The Phillies begin the second phase of their 2009 World Series Championship defense at 2:47 PM tomorrow. They have a difficult task ahead, starting with a little Colorado Rockies deja vu.
It was just two years ago that they finished with a flurry to pass the New York Mets to win the first of three consecutive NL Eastern Division titles. Unfortunately, the Rockies were on an unprecedented season ending hot streak that they rode through the National League playoffs until finally being derailed by the Red Sox in the World Series. That season, the Rockies finished by winning 21 of 22 games, before sweeping the Phillies 3-0 and then the Diamondbacks 4-0.
Although the Rockies did not approach those astounding numbers this season, they did string together the best record (20-11) since September 1st to once again make a late season dash to win the wild card. Overall. they recorded 92 wins, one game less than the 2009 Phillies.
The most basic numerical analysis suggests that they two teams are closely matched. The Phillies finished first in the league in runs scored with 820, with the Rockies right behind them at 804. Both teams used a similar formula on offense, relying on the long ball to generate runs. The two teams were close in pitching, with the Phillies ending 6th in ERA, two spots higher than the Rockies. And, both clubs play strong defense. The Phils committed the second fewest errors (76) in the league, while the Rockies placed 5th with 87.
The NLDS series, of course, will not be won or lost based on past statistics. In a short 5-game series almost anything can happen, but most of the time it comes down to the match-ups and how each team executes in a pressure packed environment. Looking at the series from that vantage point, here is how I see it breaking down:
The Phillies have the clear advantage in terms of starting pitching. The Rockies will not have any known big game pitchers to throw out there, while the Phillies will counter with last year's AL Cy Young winner, last year's NLCS and World Series MVP, a sure fire Hall-of-Famer, last year's World Series game 4 winner and a Rookie-of-the-Year candidate who was their most consistent starter all season.
It will be important for them to capitalize on this by putting runs on the board early and by pitching deep into games to take the pressure off their beleaguered bullpen.
The bullpens are fairly comparable with one major exception. The Rockies head into the post season with a definitive closer while this remains the Phillies biggest question mark. Huston Street converted 35 of 37 save opportunities, allowing less than one baserunner per inning, while recording more than 10 strikeouts per 9 innings. The Phillies situation is well chronicled, so it will be key for them to take care of business early and hope that they realize the potential that was so elusive in the regular season.
The Phillies line-up is more explosive and diverse. Both clubs hit for similar average, but the Phils possess both more power and speed. Both teams are a little stronger from the left side, but the match-ups create very different scenarios. The Phillies can better neutralize the Rockies line-up with three strong left-handed starting pitchers, whereas the Rockies will be relying on right-handers.
Both teams play solid defense, but again, the Phillies are just a little better. The fan fare created by their long ball prowess tends to attention away from the fact they are a great defensive team. Not only do they avoid errors, but they also make plays that other team's would only hope to do.
Although the Rockies have played exceptional baseball in the second half of the season and are once again coming into the post season with momentum, the Phillies simply are the better team. They have the best talent in the league and persevered through a long season for the opportunity to defend their title. They also possess incredible unity and a winning chemistry. This is what they have been playing for all season long, and they will not disappoint.
The Phillies will win the series, 3-1.