Thursday, October 22, 2009

Howard Wins Playoffs MVP, But Stars Abound


At the completion of last night's game and NLCS series, Ryan Howard was deservedly named MVP of the National League Playoffs. His performance was an extension of his 2009 stretch run play that has also made him a regular season MVP candidate. Howard was a consistent force throughout the playoffs and surely a worthy choice, but several other teammates played starring roles as well.

In 9 games, Howard hit .355 with 2 home runs and 14 RBI, tying a Major League Baseball record with RBI in 8 consecutive games. The streak came to end last evening, when the Dodgers hurlers were determined not to let him wreak further havoc, as they pitched around him throughout the game. Howard posted a .462 On Base Percentage and a .742 Slugging Percentage. He also provided some very timely hits, including a last strike game tying double in the NLDS clincher.

He surely had help, though. Carlos Ruiz continued his stellar post season play by hitting .346 with 7 RBI. If it seemed like Chooch was on base every time you looked, it was because he was 50% of the time. He contributed a big 3-run homer in Game 1 of the NLCS that got the team on the board and seemed to launch them in the series.

Shane Victorino had another big game last night, drilling his 3rd home run of the post season and missing a 4th by inches. Overall, he hit .362, scored 8 runs, drove in 7 and was often the catalyst for the Phillies offense. And, as usual, he played stellar defense, covering wide expanses in the outfield.

Last night's hero was Jayson Werth, who put on a power display last evening and throughout the post season. He cracked two long home runs, including a 3-run shot in the first inning that grabbed momentum for the team in red. Over the course of the playoffs, Werth clubbed 5 homers and narrowly missed a couple others, registering an .813 Slugging Percentage.

Cliff Lee dialed up the early Phillies version of himself, and contributed 3 strong pitching performances in as many starts. If not for some quirky plays and a late comeback by the Rockies, he would have added one more win to his 2-0 record. He posted a 0.74 ERA and has been the clear ace that the team needs for another run at a World Championship. Lee saved his best for last, totally dominating the Dodgers on Sunday night in the Phillies 11-0 win.

Possibly the biggest story of the post season has been the return to form of Brad Lidge. The bullpen was the Phillies one concern heading into the post season, which had baseball pundits doubting that the team could defend. That has all changed now as Lidge has found his pitching rhythm and mojo. He did not yield a run in the playoffs, saved 3 games and earned the win in Monday's come from behind thriller.

Speaking of Game 4, how could we exclude Jimmy Rollins from any discussion about starring roles? J Roll provided the biggest hit of the season and one of the most clutch hits in the history of the organization when he ripped a 2-run, game winning double with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th to turn defeat into victory. What appeared was going to be a 2-2 series deadlock suddenly became a 3-1 series lead and crushed the Dodgers' spirits. He surely made other contributions during the post season, but this will forever stand out in his career and team history.

Although he was only given one opportunity, Pedro Martinez made the most of it. Pedro shut down the Dodgers in Game 2, holding them scoreless while limiting them to 2 hits and no walks. The Dodgers eventually came back to win that game against Phils relievers, but prior to that, he dazzled them by mixing an assortment of pitches.

Some other noteworthy performances include Chad Durbin and Chase Utley. Durbin did not yield a hit or run in 4 innings of work, and shut down the opponents in some big moments. The bar is set high for Utley by his own stellar track record, so there is sometimes a tendency to expect other worldly performances from him. That has not been the case, but he has been very solid at the plate, batting .303 with a .439 On Base Percentage.

Whether its the Yankees or Angels, their World Series opponents can easily lose sleep thinking about the depth and breadth of talent on the Phillies. Any night, as they have proven throughout the post season so far, any or all of these players can make life miserable for their opponents. It could be any or all of those players who have played a starring role thus far, or it could be another player such as Cole Hamels, Ryan Madson, Pedro Feliz, J.A. Happ or others. It will be fun to watch, unless of course, you are rooting for the American League entrant.

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