Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Part 2 of 7
The Philadelphia Phillies current era of success has been built around a nucleus of talented players. Some players have come and gone, but that core has been present through the team's rise and current reign as one of baseball's elite teams.
Players such as Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Cole Hamels are at the center of the core and have served as the key catalysts to the organization's ascension from an "also ran" to elite ball club.
Other young talent such as Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, Ryan Madson, Carlos Ruiz, Greg Dobbs, JC Romero and Kyle Kendrick were layered onto the nucleus. Oh, and a not-so-young pitcher named Jamie Moyer.
The first four in that group have been key elements of the team's success over the past four seasons, while the latter four have played important parts at various times.
Since the team's first trip to the postseason in this era, the club has added seasoned veterans such as Brad Lidge, Raul Ibanez, Joe Blanton, Roy Halladay, Placido Polanco, and Roy Oswalt to the mix.
Overall, the result is a Phillies team tested by the rigors of postseason play and grounded by the experience of having previously visited the fall tourney.
It could be argued that the team's top pitcher is not playoff tested as last night's clinching win landed Halladay there for the first time in his 14-year career. Of course, anyone that has witnessed his chip-on-the-shoulder intensity and unwavering tenacity understands that he is made for the big stage.
As far as the Roy at the other end of "The Big Three," Oswalt's resume sports five postseason series, including a World Series appearance in 2005. Importantly, the hard throwing right-hander also brings an unblemished 4-0 postseason record and an overall reputation as a money pitcher.
The other key 2010 newbie on the team is Polanco. But, unlike Halladay, he brings the accumulated experience of six postseason series, including a World Series appearance with the Detroit Tigers in 2006.
Playing in a short series with an entire season's body of work and often years of anticipation on the line can be very daunting. The game can suddenly speed up and nerves can kick in even for the most accomplished players.
For evidence, you need to look no further than these same current era Phillies. After overtaking the New York Mets to capture their first division crown in 2007, the club ran a quick three-and-out like an NFL practice squad quarterback.
The same lineup that tore up National League pitching all season-long seemed suddenly hesitant and lackluster. The Phillies hit just .172 and pushed but eight runs across the plate over three losing contests against the Colorado Rockies.
There is nothing like having previously "been there, done that."
Looking at the other potential NL playoff participants, all seem to be green in terms of postseason experience. The Cincinnati Reds, San Francisco Giants, Atlanta Braves, and San Diego Padres are all relative upstarts in terms of recent playoff experience.
The last time any of those clubs participated in the fall tourney was 2006 when the Padres made a quick exit in the NLDS. The only holdovers from that team in 2010 are first baseman Adrien Gonzalez and pitcher Chris Young.
The Braves last participated in the postseason in 2005, also making a first round exit. Similarly, the current squad represents an almost total transformation with just pitcher Tim Hudson and then back-up catcher Brian McCann being the only common denominators.
The current San Francisco Giants roster has zero resemblance to the 2003 squad that last made the playoffs. That team, of course, was anchored by a controversial slugger known for posting statistics that seemed to exceed normal human limits.
And, lastly, the Cincinnati Reds have mostly been a bottom dweller since the new millennium. The club's last trip to the postseason was a 4-game sweep at the hands of the Atlanta Braves way back in 1995. Needless to say, there are no holdovers.
Conversely, since the Phillies "just-happy-to-be-there" 2007 cameo, the same core of players have participated in six postseason series— winning five of them. Only a stacked New York Yankees team in 2009 stood in the way of two consecutive World Series Championships.
During that period, the Phillies have compiled a 20-9 postseason record. Doing the math, this represents an other-worldly .690 winning percentage against the best teams baseball had to offer.
And, speaking of the Bronx Bombers, only the Cliff Lee-led Texas Rangers lack recent playoff experience in the American League. The Minnesota Twins enjoyed a "cup of coffee" last season, exiting after three games. The Tampa Bay Rays, of course, were the victims of the Phillies in the 2008 Fall Classic.
For the Phillies, the 2010 path to the World Series will not entail playoff tested teams unless the Rockies were to pull a rabbit out of a hat in the season's final week. Actually, that scenario might require pulling a T-Rex out of a hat.
The World Series might be a different matter, but short of a 2009 rematch, three consecutive trips to the fall classic are likely to provide an edge over other opponents.
As they prepare to make an appearance for the fourth consecutive year, it seems safe to count the cumulative postseason experience of this Phillies ball club as a key advantage.