By Matthew Nadu
Amidst one of the greatest days in recent baseball history, dubbed Wild Card Wednesday, the 2011 regular season ended with an eruption featuring two extra inning games, one walk off home run and a complete game shutout. With weeks of uncertainty, the 2011 MLB playoffs are set.
The Phillies have created their own destiny with a 3-2 win in 13 innings in Atlanta knocking the Braves out of the wild card slot after a Cardinals 8-0 win over Houston.
Philadelphia’s 102nd win of the season set a new franchise record and Charlie Manuel passed Gene Mauch for most wins as a Phillies manager at 646.
But is this the ideal situation for the Phillies who are looking for their third World Series appearance in four years? With the Braves out, the Phillies will host St. Louis on Saturday not Arizona which would have been the match up had the Braves capture the Wild Card. Even though announcers Larry Anderson and Tom McCarthy had Old City Philly in a frenzy Friday with a Phillies playoff rally, Matt Nadu breaks down why the NL East Champs may have made their frenzied road to the championship just a little bit harder.
9. Record- The Red Birds are coming into the playoffs red hot and their recent dominance has been evident all season against the Phillies. Philadelphia lost the regular season series 6-3 while breaking even against Diamondbacks 3-3. Although the playoffs are essentially a new season, the Phillies won’t soon forget losing three of four against the Cardinals September 16-19.
8. Road Games- With the best record in the National League and all of baseball for that matter, the Phillies have clinched home field advantage throughout the playoffs. That means the Cardinals will migrate North to Philadelphia boasting a .556 winning percentage on the road including a 3-1 record in Philly. The Dbacks went 1-2 at Citizens Bank Park with a .531 road mark.
7. Starting Pitching- Both Arizona and St. Louis had quality starters throughout the season with the Dback’s Ian Kennedy leading the NL with 21 wins as a potential CY Young candidate. The Dbacks four consistent starters headed by Kennedy, won 49 games with a respectable 3.36 ERA but three of four of their starters all throw over 212 innings which could reflect some fatigue during the playoffs considering their inexperience and youth (average starter age 26-years old.) But the Cardinals boast a 5-man starting rotation headed by ace Chris Carpenter. The loss of Adam Wainwright was devastating to the Red Birds but somehow they rebounded with 55 wins from their main starters with Carpenter (11-9), Jaime Garcia (13-7), Kyle Lohse (14-8) and Jake Westbrook (12-9) rounding out St. Louis’ playoff starters. The Phillies could catch a break however if Carpenter is unable to pitch in Game 2 after his complete game shutout on Wednesday. In this case, the Cardinals could find themselves in a 2-0 hole before the former Cy Young winner even takes the hill. While the Cardinals bullpen may be their weakest link, they’re constantly bailed out by the Cardinals bats.
6. Starting Lineup- Despite the starting rotations’ 3.73 ERA, they were able to accumulate wins because of St. Louis’ monster lineup. Although they only hit 162 home runs compared to Arizona’s 172, the Cardinals are masters at manufacturing the run. With five of their eight position players with a batting average over .295 led by Yadier Molina (.305), the Cardinals also have three players including Lance Berkman’s whopping .412 mark with a better than .365 On Base Percentage (OBS.) The Diamondbacks have no starting players batting over .295 and only Justin Uptain (.369) has an OBS over .365. The Cardinals also have two players with 90 Runs Batted In (RBI) Albert Pujols (99) and Berkman (94) while Arizona has none.
5. Colorado Rockie Effect- The Cardinals roared into the playoffs going 18-8 in the final month of the season eliminating Atlanta’s 8.5 Wild Card lead at the beginning of September. This is what I call the Colorado Rockies Effect. In 2007 the Rockies snagged the Wild Card from out of no where going 20-8 in September including an 11-game win streak. They didn’t stop there, heading straight to the World Series, a path that included a NLDS sweep of the Phillies in their first ever postseason at Citizens Bank Park. The only sweep ever at home for the Phillies at CBP. After capturing the NL East Crown the Phillies went on to lose eight straight games before sweeping the Braves in the final 2011 regular season series securing the Wild Card for the Red Birds. Will the CR Effect prevail or are the Phillies a team of destiny?
4. Playoff Experience- The Diamondbacks have a great young team but they’re young. They haven’t been in the playoffs since 2007 and if they were matched against the Phillies who’ve won five straight NL East Championships that inexperience would surely catch up to them. The Cardinals on the other hand are no stranger to the playoffs. This is their first appearance since 2009, but they’ve made two World Series appearances since 2004 including the 2006 Crown. Carpenter has a 5-2 playoff record, better than any of Arizona’s starters, while Pujols (.322), Berkman (.320) and Molina (.315) rank the top three active postseason batting average leaders. Oh yeah, Matt Halladay was the 2007 runner up MVP to Jimmy Rollins as part of the Rockies Machine.
3. Phillie Aces? The Phillies boast the best team ERA (3.02) in baseball since 1989 with one of the greatest rotations of all-time. Cy Young Winners Roy Halladay (19-6, former Blue Jays teammate of Carpenter) and Cliff Lee (17-8) anchoring a stellar rotation rounded out by the 2008 WS MVP Cole Hamels (14-9), Roy Oswalt (9-10) and rookie phenom Vance “The Animal” Worley (11-3). On paper the Phillies rotation is nearly unbeatable yet somehow the Cardinals have seemingly figured them out so far in 2011. The Cardinals are the ONLY team to beat all four aces this season due in part by their league leading 4.7 runs per game.
2. Albert Pujols- One of the greatest players of the era, Albert Pujols is quite simply devastating. He ranks at the top of nearly every offensive category amongst active players and when it’s all said and done he’ll be Cooperstown bound. The 3-time MVP battled injuries and contract talks all season while posting another monster year. His most impressive attributes though, come in the post season. In 56 career playoff games, King Albert has posted gawking numbers; 39 runs, 64hits, 10 doubles, 13 home runs, 36 RBI’s, 36 walks, .322 batting average and a mind boggling .431 OBS. However, the number that standout the most is 12 intentional walks. No one wants to pitch to this guy.
1. Citizens Bank Ballpark- 15-7 and 1. The only numbers you need to know about CBP during the playoffs. Fifteen wins, seven loses and one World Series Championship since 2004. The Phillies have never lost a playoff series at CBP. Whether they play Arizona or St. Louis the Phillies are a lock for the NLDS with home field advantage. With the highest attendance the past two seasons in the NL, 3,680,718 Phillies fans can’t be wrong.