Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Meet Your 2008 World Champions! (Live)

When we last saw our heroes they had just fallen victim to the elements and allowed the Rays to tie Game 5 of the World Series at 2-2. Now the Phillies resume the first suspended game in World Series history, starting in the bottom of the sixth. Hamels is due to bat first, but will almost certainly be replaced by a pinch hitter. Could that mean he's available for Game 7? Well, it shouldn't have to come to that. Whether or not it does depends on the two teams' bullpens. That seems to favor the Phillies, but who knows any more. We'll find out shortly.

8:38: As we start the bottom of the sixth (finally!), it's Grant Balfour against Geoff Jenkins. Good move by Manuel. Jenkins is expendable should the Rays counter with a lefty.
8:42: And Jenkins delivers! He hammers a double to the gap in right center. The ball looked playable for Baldelli, but he couldn't quite track it. Rollins follows with a sac bunt and the Phillies have a runner on third with one out.
8:46: And Werth comes up big! He lofts a pop-up into shallow center, which would have been a routine out, but the infield was in and Iwanura can't hang on. Remember when he was part of that stellar Rays defense? Neither does he. Phillies lead 3-2 and Joe Maddon turns to the bullpen after just one out from Balfour. J.P. Howell comes in to face Utley.
8:54: Utley goes down swinging on three pitches and now Howard comes up, trying to extend the lead. Joe Buck mentions Howard's prior Game 5 stats as if that part of the game wasn't played 48 hours ago. Howell has Werth picked off before throwing a single pitch to Howard, but Carlos Pena's throw is off the mark and Werth slides safely into second. However, it won't matter as Howard pops out to Evan Longoria to end it.
8:59: The Phillies turn to Madson an inning earlier than usual and it pays off...for the first out. Baldelli takes Madson deep to tie the game. one ever said this would be easy.
9:03: Bartlett singles and Maddon leaves Howell in to bunt, which is fine by me. If they want to give up an out to keep a mediocre reliever in the game than so be it. Especially now that the Phillies best lefties have already batted. Howell lays down the sacrifice and Manuel calls Romero in to face Iwanura.
9:07: Iwanura hits an almost perfectly placed grounder up the middle, but Utley tracks it down. Realizing he has no play at first, he fires home in time to nail Bartlett. Wow. Potential game-saving play right there.
9:09: I'm still in awe of that Utley play. How many second basemen in the league make that play? I'm not talking about athletic ability, but having the baseball IQ and instincts to make a play like that is just phenomenal. You also have to love the pump fake to first. Maybe I should be praising his football IQ instead.
9:11: Burrell starts off the bottom of the seventh with a bang. He comes oh-so-close to a home run, but instead the ball bounces high off the wall and Burrell trots into second with a double. Eric Bruntlett comes in to pinch run and, if all goes well, that would be Burrell's only hit of the series. That man just knows how to pick his spots. I guarantee no one will remember his previous 0 for everything if the Phillies win tonight.
9:15: Tim McCarver criticizes Burrell for not getting a triple. I'm sorry but I'm changing Tim's last name from McCarver to McFly. Hello?? Is anyone in there? Come on McFly, Burrell wasn't getting to third unless there was a contract extension waiting for him. And even then...
9:18: Victorino tries to lay down a bunt but instead gets two strikes. So he does it the old fashioned way, chopping a grounder to first and advancing the runner. Now it's up to Feliz to bring in Bruntlett. Gulp.
9:20: And Feliz comes through, lacing a single up the middle and scoring Bruntlett. What is it with these Phillies? All the regular season goats have become post-season heroes. Speaking of which, here's Carlos Ruiz.
9:22: Ruiz smokes one up the middle, but Iwanura makes an outstanding diving stop and gets the force at second. Romero bats for himself, as the Phillies need someone to pitch the eighth (someone not named Chad Durbin). To his credit, he makes contact, grounding out to second to end the inning. Once again the Phillies have a one-run lead. Can they hold it this time?
9:29: Well so much for that letting Romero bat strategy. Carl Crawford works a full count, then singles into center. And just as I say that, B.J. Upton hits into a tailor-made 6-4-3 double play. We're one out away from Lidge, folks.
9:32: Romero falls behind Pena, missing the first three pitches badly, but he recovers and Pena lines the 3-1 pitch out to left.
9:38: David Price comes in to pitch for the Rays. Price has shown that he has filthy stuff, but also that he's very wild. Rollins belts the 2-0 pitch to deep left, but the wind knocks it down and it settles into Crawford's glove for the first out. FOX shows us the last titles won by Philadelphia teams, painfully omitting the team that broke the curse. The Philadelphia Soul! Come on Joe Buck, throw Bon Jovi a bone!
9:39: Werth goes down looking and FOX reminds us of the curse of William Penn, despite the fact that THE SOUL BROKE THE CURSE! Somewhere in the night Bon Jovi softly weeps.
9:43: Utley walks and then steals second, which is all well and good, but likely useless because Howard would need a hit to score him. I'm feeling a strikeout or a walk here. Then again, if he walks, Bruntlett looms on deck. He homered off Price last time they met. But it won't matter as Howard strikes out. (P.S. I never thought I'd use the words "Bruntlett" and "looms" in the same sentence, except to say "Pat Burrell looms over Charlie Manuel menacingly as he prepares to insert the pinch runner, Eric Bruntlett.") On to the ninth we go.
9:47: Brad Lidge, it's time to choose your fate. Will you be Tug McGraw or another Phillies closer who will remain nameless?
9:50: Longoria pops out to Utley. One down.
9:52: Navarro goes down 0-2, but gets a broken bat single to right field. Maddon inserts Fernando Perez to pinch run. I somehow doubt Lidge is overly concerned about the baserunner. That's fine. Get them at the plate.
9:54: Perez steals second, to no one's surprise.
9:55: Lidge flirts with disaster, as Ben Zobrist hits a liner to right that is snared by Werth. Now Eric Hinske comes up, pinch hitting for Bartlett. One out away.
9:58: Hinske strikes out! Ballgame! Go crazy Phillies fans! It's all over! Lidge strikes out Hinske to end the game and the Philadelphia Phillies win the 2008 World Series! Time to get that champagne flowing!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Suspended Disbelief (Live)

Tonight Cole Hamels takes on Scott Kazmir as the Phillies look to win the second World Series in franchise history. Joe Buck tells us that the Rays will win because it looks like they won't. Great analysis.

8:32: FOX's profile on Cole Hamels says he "may never have this chance again." Does Hamels have a terminal illness and no one told us? So far he's put his imaginary disease behind him and set the Rays down in order in the 1st.
8:41: Jayson Werth walks and Chase Utley follows by not leaning away from an inside fastball. Two on and one out for Howard, who is on a tear of late.
8:44: Not this time, as Howard strikes out on a fastball. Now it's up to Pat Burrell to get the offense going. Great...
8:46: And Burrell does what he does best. Draws a walk on two borderline balls. Shane Victorino comes up with the bases loaded. We've seen that before. Will history repeat itself?
8:49: You can't spell victory with Victorino. Well....okay, you can. But why would you want to? Shane drives in a pair. Feliz singles doing his best Vlad Guerrero impression, but Burrell is too slow to score. Bases loaded for Carlos Ruiz and his .417 World Series batting average.
8:51: That average drops a bit with a fly out to left, but the Phillies have a 2-0 lead after one inning. Not too shabby.
8:55: Carlos Pena tries to bunt for a base hit and fails. The Rays are officially desperate. Evan Longoria hits a lazy fly to center on the next pitch. Hamels has recorded 5 outs in 9 pitches.
8:58: Navarro walks, but it's all for naught as Baldelli flies out to end the inning.
9:09: After Hamels and Rollins go down, Werth singles to the left side, but Utley flies out to end the inning.
9:16: Another easy inning for Hamels, despite allowing his first hit of the night. He's on cruise control at the moment.
9:22: Kazmir mows down the Phillies. He's gotten into a groove since giving up the lead in the first. The 2-0 lead seems pretty safe with Hamels on the mound, but I'd feel a little better if we could tack on a few more.
9:28: Pena doubles and Longoria singles him in for their first hits of the series. Phillies still lead 2-1, but we could really use that insurance now. Hamels pitches to Navarro, trying to get out of trouble.
9:31: Navarro works a 3-1 count, then grounds into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning. Hamels hit a bit of a rough patch there, but, hey, no one's perfect.
9:36: Ruiz continues to be randomly good at hitting, slapping a single to left. Hamels tries to sacrifice him over, but Kazmir fires to second for the force. Hamels appeared to get hit on the index finger of his left hand on one of his bunt attempts. That better not affect his pitching.
9:41: Rollins draws a walk after working a full count and now Werth is up with a chance to give Hamels a little breathing room.
9:46: Werth draws a walk after about a gazillion pitches and David Price gets going in the bullpen. Utley now up with the bases loaded.
9:49: After getting ahead 3-1 and taking a very borderline strike two, Utley grounds out to second to end the inning. So I guess we're back to that not hitting with runners on business.
9:56: Rollins loses a Baldelli pop-up in the wind and it drops for a base hit. A bit ominous, but really it just brings reminds us how awful this weather is. Of course, it doesn't matter as Utley turns a fantastic double play, tagging Baldelli out and firing to first. Kazmir then strikes out to end the top of the fifth.
10:06: And Kazmir's done for the night after walking Howard and Burrell, giving him 6 walks on the night. Now we get to the once-vaunted Rays bullpen...which has gotten worse as the series has gone on. Grant Balfour comes in to replace him. Last time we saw Balfour, he was losing Game 3. Let's see if Victorino can give him a good old Phillies greeting.
10:12: As Balfour warms up, FOX cuts to a shot of the Make a Wish foundation. Where's Cole Hamels? Isn't he dying too? Maybe starting in Game 5 WAS his wish. That's the only reason he's out there. The fact that he's the ace is merely coincidence.
10:18: Victorino and Feliz pop out and now it's up to Ruiz. Normally that would be a bad thing, but Balfour should be terrified right now. Or not. Ruiz follows suit and pops out for the third out.
10:24: FOX delivers a montage of horrible officiating, which is surprisingly satisfying. Yes, they have been awful.
10:37: Well it looks like the Phillies are actually going to have to hit a little. Pena singles in Upton and it's a tie game.
10:39: Longoria lines out to center to end the inning, but the damage was done. 2-2 game. Some offense would be nice.
10:42: Now we get a long overdue rain delay, which is good because the conditions are abysmal, but bad because...well it's just lame. I want baseball now!

Well so much for that. The game's been suspended. We'll resume coverage...whenever.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Blanton Shows Poise and Power; Phils Up 3-1

Remember when the Phillies acquired Joe Blanton? The news wasn't exactly met with excitement and glee. The general consensus was that Blanton would be an upgrade over Adam Eaton (which isn't saying much), but it would not push the Phillies over the top.

Well Blanton aimed to prove otherwise last night and, well, I'm sold. Blanton stifled the Rays offense, allowing two runs over six innings and striking out seven. And as if that wasn't enough, he did some damage with the bat as well.

By the bottom of the fifth, Blanton had given up a pair of solo home runs, including a pinch hit homer to Eric Hinske in the top of the fifth. When Blanton stepped to the plate, there were two outs and the Phillies were just thinking about turning the batting order over for the sixth inning.

Blanton thought otherwise, crushing a fastball over the left field wall and in the process giving Rays' pitcher Edwin Jackson the most embarassing moment of his young career. It's not a stretch to say this was the biggest hit of Blanton's life, considering he hadn't hit a home run since high school.

Of course, Blanton wasn't the only one to deliver for the Phillies. Ryan Howard emerged onto the scene in a big way, blasting two home runs for 5 RBI. His first home run, a three-run shot in the fourth inning, gave the Phillies a commanding 5-1 lead. His second, a two-run bomb in the eighth, well, that was just for fun.

After struggling to capitalize with runners in scoring position, the Phillies finally put questions about their offense to rest, racking up 10 runs on four home runs. Meanwhile, the highly-touted Rays defense began to show cracks, as Akinori Iwanura committed two costly errors.

By winning the first two home games of the series, the Phillies have put themselves in great position to win the franchise's second title and the city's first since 1983. Cole Hamels takes the hill tomorrow against Scott Kazmir in a Game 1 rematch. That game went in the Phillies' favor and with the offense finally clicking, no one would be surprised to see Philadelphia close out the series in five games.

It should just be a matter of the Phillies keeping their composure, and no one has looked more composed this October than Cole Hamels.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Ruiz Leads Phillies to Wild Win; Phils Take 2-1 Lead

They say that timing is everything. No one knows that better right now than Carlos Ruiz.

Ruiz was the hero of tonight's epic Phillies victory, with a long home run and a very short single. After a sub-par regular season in which he hit just .219 with 4 home runs, Carlos Ruiz has been a man possessed in the World Series. Even before tonight's game, he had been one of the few Phillies having consistently good at-bats, having gone 2 for 2 with two doubles and two walks in Game 2. And yet, it seemed as if the Rays hadn't noticed.

Now I think they've noticed. Ruiz got everyone's attention in the second inning when he hit a solo home run, giving the Phillies a 2-1 lead. And he came up big in the end as well, delivering a game-winning RBI single...on a ball that couldn't have traveled more than 45 feet.

Of course, the Phillies never would have been in position to win it were it not for a very strong outing from Jamie Moyer, making his World Series debut at the tender age of 45. There were question marks surrounding Moyer due to his incoming 0-2 record in the 2008 postseason, including an abysmal performance in the NLCS in which he lasted just 1 1/3 innings.

But if anyone could shake off such a poor outing, it's the elder statesman of the team. Moyer limited the Rays to one run through the first six innings and entered the seventh with a 4-1 lead, thanks in part to solo home runs from Ruiz, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard (whose home run was his first since September 26th).

Carl Crawford led off the seventh for the Rays and decided to make Moyer earn his keep, attempting to bunt for a base hit down the first base line. Moyer took off, scooped the ball up in his glove, and dove as he flipped it straight from the glove to Howard. Howard caught it barehanded, just in time to beat Crawford. It was the greatest fielding play of the 2008 postseason, but there was just one problem. First base umpire Tom Hallion ruled Crawford safe. Replays would show that Moyer's throw did indeed beat Crawford, though not by much, but nonetheless Crawford remained on first when the dust settled.

He wouldn't stay there for long, however. The next batter, Dioner Navarro, ripped a double to left field, advancing Crawford to third. Moyer then got Gabe Gross to ground out, but allowed a run to score in the process. Charlie Manuel had seen enough and brought in Chad Durbin, who allowed another RBI groundout, then walked Willy Aybar. Scott Eyre then entered the game and struck out Akinori Iwanura to end the inning. Instead of a comfortable three-run lead, Hallion's blown call allowed the Rays to climb with one.

The precarious lead would not hold as B.J. Upton used his raw speed and baserunning instincts to terrorize the Phillies in the eighth. Upton led off the inning with an infield single, then stole second. He then stole third and made his way home on a wild throw by Ruiz, tying the game.

It would have been a heartbreaking loss for the Phillies and one that has been all too typical of this franchise and this city. At this point it became a showdown between the two bullpens, and the Rays blinked first.

In the ninth, defensive replacement Eric Bruntlett, who had a pinch hit home run in Game 2, was hit by J.P. Howell's pitch to lead off the inning. Grant Balfour replaced Howell and threw a wild pitch. Bruntlett advanced to second, then took third as well as Navarro's throw to second was off-target. With the winning run 90 feet away and no outs, Joe Maddon opted for the unorthodox. Maddon called for intentional walks of Shane Victorino and pinch-hitter Greg Dobbs, setting up a force out at home. He then called Ben Zobrist in from right field to form a five-man infield.

One has to admire Maddon's creativity, but in this case it didn't pay off. Ruiz stepped to the plate looking to be the hero. This would have terrified Phillies fans as recently as a week ago, but ever since his home run, fans realized this was not the same Carlos Ruiz who entered the All-Star break with a .202 batting average.

All he needed to do was make solid contact, and he managed that, chopping a grounder down the third base line. Evan Longoria charged and went for the force at home; the Rays' only chance. He attempted to loft the ball over Bruntlett's head, into the glove of Navarro, but instead the throw sailed well over Navarro's head and Bruntlett scored, sending the Philadelphia crowd into pandemonium.

The Phillies were supposed to crumble after Moyer was robbed of that crucial out in the seventh inning. When Upton tied the game with his baserunning prowess, the Rays were supposed to steal the momentum and steal the series. But Carlos Ruiz stood in the way, delivering perhaps the biggest little hit in franchise history.

Two more wins to go.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Shields Defends Home Turft; Series Tied

It took 17 1/3 innings, but the Phillies finally delivered with a runner in scoring position. Well, sort of. Trailing 4-1 in the ninth inning, Jayson Werth hit a hard grounder to Rays third baseman Evan Longoria. It proved too hot to handle and skipped off his glove and into the outfield, allowing Carlos Ruiz to score from second base. It wasn't that elusive RBI hit with runners in scoring position, but at that point in the game, the Phillies and their fans weren't about to be picky.

Of course, it was too little too late. Rookie phenom David Price struck out Chase Utley in the next at-bat, then Ryan Howard grounded out to second, ending the game in a 4-2 Phillies loss.

On paper, it will look as if James Shields dominated the game and Brett Myers was, well, Brett Myers. But that doesn't tell the whole story. Myers was, in fact, arguably the better of the two starters. He surrendered 4 runs, 3 of them earned, over seven innings. He gave up seven hits, but not one extra base hit. Sheilds, meanwhile, held the Phillies scoreless through 5 2/3 innings, but allowed seven hits, including two doubles and was forced to get out of numerous jams.

The second inning pretty much summed up the Phillies' offense. Howard led off with a double, Pat Burrell walked, and after Shane Victorino popped out, both runners advanced on a wild pitch to Greg Dobbs. A well-hit out would have likely scored Howard, but instead Dobbs struck out looking and Pedro Feliz lined out to center. The third inning started with a Carlos Ruiz double...and ended with him stranded on third. And so it went. The Phillies put runners in scoring position in every inning from the second to the seventh. Yet the first run of the night came off an Eric Bruntlett solo home run in the eighth. The Rays had scored four runs by then and the Phillies were unable to rally in the ninth.

It didn't help that the Phillies fell victim to some poor umpiring. Two particularly heinous calls (or non-calls) stood out. In the bottom of the second inning, Rocco Baldelli checked his swing on a 3-2 pitch. The pitch itself was very close; Myers thought it was a strike. Either way, home plate umpire Kerwin Danley didn't seem to think Baldelli held up on the swing and appeared to signal him out. However, the first base umpire said there was no swing and Baldelli sauntered down to first.

That's all well and good, except that the home plate umpire has the ultimate authority and he called Baldelli out. Perhaps this was some kind of umpire coup d'etat. More likely, it was a bad call and one that resulted in a Rays run. Charlie Manuel was so befuddled by the whole thing (Charlie often seems confused, but this time who could blame him) that he did not even come out to properly plead his case.

Another missed call came in the ninth. After Ruiz doubled, Rollins took a pitch inside that clearly nicked his jersey. It wasn't the most obvious hit-by-pitch, but the replay made it pretty clear that contact was made between the ball and Rollins' jersey, but the umpire did not award Rollins first base. With no outs, a runner on second, and lefty-killer Jayson Werth due up, this could have changed the complexion of the game. Joe Maddon would have had a very difficult decision with Werth at the plate, representing the tying run, then with Utley and Howard to follow. Instead, the pitch was ruled a ball and Rollins would eventually pop out to shallow center.

Both these calls were extremely frustrating to any Phillies fan, but it's worth noting that the Phillies had plenty of opportunities beforehand and had they executed then, the Rollins HBP no-call might not have mattered. No, it's not worth blaming the umpires for this loss.

At the same time, I'm not prepared to label the Phillies as a bunch of choke artists who can't get the big hit. They had plenty of hits, but just could not string them together when they needed to. Generally that amounts to little more than dumb luck.

Hopefully that luck subsides, as the series heads to Philadelphia. The Phillies will need to get the bats going, as the next two pitching matchups clearly favor the Rays. Based on the regular season, Game 3's Jamie Moyer-Matt Garza matchup is a toss-up, but Garza was excellent in the ALCS and Moyer has been hammered in two postseason starts. However, it should be noted that both of Moyer's starts were on the road, where he struggled in the regular season as well. Also, it's not unreasonable to think that a young, somewhat undisciplined hitting team like the Rays could succumb to the wily veteran.

Whatever happens on the mound, the Phillies' luck at the plate is bound to turn at some point. Let's just hope it's not too late.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Hamels Cools Rays Bats in Game One

I guess no one told the Phillies they were supposed to be rusty after their week off.

Instead, the NL Champs looked just fine from the start. Chase Utley started his first World Series with a bang, hitting a two-run shot off Scott Kazmir in the first inning. With Cole Hamels on the mound, the Phillies knew it wouldn't take much more than that (though it would've been nice).

Hamels took care of business yet again this October, improving his record to 4-0, in guiding the Phillies to a 3-2 win. He went 7 strong innings, giving up just two runs to an offense that terrorized the Red Sox in the ALCS.

The Phillies offense, despite scoring only three runs, had a solid performance. The Phillies reached base fourteen times yesterday (compared to just seven for the Rays), but were never able to bust the game open, going hitless with runners in scoring position and failing on several occasions to bring home a runner from third with less than two outs. Carlos Ruiz managed to bring a runner in from third in the fourth inning, scoring Shane Victorino to extend the Phillies' lead to 3-0.

The Rays had their share of missed opportunities as well, with B.J. Upton being the main culprit. Upton hit into two double plays in the game, including one with the bases loaded in the third that bailed Hamels out of a jam. Tampa finally got on the board in the fourth due to a Carl Crawford solo shot and then Akinori Iwamura made it a one-run game in the fifth with an RBI double, but that would be all the Rays could muster. Hamels handled them in the sixth and seventh with little difficulty.

Both bullpens looked dominant, but while the Rays 'pen looked formidable, the Phillies' Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge were untouchable. The pair combined for two perfect innings and three strikeouts to secure the win.

The Rays bullpen was good, but not great. In three innings, it kept the Phillies scoreless, but allowed two hits and two walks. But what really made the difference was the starting pitching. Hamels was the same dominant pitcher that he was in the National League (no doubt shocking some AL elitists who believe they're playing a AAA team). Kazmir was, well, the same pitcher the Red Sox saw in the ALCS. He delivered a quality start, but against an ace of Hamels' caliber, that's not good enough.

Hamels is the older of the two young starters (if only by a month. Well then maybe in a month Kazmir will understand) and it showed, as he was as composed as any pitcher we've seen this October.

No doubt many will argue that the Phillies squeaked by in this one and, had the Rays been a bit better with situational hitting, they would have taken the game. Maybe so, but the Phillies, Utley aside, were in fact far worse with their clutch hitting, stranding eleven runners. Not to mention, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, and Pat Burrell combined to go 0 for 12 with 2 walks. That's unlikely to last.

As impressive as this win was, the real test comes tomorrow, when Brett Myers faces James Shields. Shields has been the better of the two pitchers this year, but Myers had an excellent second half and has been solid in the postseason. The only real blemish on Myers' October comes from a Manny Ramirez three-run shot that ended up being meaningless. With Manny being Manny a safe distance away, Myers could well return to the form that got him through seven innings against the Brewers.

Of course, there are few players more unpredictable than Myers, so who knows, but whatever happens tomorrow, tonight's win was one hell of a start.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Stairs Way to Heaven; Phils Go Up 3-1 (Live)

Joe Torre has taken the unusual decision of starting Derek Lowe on only three days' rest for the fourth game of the 2008 NLCS. Because he is Joe Torre, his decision has been universally praised. Charlie Manuel starts Joe Blanton, clearly missing a golden opportunity to tire Cole Hamels by starting him on short rest.

8:29 - We begin as Chase Utley drives Jimmy Rollins in to give the Phillies a first-inning 1-0 lead with no outs. Lowe is looking great on 3 days rest.

8:31 - Jayson Werth scores from third on a Howard groundout. It's his first RBI of the series. There goes that slump. 2-0 Phillies.

8:33 - Lowe and his manager can't believe he walked Pat Burrell. Clearly they have not been watching Burrell play. Baseballs are magnetically repelled from his body.

8:35 - Victorino grounds into a double play. Perhaps he is actually not God.

8:43 - Blanton gives Manny an intentional walk with one out and a man on second. The announcers criticize him. He would clearly be an easier out if Tim McCarver were pitching.

8:46 - Blanton misses and lets Loney double to centre, making it 2-1. Viewers prepare for a batters' duel.

8:51 - Dobbs leads the inning off with a double to right. His five defensive errors not having happened yet, we are still glad he is starting this game.

8:53 - Clips of Joe Torre arguing with the umpire between innings. This rivalry will be played up at all costs.

8:55 - Joe Blanton strikes out after taking the first two pitches, having taken only the first half of his walk-drawing lessons from Pat Burrell.

9:02 - Casey Blake tries to bunt then strikes out looking. Apparently the word is out that Dobbs is playing.

9:02 - Larry Bowa has to be moved back into the coach's box so he can't steal signs. Now even when the Phillies are winning regularly we are not spared seeing him blow up at every opportunity.

9:06 - After Pierre is caught stealing (you don't steal bases on Joe Blanton, Juan. Didn't you get the memo?), Lowe hits a blooper into shallow center. Rollins tries to go make the over the shoulder basket catch, Willie Mays style, but it catches the heel of his glove and he can't hang on. However, it won't matter as Furcal hits a routine fly ball to center, ending the inning.

9:12 - Utley grounds a one-out single to right before Howard flies out to center. They seem to be collaborating to get him the record for most times stranded.

9:21 - Blanton makes like he wants to pitch-around Manny, then fakes him out with two right down the middle, the puts one just off the plate. An unintentional-intentional-unintentional walk?

9:23 - Martin outruns being caught in a double play, then goes first to third on a Loney single. Can we try putting catchers' gear on Victorino some time?

9:32 - Furcal bobbles a routine grounder from Ruiz, and doesn't get hit with the error. Can't remember - do hits like this account for most of his batting average?

9:39 - Rich Dubee tells us Blanton has been taking good care of himself. Yes coach, we know he has been eating well.

9:50 - Lowe gets a one-two-three inning. The game has transformed into a pitchers' duel, but he's already over seventy pitches on short rest, so he must tire soon. Right?

9:55 - Dissection of Utley politely questioning the bad call on his strikeout earlier. FOX is plainly rooting for a brawl.

9:57 - Manny up with two on and nobody out. For reference, THIS is when it's a bad idea to walk him.

9:58 - Furcal runs through the stop sign to score and tie the game. Good to know Larry Bowa is still helping us out.

10:01 - 3-2 Dodgers on a Manny hit, and Ethier scoring on a ground out. Loney gets an intentional walk, just because it feels right.

10:04 - Blanton gets out of it with a double-play. How many can we intentionally walk now?

10:09 - Kershaw relieves Lowe and deals Ryan Howard a lead-off walk. They DID say this young rookie could do incredible things...

10:12 - Burrell hits one past Furcal. Either he's being clutch again, or Rafael Furcal is just awful.

10:13 - Victorino bunts the runners over. Good move. Pedro Feliz bats for Dobbs. Huh? Memo to Manuel: batting and fielding are different actions.

10:18 - Chan Ho Park comes in and Howard for some reason does not tag, but all is forgiven when he comes in on a wild pitch. Sadly now Ruiz is up.

10:22 - Jenkins hits for Blanton so Torre goes to Joe Beimel. Manuel's strategy is to make Torre run out of pitchers.

10:24 - Taguchi comes into hit for Jenkins. Or... do something for him. A spectacular catch by Andre Ethier ends the inning.

10:29 - Durbin comes in and gives up a lead-off homer. Perhaps Blanton should have bat for himself.

10:37 - Durbin is pulled for a failure to record any outs and Eyre comes in. At least the Phillies know that the Dodgers pretty much only have Greg Maddux left in their dugout.

10:37 - Howard throws the ball into the outfield on a routine play, allowing the runners to reach second and third and a run to score. 5-3 Dodgers. Well, his astounding hitting this postseason comes at a price.

10:44 - After Ethier lines out, Manny is given an intentional walk. The fans boo as if this is some kind of surprise.

10:50 - Madson comes in, and Utley makes a great play, spearing a liner and jumping to the bag to eke out a double play. Just you wait. He will win this thing singlehandedly.

11:02 - Up and in on Loney gets booed. It's not as if LA fans have nothing to get excited about.

11:06 - Howard slips before making the play at first on a sacrifice bunt. We have still yet to get an explanation for why it is Burrell who is taken out for defensive replacements.

11:19 - After Howard singles Torre goes to Cory Wade from the bullpen. Victorino saves the day yet again by hitting a two-run homer and tying the game. Who knew Shane would be the big power hitter of the NLCS? After another hit Torre goes to Broxton. Hindsight is 20/20.

11:26 - Matt Stairs hits a home run off Broxton in his first time facing him and it is HUGE. The Stairmaster gets to jog, and the Phillies take a 7-5 lead in the top of the eighth. It's his first postseason homer after playing in the majors since 1992. In two playoff appearances with the 1995 Red Sox and 2000 A's he had never been past the division series, either.

11:38 - A lead-off walk then a double-play keep J. C. Romero in the game and means the Phillies can pitch to Manny. But Manuel feels he needs Lidge for an extra out for the first time even with nobody on. Let's see if this works out.

11:44 - Manny doubles. It's a good thing Lidge was there.

11:46 - Martin reaches on a strikeout and a wild pitch. Loney is up. I have nothing to say.

11:51 - He flies out to Bruntlett. That was harder than it should have been.

11:57 - Ryan Howard beats out a double play. This is a night of many wonders.

12:02 - Bruntlett beats out a double play then is out on a picthout, stealing for no reason. For some reason both teams thought it would make sense for the Phillies to steak with two outs in the ninth, up by two. It is a night of many wonders.

12:05 - Kent flies out to Victorino. 
You think Nomar evers turns to Kent and says, "Hey, remember when we were starters...on the All-Star team?" and then they both cry on each other's shoulders?

12:09 - Now they have one more thing to cry about. Lidge gets the save and the Phillies get the come-from-behind 7-5 win. One more win wins them the series and a trip to the World Series. It was a bizarre game and frustrating at times, but ultimately satisfying. On to Game 5, and Cole Hamels' start!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Utley, Burrell Power Phillies in Game One (Live)

After taking out the Brewers in four games, the Phillies move on to the NLCS where they face the Dodgers. That's the good news. The bad news is the games will be on FOX. Of course, for a championship-starved Philadelphia fan, it's a small price to pay. I can put up with Jeanne Zolasko and Tim McCarver for a shot at a ring...if I have to.

The Dodgers have been dubbed the NL's team to beat, despite winning only 84 games in the regular season. Yes, they knocked off the 97-win Cubs, but is this baseball or boxing? Just because the Dodgers KO'ed the NL's best regular season team does not mean they automatically assume its place. Besides, I can't quite bring myself to give the Dodgers all the credit for beating the Cubs. I mean, come on, it's the Cubs. Baseball's lovable losers. Is anyone really that surprised they collapsed in October? Didn't think so. So let's put that Dodgers love-fest on hold for now.

Of course, all of that "team to beat" talk can be thrown out the window as we get prepared for Game 1. Cole Hamels takes on Derek Lowe, which sounds unbalanced, but Lowe has had his best season as a starter since 2002. That included a ridiculous September, in which he allowed just two earned runs in 30+ innings. In his one playoff start, he allowed two runs in six innings. For whatever it's worth, Lowe's road ERA is 4.42, compared to 2.30 at home, so the Phillies should be grateful the Dodgers didn't save him for Game 3.

8:25: And we're underway. Larry Bowa introduced the Dodgers lineup, which is a little upsetting. The least Bowa could have done is mentioned that he's a former Phillie. Oh well. Hamels gets Rafael Furcal to ground out, but Andre Etheir slaps the ball into the gap in left center for a double. Now Manny Ramirez steps in with a runner in scoring position. Gulp.
8:26: Manny comes oh-so-close to taking Hamels deep, but it hits the highest part of the highest wall in the park and Manny has an RBI double, despite taking time to admire his shot out of the batter's box.
8:28: Hamels bounces back by striking out Russell Martin on three pitches. All the more reason to pitch around Manny. The Dodgers don't have anyone else worth worrying about.
8:34: James Loney works a walk and he and Manny advanced on a passed ball, but the Phillies escaped further harm as Matt Kemp flies out to right. Not the best start, but it's only a 1-0 game.
8:37: Harry Kalas delivers the Phillies starting lineup. Hooray! Best thing FOX has ever done.
8:40: Two quick outs for Rollins and Victorino, but Utley gets the Phillies going with a base hit up to center field. Now Howard comes up with the tying run on first.
8:43: Howard slaps the 3-2 pitch to the right side of the infield, but it's snared and he's thrown out to end the inning. Would've been nice to tie the game, but it looks like the Phillies are seeing Lowe well enough.
8:50: That was fast. Hamels plows through the bottom of the Dodgers lineup for a perfect inning, striking out Casey Blake and Lowe in the process. Good to see him bounce back.
8:57: Burrell smashes a line drive into left for a single, and now Werth steps in. If you take away the speed difference and Werth's facial hair, aren't Burrell and Werth the exact same player? Well now they have one more thing in common. They both got out on Werth's ground to second. 4-3 double play.
9:00: Feliz draws a walk as Phillies fans everywhere question why he is starting. Granted, Dobbs is a lousy fielder, but wouldn't it be better to have his bat in the lineup? Apparently Charlie Manuel doesn't think so. The walk doesn't do much good, however, as Ruiz makes the third out on a routine grounder. Two questions about that: 1) Why is Ruiz starting over Coste? Neither is a great hitter, but Coste is clearly better. 2) If you MUST start Ruiz, why not bat Hamels 8th? He's hit better than Ruiz this year.
9:05: Hamels gets a first, quick out, but Ethier strikes again, as he hits a hard grounder that ricochets off Howard's glove for a single. Now Manny is up again with a runner on. Let's hope Hamels has learned his lesson.
9:07: Hamels not only learned his lesson, he may have taught Manny one. Manny whiffed on two straight pitches, then popped the next one up to short.
9:12: The last out wasn't so easy to come by, despite Manny not being involved. Martin walked and Loney took the first two pitches out of the strike zone, before Hamels recovers and strikes him out with the next three.
9:17: Quick inning for the Phillies, going down in order. Victorino at least makes things interesting as he gets tangled up with Lowe after Lowe just barely beats him to the bag for the third out. Maybe that will mess up his pitching rhythm. Probably not, but on the off-chance it does, you heard it here first.
9:21: Kemp hits one barely fair down the right field line that bounces into the seats for a ground-rule double. Tim McCarver points out that Red Sox fans may remember that play because it's about where Jason Bay hit his double in the ALDS. Yes Tim, exactly the same. Different teams, different ballpark, different league, but other than that, yeah, same play.
9:25: Blake advances Kemp with a grounder to short and DeWitt brings him home with a sacrifice fly. Lowe grounds out to end it, but the Phillies now trail 2-0. There's still plenty of time left, but the frustration is beginning to mount.
9:31: As Lowe pitches to Utley, McCarver speculates that Lowe might have hurt his throwing hand during his at-bat last inning. It wouldn't be the first time Hamels injured a pitcher. Remember Bartolo Colon during the Red Sox series? He swung so hard at Hamels' changeups that he injured his back. Suffice it to say, it was hilarious. So far Lowe looks fine, as Utley goes down on strikes.
9:35: Howard and Burrell go down. This is looking like all those Hamels regular season starts where the offense decides its presence is optional because the ace is on the mound. Let's hope it arrives before it's too late.
9:44: Hamels has an easy top of the fifth, retiring Furcal, Ethier, and Martin. Manny gets a single off him, but that's the only blemish of the inning. No harm done.
9:50: The Phillies get their third hit, as Ruiz slaps a single to right with two outs. It probably won't amount to a run with Hamels batting now, but at least it turns the lineup over for the next inning.
9:51: Then again, maybe it will do some good. Hamels laced a single into right and the Phillies have two on for Rollins. Huge at-bat here.
9:55: So much for that. It looked like the Phillies finally had Lowe on the ropes, but Rollins lofts the 3-2 pitch into Manny's glove and the Dodgers keep the score at 2-0.
10:00: Another quick inning for Hamels, aided by an impressive diving stop by Rollins that starts a 6-4-3 double play. Despite his early inning struggles, he's thrown only 92 pitches through six, meaning he should be good to go through seven, perhaps even eight innings. Even if they lose, the Phillies bullpen shouldn't be overly taxed for Game 2.
10:05: The Phillies catch a big break as Victorino grounds to short and Furcal's throw is too high for Loney. Victorino rounds first and is into second to start the inning.
10:07: Tie game! Utley makes Furcal's error count, blasting a two-run shot over the left field wall! That's just the third fly ball of the game, and one Lowe would like to have back.
10:11: Pat the Bat is...clutch???? Bizarro Pat Burrell strikes again, destroying Lowe's last pitch of the night and giving the Phillies a 3-2 lead! Wow.
10:16: Chan Ho Park into the game for the Dodgers to face Werth, who I am now calling Pat Burrell 2.0 ("We can rebuild him. Make him stronger, faster than he was before.") Werth skies a fly ball to center for the second out of the inning. Feliz then grounds out to end it, but what an inning! Phillies lead 3-2 after six!
10:24: Hamels takes care of business in the top of the seventh. He's now thrown 105 pitches and is due to bat next inning, so he is likely done for the night. That means we could be in for a scary eighth inning, with most likely Ryan Madson facing Manny. We can't squeeze one more inning out of Hamels? Please?
10:30: Greg Maddux comes in to pitch the bottom of the seventh. Yes, future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux. I don't get it either. Ruiz greets him with a grounder to the left side of the infield. Furcal gets to it and fires, but is off target again. Loney stretches and reels it in, but Ruiz beats it out. Ah, so that's why he's in instead of Coste. That extra iota of speed.
10:33: The Phillies opt to bunt with Ruiz on first and none out, so instead of keeping the pitcher in or using a legitimate pinch hitter, they bring in So Taguchi to act as a bunt specialist of sorts. Taguchi fails mightily in this capacity, popping out to Loney, who makes an impressive sliding catch. Rollins then ends the inning, hitting into a 4-3 double play. DeWitt made a phenomenal tag and throw to get Rollins. And now we move on to what will surely be a tense eighth inning. Fingers crossed.
10:38: Good start for Madson, as he strikes out Ethier with a changeup for the first out. Now Manuel comes out to discuss their strategy on dealing with Manny. My advice? Don't throw him a strike. Why play with fire?
10:40: And that's why I'm here watching and not in the dugout. Manny rips it but right to Feliz, who snares it for out number two. Martin then hits a hard grounder to Feliz, but it nicks his foot and eludes the glove, earning Martin a single.
10:42: Madson gets the job done, as Loney chops a grounder to second for the third out. With Lidge set to pitch the ninth and the Dodgers' 6-7-8 hitters due to bat, it's looking pretty good for the Phillies. Let's just hope it's Lights-Out-Lidge and not Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn that comes into the game.
10:49: Victorino, Utley, and Howard go down in order. Who needs insurance when you have the best closer in baseball? Um...let's hope the Phillies don't. Lidge has been, well, perfect so far this year, but a little extra wiggle room would have been nice.
10:53: Relief left fielder Eric Bruntlett replaces Burrell and here we go. Lidge on to pitch the ninth. He gets Kemp on a deep fly ball to right-center for the first out.
10:56: Two outs. Blake is retired on another deep fly ball, this one to dead center. One out away and Blake DeWitt is the batter.
10:58: DeWitt flails at and misses strike three. Ruiz scoops it up and fires to first and that's the ballgame! The Phillies take Game 1 of the NLCS 3-2!

Tonight's game was just great, all-around. Hamels wasn't as dominant tonight as he was against the Brewers, but he allowed just two runs over seven innings. You can't ask for much more from your ace. Once again, the Phillies score all their runs in one inning, striking for three in the sixth. Derek Lowe was thoroughly dominant to that point, but Furcal's error was the break the Phillies needed, and Utley made him pay. Maybe Utley's home run rattled Lowe, or maybe Burrell is just a clutch hitting machine all of the sudden. Either way, Burrell came through yet again with his monster home run. The one-run cushion was all the team needed, as the bullpen got the job done once again.

The Phillies couldn't ask for a better way to start the series. Now on to Game 2: Myers vs Billingsley. You never know what to expect from Myers, but he had a strong outing against the Brewers. The two faced off on August 25th and the advantage went decidedly to Myers, who pitched seven scoreless innings in a 5-0 Phillies win. Let's hope history repeats itself tomorrow afternoon.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Phillies Close Out the Brewers (Live)

After a somewhat disheartening loss yesterday, when the Phillies bats arrived in Milwaukee too late, the Phillies try to close out the Brewers today, as Joe Blanton takes on Jeff Suppan. Not exactly a star-studded matchup, but the Phillies better hope Blanton comes up big for them today, to avoid Hamels-Sabathia in Game 5.

The Phillies and Brewers are just underway and Rollins crushes a 3-2 pitch over the right field wall. Corey Hart didn't even chase it, and who can blame him. So much for Suppan's postseason success. Phillies lead 1-0.
1:16: Utley works a walk but it's all for naught as Howard hits into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning. Still, can't complain about a 1-0 lead. The Phillies seem to be seeing Suppan pretty well.
1:24: Blanton works through Cameron and Durham without much difficulty, but Braun lines a single into left. Now Blanton's got his work cut out for him, as Fielder steps in with one on and two out.
1:29: Fielder battles Blanton in Brett Myers-esque fashion, but Joe gets the last laugh as Fielder flies out to Burrell and the Phillies come to bat again, still leading 1-0.
1:40: After Burrell singles down the right field line, Werth strikes out on 9 pitches. Kind of a shame for it to end like that, but at least he made Suppan work. Dobbs, in his first postseason strat, singles into the gap in right center. Burrell lumbers from first to third. The Phillies are threatening again, but rally-killer Ruiz is up, followed by Blanton.
1:42: The Phillies catch a break, as Jason Kendall can't handle Suppan's pitch and Dobbs heads to second. A ground ball might be enough here...but Ruiz won't get it. He takes strike three looking. Now Blanton comes up with two outs and runners on second and third.
1:44: Blanton whiffs on three straight and the Phillies strand two runners. A frustrating inning, but on the bright side, Suppan has thrown 41 pitches through two innings. Looks like we'll be seeing more of that Brewers bullpen. Surprisingly it's been pretty good so far in the series, but their luck has to run out at some point.
1:49: Blanton couldn't come through at the plate, but he's looking pretty good on the mound right now. He retires the Brewers in order on seven pitches.
1:54: Rollins leads off the third and gets a good piece of the 1-2 pitch, but he's under it and it's an easy fly out to right. Victorino follows with a blooper to left. J.J. Hardy makes a diving effort, but it's out of his reach. Victorino takes second and the Phillies have a runner in scoring position for Utley.
1:58: Utley grounds out to the right side and Victorino takes third, which is nice but inconsequential, as he would have scored from second on a base hit anyway and there are now two outs. Howard will be intentionally walked and Suppan will go after Burrell. Definitely the right decision, but Burrell is 1 for 1 today. Just saying.
2:02: Can you say extension? Burrell may have just earned himself one as he crushes the 2-2 pitch for a three-run shot! The Phillies take a 4-0 lead.
2:04: Jayson Werth says "Not so fast, I'm the future of this outfield!" as he sends one deep over the center field wall. 5-0 Phillies. Dobbs flies out to end the third, but the Phillies now hold a commanding lead. Gotta love that clutch hitting. (I never thought I'd say that about Burrell.)
2:11: That'll be all for Suppan as Sabathia steps in to pinch hit. I think the Brewers have officially thrown in the towel. Sabathia can hit for a pitcher, but he's still a pitcher. He proves my point by striking out on three pitches. Cameron flies out to center and Blanton has retired seven straight.
2:14: Gallardo heads to the mound, as the Brewers attempt to use their entire rotation in a single game. I wonder if Dave Bush can play the field.
2:26: Blanton strikes out Durham and Braun, then gets Fielder to line out to right. He has now set down ten straight batters. He's pretty much on cruise control at this point.
2:32: So far so good for Gallardo, as he sets the Phillies down in order. At this point it may not matter, but the Brewers aren't completely out of it yet.
2:39: Blanton gives up his second hit of the game, as Hardy singles, but he retires the next two batters, including Craig Counsell who couldn't catch up to Blanton's fastball. When Joe Blanton is mowing you down with his hard stuff, it might be time to call it a career.
2:48: Werth hits what looks to be an easy fly out to left, but it ricochets off a cable and ends up in Counsell's glove, as he makes a diving catch to get the out. Fine, Craig, you can still field.
2:53: Charlie Manuel made his first defensive replacement of the game, going to relief third baseman Pedro Feliz. Yet somehow the Brewers get a lead-off single to right field. Apparently no one told the Brewers that the Phillies defense just got better.
2:59: Every time Carlos Ruiz snap throws to an occupied base, an angel gets its wing. I don't believe that, but Ruiz must as he makes a pointless throw to first. Braun strikes out on the next pitch and the Phillies still hold a 5-0 lead through six innings.
3:03: Blanton steps to the plate for his third at-bat, which, for a Charlie Manuel team, usually means that he'll face one batter next inning before a reliever gets called in. That said, Blanton's only thrown 99 pitches and has been dominant. Might as well see if he can get through one more inning.
3:06: Impressive glovework by the Brewers, as they turn a 6-4-3 double play with Rollins and Victorino running. The Phillies offense seems to have gotten bored, now that they have a decent lead.
3:12: Blanton challenges Fielder with the 3-1 pitch and gets away with it. But not on 3-2. Fielder goes yard and the Brewers are finally on the board. Hardy follows with a first-pitch single and Blanton is probably done for the night.
3:18: Ryan Madson comes on for Blanton and gets the first out of the inning, as Hart chops out to second. Looked like Utley could have gotten the force at second there, but instead he went for the safer play at first. With a four-run lead, it's hard to blame him.
3:20: Impressive play by Howard, who makes a diving stop of Counsell's grounder, then tosses to Madson for the out at first. Kendall flies out to shallow right for the final out of the inning.
3:32: Burrell does it again! This time it's only a solo shot (not his fault) and the Phillies are back to a five-run lead. That's what the Brewers get for sending Guillermo Mota into the game. Somewhere, Ned Yost must be smiling.
3:37: Madson stays in the game, and why not, he's been great so far. He gets the first batter, but gives up his first hit of the series, courtesy of Mike Cameron. Meanwhile, it's pouring in Chicago, threatening to delay the inevitable Rays win. How dare the White Sox not play in a dome!
3:41: Braun singles to left, scoring Cameron with two outs and the Brewers cut into the lead yet again. All of the sudden, the Brewers have a shot to make things interesting, with Fielder up with a runner on. Of course, he'd have to homer and the Brewers would still probably have to rally off Brad Lidge. Not too likely. All the same, it'd be nice if Madson could just get Fielder out here.
3:44: Fielder hits it hard...but right at Utley, who snares the line drive for the third out. The Phillies are just three outs away from a trip to the NLCS!
3:49: Matt Stairs comes in to pinch hit for Madson. I know Stairs is the better choice, but couldn't they have used Geoff Jenkins here? It just seems fitting for him to have a chance against his old team. Stairs hits into an inning-ending double play. Whatever. Let's just get those last three outs.
3:53: Lidge comes on to close out the game, though it's not a save situation. Let's hope it's the Game 2 version, rather than Game 1.
3:54: Hardy grounds to third for an easy out. Two outs to go.
3:57: Hart helps keep the Brewers alive, hitting one by Feliz and into left for a single. Feliz probably should have had that one, but it was hit too hard to give him the error. Hart takes second on the first pitch to Brad Nelson, as the Phillies ignore him.
4:00: Nelson whiffs on the breaking ball and the Brewers are down to their last out. Jason Kendall steps in.
4:01: Kendall grounds to Rollins who fires to Howard, and that's the ballgame! The Phillies are heading to the NLCS for the first time since 1993!

Bring on the Dodgers! The Phillies head to the NLCS with a series-clinching 6-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers. Thanks to the Dodgers upset of the Cubs (did anyone but Cubs fans see that happening?) the Phillies get homefield advantage. Last time the Phillies saw the Dodgers, they swept them in four games. Of course, the Dodgers swept the Phillies in four in the series before that, so who knows. We'll have analysis and coverage of that series in the next few days (Game 1 is scheduled for Thursday) but for now, we'll just savor the win.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Phillies-Brewers: Game 1

The Phillies, fresh off their second straight division title, will play host to the Brewers this afternoon for the Game 1 of the NLDS. Thanks to the Mets' (and Nationals') ineptitude, Philadelphia was able to line up the rotation to its liking and send out Cole Hamels for Game 1. And thanks again to the Mets, who made it close enough that the Brewers had to deploy their ace, C.C. Sabathia, in the second to last game of the year, assuring that he could not start Game 1. There aren't many pitchers better than Hamels, but C.C. is one of them.

The Brewers late scramble for the wildcard and the subsequent handling of the rotation should pay huge dividends for the Phillies. As it stands, Hamels will dodge Sabathia in Game 1 and instead face Yovani Gallardo. Gallardo is one of the most talented pitching prospects in baseball, but he has barely pitched this year, having suffered an injury in May that kept him out until, well, last Thursday.

Gallardo threw 67 pitches last week against the Pirates. Considering the short leash he was on, he performed admirably. He pitched four innings and allowed one run (a solo homer) while striking out seven. Of course this forced the Brewers to go to their bullpen early and they would use seven relievers that night (though two of them came in the 10th inning).

Starting Gallardo in Game 1 brings up the question of his endurance. Obviously the 67 pitches was a precautionary measure, but how carefully will he be handled in the playoffs? What is more important to the Brewers, this game or Gallardo's arm? My guess would be that Gallardo will be on a short pitch count again, though he may go up to 85-90 pitches, rather than staying south of 70 again.

The Phillies can only hope this is the case, as Gallardo has the stuff to give them fits if he is truly healthy. Furthermore, the bullpen is not exactly Milwaukee's strong point and if Gallardo has another short outing today, the Phillies hitters will be licking their chops.

One notable stat to point out about Gallardo: He has pitched his worst in day games. In ten games (8 starts) he has a 4.73 ERA. This could be a fluke, or it could well mean that he's easier to hit in the light of day, when hitters can see his pitches better. Of course Hamels' numbers are a little worse in day games as well, but the Phillies can at least expect him to give them 6-7 innings. The same can't be said for Gallardo.

Ultimately, the Brewers' difficulty in simply making the playoffs, plus the resulting pitching decisions, should give the Phillies a decided advantage in this series.