10/16/08 3:03 AM ET
Spin Forward: Phils daunting adversary
AL pennant winner will have hands full with this robust team
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
Nine games into the postseason, the Phils are doing a lot of things right and very little wrong. They likely won't be favored against either Tampa Bay or Boston, but there's no doubt they'll at least be able to hang with the ALCS winner.
The Phillies have just about all the keys to winning in October. The front of their starting rotation is very strong. They play quality defense. The back of their bullpen locks games down. They take good at-bats and hit the ball out of the park, but they can also score without hitting the big fly.
"We found ways to manufacture runs without hitting home runs," said Ryan Howard. "The home runs were good when we needed them, but we found a way to get it done, and our pitching staff's been great so far."
The Phils' chances start with their ace, Cole Hamels, who rolled over a good Dodgers lineup in two NLCS starts. Hamels gives Philadelphia an excellent chance to win in two games, though it's quite certain that manager Charlie Manuel won't try to get three starts for the 24-year-old.
If there's a yellow flag with the Phils, at least based on October thus far, it's their rotation beyond Hamels. Brett Myers was superb in the Division Series but shaky in the NLCS. Joe Blanton has been shaky but ultimately OK in both rounds. And Jamie Moyer could do nothing in his start against the Dodgers.
Facing either of two teams with deep rotations -- especially Tampa Bay -- the Phils need to get more from their 2-3-4 starters. But boy, is that No. 1 guy good.
The Phils' lineup, meanwhile, certainly is deep. Depending how he structures his starting nine on a given day, Manuel can call on up to seven very dangerous hitters. The Phillies feature three different players who matched 20 or more homers with on-base percentages higher than .350 -- and that doesn't include the 2007 MVP Award winner, Jimmy Rollins, or the 2006 winner, Howard.
"That's been us all year," Rollins said. "We don't sit around and wait for one person to get the job done."
They feature left-right balance, with two lefties and a right-hander at the heart of their order and two switch-hitters playing key roles. They have a number of interesting and useful tactical pieces, from utilityman Eric Bruntlett to bench weapons Matt Stairs, Greg Dobbs and Geoff Jenkins.
And that bullpen -- oh, that bullpen. Ninth-inning man Brad Lidge has been impenetrable all year, though the homer-happy Rays and Red Sox could challenge him. Ryan Madson is a huge weapon in the seventh and eighth, and J.C. Romero is a quality matchup lefty. Even the unsung guys, pitchers like Chad Durbin and Clay Condrey, have contributed.
The bullpen was a major part of why the Phils won the NLCS, and it will have to work the same way if they're to win it all.
Another area where Philadelphia showed off in the NLCS was on defense. This may be an underrated defensive team. It's certainly a good one. Chase Utley showed his full range of fielding skills against Los Angeles, Rollins made all the plays and Shane Victorino chased down one ball after another in center field.
They're strong up the middle, and that nearly always means a strong defensive team overall.
Frankly, they're strong just about all over the place. Although they were underdogs to the Dodgers in some quarters, over the course of the season they were the better team. According to runs scored and allowed, they had the second-best expected record in the NL and the third-best in baseball.
They may not win, but it will be a fair fight.
"It's a great feeling, the position we're in now, but we don't want to lose sight of the ultimate goal," Utley said. "We try not to look too far ahead. In this game it's tough to do, but in order to be successful I think that's the mind-set you have. We had that all year."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.