Sadly, the Phillies will not be repeating as champions of baseball as they fell to the Yankees in six games. Apparently, asking Pedro Martinez to shut down the Yankees twice in one series was too much to ask. And in hindsight, relying on a pitcher who was unemployed at midseason to neutralize the best lineup in the AL may have been a bad strategy. Despite my disappointment, I’m not going to let one loss ruin the season for me. I have not gotten to the point where I can just turn my nose up at National League Championships. For all their flaws, this was one of the best Phillies teams ever, and will ultimately be remembered fondly.
So why are the Phillies not celebrating back to back titles? The biggest reason is that the Yankees had a good team. They have an incredibly deep lineup, and while their pitchers didn’t do amazingly, (aside from Mariano Rivera) they pitched well enough to win. And on the other hand, the Phillies clearly did not play up to their capabilities. Here were the largest factors:
1. Cole Hamels and Brad Lidge were not the Hamels and Lidge of 2008 – These two pitchers were perhaps the biggest reasons the Phillies won the World Series in 2008. And all season, they could not come close to recapturing their success. Perhaps last season took too much of a toll on both of them. They had heavy workloads, followed up by short offseasons with lots of distractions. Everyone hoped that despite their shaky regular seasons, they could recapture the magic in the postseason. And to an extent, through the first two rounds of the playoffs they had, or at least their damage was minimized. Sadly, they both had breakdowns in the World Series and each cost the Phillies a game.
With Lidge, the Phillies kind of expected it, and only used him in a key situation in game four when they had no other chance. And to be fair, his demise was partially brought upon by a fluky baserunning play. On the other hand, they needed Hamels to pitch well. They got him a 3-0 in game three, but he couldn’t hold it, and after Alex Rodriguez’s weak home run (It hit off a camera in the field of play. Congrats, A-Rod. You just hit the cheapest homer in World Series history) he fell apart. You can’t have your second best starter come up small in the World Series if you want to win.
I’m not going to kill either guy since they did bring us a championship last year. But both guys desperately needed the season to end and to get a fresh start next year. Hamels even said as much in an interview after his loss in game three, which came across as him quitting on the team. Let’s just say there will probably be a lot fewer babies named Cole this year than there was last year.
2. Poor hitting – While the Phillies may have had one of the best offenses in baseball, they could also be very inconsistent. This was a trend all season long, and the problem was easy to see in the World Series.
To start, their top two hitters need to get on base consistently and Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino didn’t do that. In contrast, the Yankees top two of Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon were getting on base quite a bit, and that made a huge difference.
On the occassions when the Phillies did have runners on, they had trouble delivering a big hit. On several occassions, they had Yankees pitchers in some trouble, but had difficulty delivering a knockout blow. Instead, we’d get strikeouts and double plays. It kind of reminded me of how the Rays hit in similar situations in the 2008 Series.
The Phillies hit a decent amount of home runs in the series, but almost all of them were solo home runs. Chase Utley epitomized this problem. While he tied the World Series record of five home runs, I can’t really say he had a good series. Four of his five homers were solo, and while they did help the Phillies win two games, in the other three games, Utley came up small in some big spots. After hitting into only five double plays in the regular season, Utley hit into two in this series. And both came when it looked like the Phillies might be mounting a big comeback.
Ryan Howard is going to be singled out for his poor performance, as after his red hot NLDS and NLCS, he did not have a good World Series. Sadly, I kind of expected this. Howard is the type of hitter who can get locked in and be deadly. On the other hand, when he gets out of rythym, he struggles. Much like in last year’s World Series, the week long layoff between playoff rounds broke up his rythym and he never really got going. His two run homer in game five was a classic case of “Too little, too late.”
To his credit, the Yankees did an amazing job of pitching to him. They have quality left handed pitchers which is crucial for getting him out. And those lefties made the pitches they needed to. On the other hand, they did make some mistakes, and unlike in the earlier rounds, Howard didn’t make them pay for those mistakes.
With Howard struggling and Utley hot in spots, they needed someone else to step up, but nobody really did. There were a few good hitting moments throughout, but not enough to win.
3. Bad luck – Maybe the Phillies were slightly lucky last year in that they played the Rays. While the Rays were obviously talented, they probably weren’t as good as this year’s Yankees, and certainly didn’t play as well as them. I’m not saying that diminished the Phillies title in any way last year. A championship is a championship no matter who you beat for it, and the fact that the Phillies were able to get back to the Series shows that they were indeed a worthy champion and not a fluke.
But – as I’ve said before, there are two ways to win championships: Either have overwhelming talent that is just far superior to everyone else, or have a good team that has everything break right for them. Last year, everything broke right for the Phillies, and this year, things didn’t go their way. Remember, if it wasn’t difficult to win a World Series, then more than one team would do it every year.
One thing I’m not going to blame is the Yankees payroll. Yes, the Yankees have a ridiculously high payroll that dwarfs everyone else. Yes, competitive balance in baseball is ridiculously skewed. But that’s not why the Yankees won this series. After all, the Phillies are also a high payroll team filled with well compensated stars. It’s not like the Phillies were missing one high priced free agent that could have put them over the top. In fact, they were able to trade for Cliff Lee because they were willing to take on extra payroll.
Basically, the Phillies have a championship caliber roster that was outplayed by the Yankees championship caliber roster and that’s why they lost.
So what’s next for the Phillies? Well, they’ll have almost the entire roster back next year, so I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t be contenders. Aside from maybe Jayson Werth, there wasn’t any hitter who had a career year or did that much better than their career norms. Since the majority in the team is in their primes, its very reasonable to expect the lineup to perform similarly, if not better.
As for the pitching, having Cliff Lee for an entire year should help their chances as he proved himself to be a true ace. We have to hope that this season was just a case of growing pains for Cole Hamels. There have been plenty of cases where a young pitcher needs to get over some speed bumps before he gets back on track. A restful offseason, lowered expectations, and a fresh start could probably do him good.
Perhaps the biggest question mark is Brad Lidge. He’s had poor seasons in the past and was able to rebound from them. Should we expect the perfection of 2008 again? Probably not. But they can hope for something a lot closer to his 2008 season than to 2009. Although the Phillies did show that you can win a pennant without having a dependable closer. But it makes things much more difficult.
So that’s that. It’s been a long season, and part of me is glad it’s over. Time to turn my sports focus and football. And look at that, the Eagles are in first place with a big game against the Cowboys coming up on Sunday.