Monday, July 20, 2009

Phillies Have Recipe For A Repeat

As I watched my team, the Chicago Cubs, get pulverized tonight by the overwhelming offensive attack of the Philadelphia Phillies, it got me thinking a little bit about the defending World Series champs. I knew that they were a good, solid team, but I don't think I ever took the time to analyze why they were good. It's really quite simple...their abundance of dynamic left-handed hitters.

I wouldn't go so far as to say that lefties are a scarcity in the MLB, but I would say that it is relatively difficult to find top-notch left-handed batters. So what makes the Phillies amazing is that they have the ability to stick an All-Star caliber lefty in each of their first five spots in the batting order: Jimmy Rollins (switch hitter), Shane Victorino (switch hitter), Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Raul Ibanez. The vast majority of pitchers in the league are right-handed, so with five players in a row batting left-handed at the top of their order, the Phillies really get the optimal pitcher/batter matchups nearly every game! Let's not forget that Victorino, Utley, Howard, and Ibanez all played in this year's All-Star game, three of them starters.

Now I'll get to the other reasons why this team is poised for another late postseason run soon, but I want to give you a fresh example of the key contributions of these five left-handed batters first. So going back to that Cubs game tonight...the Phillies won 10-1. As I started to think about the Phillies' offense, I hadn't looked at the box score of the game yet, but when I did look, I wasn't surprised by who did the damage. Sure enough, each of the five players I mentioned above knocked in at least one run today; it was highlighted by home runs from Raul Ibanez and Ryan Howard. Today was even a left-handed starter for the Cubs, Ted Lilly, which under normal circumstances would give the Chicago the advantage with such a lefty-heavy Phillies lineup. But it didn't matter...these guys are really good!

What also doesn't come as a surprise is that the Phillies are in the midst of a 13-1 stretch that has vaulted them into a 6 1/2 game lead in the N.L. East. If the top-notch list of Phillies' hitters, which oh-by-the-way includes another All-Star, Jayson Werth, continues to do what they're doing on this stretch, then they don't even seem possible to beat.

The bottom line is that the club's success will hinge on their pitching. It's been above average thus far. In fact, none of their main starters have losing records. Cole Hamels has been very disappointing for a #1 starter at 5-5, but what he has lacked has been compensated for by an undefeated rookie campaign from J.A. Happ and a strong season from the energizer bunny himself, 46-year old Jamie Moyer, who sits at 9-6. Joe Blanton has been decent and Chan-Ho Park and Brett Myers have been adequate as part-time starters. Their starting pitching will soon get better, too. The organization just welcomed in Pedro Martinez, who isn't a guarantee, but has very good potential and shhhh....the Phillies are one of the primary suitors for Roy Halladay's services, which would shoot their World Series chances through the roof. I don't even want to think about that possibility because that would mean that the Cubs might as well prepare to celebrate 101 full years of a "championship-free lifestyle." Not to mention the fact that Halladay would run through a National League lineup like a knife through warm butter.

This team is scary good; there really isn't any other way to put it. Five of their first six hitters in the lineup were All-Stars this year and the one that wasn't is Jimmy Rollins, who has been to the Midsummer Classic three times. Five of them do/can hit left-handed and four of them have 20 or more home runs already. The Phillies are absolutely crushing opposing pitchers right now and if they see the impressive Pedro Martinez from the World Baseball Classic or somehow acquire Roy Halladay, then we might as well skip right to the World Series...because they'll be in it. And even if they don't get Halladay, their offensive advantage could very well carry them to a repeat anyway.

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