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Phillies pitching may meet its match
Imagine the pitching matchups:
I'm not sure any team in either league can beat the Phillies, but I'd almost bet on a Halladay or Hamels no-hitter if the Chipper-less, Prado-less Braves were the Phillies' opponent. Heck, I might even bet on one if the Giants were.
The Reds, the top-scoring team in the NL in the regular season, posed little threat while getting swept in the Division Series, producing nearly as many errors (seven) as hits (11) and finishing with a batting line of .124/.160/.213.
The Reds' average and OBP rank as the worst in Division Series history, according to STATS LLC. Their slugging percentage ranks as the fourth worst ever in a division series, the worst since the '99 Rangers (.207).
Halladay threw a no-hitter for the Phillies in Game 1. Hamels pitched a five-hit shutout for a 2-0 victory in Game 3. Oswalt had a slight hiccup in Game 2, but the bullpen rescued him with four scoreless innings.
Frankly, I can’t imagine either the Giants or Braves posing a serious threat to the Phillies offensively. The best test probably would come from the Yankees if they survived the Rays or Rangers in the ALCS.
Indeed, the postseason barely has begun, and the Phillies’ Big Three already is drawing comparisons to some of the great rotations from the past.
Reds manager Dusty Baker, whose first major-league season as a player was in 1968, was asked the last time he saw a playoff team with three starting pitchers this dominant.
“Been a long time, probably so far back as the (1971) Baltimore Orioles maybe, when they had (Jim) Palmer and (Dave) McNally and (Mike) Cuellar, (Pat) Dobson — those guys pitched,” Baker said. “I mean, they really pitched.”
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, asked the same question, mentioned the 1995 Braves.
“I was in Cleveland (as the hitting coach),” Manuel said. “They had (Greg) Maddux, (John) Smoltz and (Tom) Glavine and (Steve) Avery, I think, was their fourth guy. That was a good startin’ staff. But this staff here, I would say it sits right in there.”
The 2005 Astros also belong in the discussion — Oswalt, Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens performed even better in the regular season than the Phillies’ Big Three did this year. Pettitte and Clemens, however, faded in the playoffs.
Maybe Oswalt will experience a dropoff this time. Or maybe in Game 2 he had just had an off-night. Halladay, now at 259 2/3 innings including postseason, certainly doesn’t seem to be tiring. Ditto for Hamels, who threw 106 pitches in the first eight innings Sunday night, then hit for himself against Reds left-hander Aroldis Chapman — yes, he lived to tell about it — and went back out for the ninth.
The Reds actually threatened in the final inning; Brandon Phillips led off with a single, bringing Joey Votto to the plate as the potential tying run. But Hamels got ahead 0-2, and two pitches later Votto grounded into a double play.
No runner advanced past second against Hamels. Votto finished 1-for-10 in the series. Third baseman Scott Rolen went 1-for-11 with eight strikeouts. Center fielder Drew Stubbs was 1-for-9, shortstop Orlando Cabrera 1-for-8, left fielder Jonny Gomes 0-for-6.
The Reds clearly were not at full strength; Rolen seemed to be dealing with a shoulder issue, Cabrera re-injured his oblique and outfielder Jim Edmonds was out with an Achilles’ problem. Many of the Cincinnati players also were appearing in their first postseason. But really, how much would greater experience and better health even have mattered?
The Phillies’ pitching was so good, they swept with a batting line of .212/.301/.273. The bullpen only was needed in Game 2; closer Brad Lidge, standing in a champagne-soaked but relatively subdued clubhouse late Sunday night, joked with reporters about his lack of activity.
Actually, both Lidge and setup man Ryan Madson are rolling, too. Lidge, starting Aug. 1 and including the postseason, is 18-for-19 in save opportunities with a 0.70 ERA. Madson, in that same time frame, is averaging 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings with a 1.04 ERA. Even J.C. Romero, the struggling left-handed specialist, got two big outs in Game 2.
The bullpen won’t be overexposed, that’s for sure. This will be the Phillies’ third straight trip to the NLCS, but my how their rotation has grown.
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This time, the Big Three can pitch 12 of the maximum 14 games remaining on normal or extended rest. The rotations of both the Giants and Braves might be nearly as good. But to beat the Phils, the survivor’s pitching staff might need to perform almost mistake-free.
The Giants would stand a chance; they possess more experience than the Reds. Rookie catcher Buster Posey plays as if he is 33, not 23. Veterans such as Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell and Juan Uribe carry themselves with a certain swagger. But we’re still talking about a team that ranked ninth in the NL in runs in the regular season, and has managed only eight in three games against the Braves.
Good luck to such an outfit against the Phillies. Good luck to any team needing to win four games against the Big Three.
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