular since joining the Phillies. In his 12 starts since he joined the team Oswalt has a 7-1 record with a 1.74 ERA. His only loss came in his first game with Philadelphia just one day after being traded from Houston.
Finally, but no less important, is 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamel’s return to dominant form. Hamels posted a career best 3.06 ERA this season while also setting a career best in strikeouts with 211.
With three legitimate number one pitchers, and no need to use a fourth starter in the NLDS, the Phillies are in very good shape.
Then there is the return of Brad Lidge to the Lights Out closer the Phillies can rely on in the 9th inning. Lidge finished the season with 27 saves in 32 chances and down the stretch he really looked like the guy that helped the Phillies win it all in 2008 (instead of the guy that made Phillies fans all hold their breath with nervousness last year).
The pitching alone would give Phillies fans more than enough to be hopeful about this post-season, but wait, there’s more.
The Phillies added third baseman Placido Polanco before the start of the 2010 season and Polanco ended the regular season as the club leader in batting average (.298) and had a .988 fielding average committing just five errors.
Last season the Phillies didn’t have a bench that was up to the task. In 2010 they head into the post-season with a much improved bench that boasts new faces like Ross Gload, Mike Sweeney, Domonic Brown, Wilson Valdez, and Brian Schneider. The only hold-over from last year appears to be Ben Francisco who ended the final few games of the season as hot as anyone on the team.
Underneath all of the new editions and reasons for Phillies fans to get excited this post-season, is the best top to bottom line-up in baseball: Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino, Raul Ibanez, and Carlos Ruiz. Ruiz, batting out of the eight hole, never ceases to amaze in October.
What does Cincinnati bring to the table?
The Reds were the only team in the National League to score more runs than the Phillies this season. First baseman Joey Votto is the front-runner to win the league’s 2010 MVP award (finishing with 37 home runs, 113 RBI, and a .324 batting average). They also have ex-Phillie Scott Rolen at third base who, along with outfielder Jay Bruce, chipped in another 45 long balls for the Reds (Brandon Phillips and Drew Stubbs contributed another 40 home runs).
The big question for the Reds is their pitching.
Bronson Arroyo led the team in wins with 17, Johnny Cueto was first in both ERA (3.64) and strikeouts (138), and game one starter Edinson Volquez finished the season on a high note (31 K’s, 8 BB, and 17 hits in over 27 innings of work).
In the end, with their dangerous line-up and above average pitching, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Reds win a game in this short series but the Phillies are the more talented team and know what it takes to win in the post-season. The Phillies went 5-2 against the Reds in the regular season. Our prediction is Phillies win in 4.
Make sure to check back as Independent Philly will be at Citizen’s Bank Park to capture the action this week and will also be making in-depth predictions for each round of the post-season as the Phillies attempt to capture their second World Series title in three years.
**UPDATE: Placido Polanco was forced to sit out game one with a back injury and Wilson Valdez got the start at 3rd base. In his first post-season appearance ever, Roy Halladay threw only the second no-hitter (first since the 1950’s) in MLB playoff history. The Phillies won the game 4-0 over the Reds**