|Manager Charlie Manuel watches the Phillies |
work out Friday at Citizens Bank Park. AP Photo
With a club-record 102 wins and a fifth straight National League East crown on their resume, the favored Phils begin their quest for a 3rd World Series title on Saturday against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Expectations are high, but there's a lot to be concerned about:
- The offense: Sure, this team stuggled A LOT to score runs. But I believe that with the regular lineup on the field since the acquisition of Hunter Pence, the team is undefeated. Yes, it's only a handful of games, but you get the point. Manager Charlie Manuel's late-season change to put Chase Utley in the No. 2 spot, Pence third and Shane Victorino fifth seems to be the best use of his personnel this postseason. The key will be leadoff man Jimmy Rollins. If he gets on base, it will have a trickle effect down the lineup and guys on base for cleanup hitter Ryan Howard, who knocked in 116 runs. As Rollins and Howard go, so go the Phillies.
- The bullpen: During the final month of the season, Antonio Bastardo, who dominated the first 5 months, struggled to get hitters out. As the lone lefty in the bullpen, his resurgence is crucial to postseason success. As is Brad Lidge. The former closer missed the first 3 months of the season with arm troubles, but was solid in the 2nd half of the year. He'll likely pitch in the 8th inning with the game on the line.
- Health: The Phillies struggled with injuries all season and they are the oldest team in the National League. Howard has a sore left ankle/heel that he will play through, but who knows how it will affect him at the plate. Third baseman Placido Polanco has had problems with an elbow and a sports hernia. Utley missed the first 2 months of the season with a knee issue, but seems healthy now. Rollins was on the disabled list recently with an injured calf. Ironically, left fielder Raul Ibanez, the oldest player on the team at 39, was one of the few regulars not to spend time on the disabled list.
|Phillies players celebrate their fifth straight|
National League East title. AP Photo.
The Cardinals, who ralled from an 8 1/2-game deficit to claim the Wild Card berth thanks to the Phillies' 3-game sweep of Atlanta in the season's final series, led the league in hitting and have future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols anchoring the lineup. But last year, the Reds led the league in hitting and the Phillies disposed of them in 3 games, including Halladay's no-hitter and a shutout from Hamels in Game 3.
This series will come down to the Phils' offense. If they can score 4 runs a game, they should have no problem with Halladay, Lee and Hamels lined up. They looked ready to go during their sweep of the Braves.
The Phillies are expected to get to -- if not win -- the World Series. Not winning the World Series will be a disappointment. Not getting there would be considered a failure. The Cardinals won the season series from the Phillies, 6 games to 3, which may cause some anxiety. But the Phillies are the better team, and they take their first step to the World Series against the Caridnals.
Phillies in 4.