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10/05/09 12:00 AM ET
Rox-Phils pits past two pennant-winners
Powerful offenses, strong starting pitching define both clubs
By John Schlegel / MLB.com
When the Phillies and Rockies met in the 2007 Division Series, no one could have imagined the October roads these two clubs would travel before meeting again in the same setting.
The Rockies started their improbable postseason run that year with a sweep of the Phillies, extending their remarkable run to 21 wins in 22 games in advancing to the World Series, where the magic ended with a sweep by the Red Sox.
Last year, the Phillies got it right, and then some. With the Rockies at home for the postseason, the Phillies brought it all home to Philadelphia, winning the World Series over the Rays.
For each team, this series isn't about 2007 or 2008. It's about 2009, and when the series begins Wednesday with Game 1 at Citizens Bank Park, it'll be all about the present.
Still, recent World Series experience is something both teams bring with them as they embark on this year's road to baseball immortality.
The Phillies also have a fresh understanding of what it's like to go through the regular season after winning the pennant.
"Everyone was gunning for us," Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins said. "The last couple years, we were kind of the dark horse. We were right there, but we were never in the lead. We were trailing and catching up at the end. But winning a championship, everyone is gunning for us."
Despite being circled on everyone's schedule, the Phillies were undeterred. Next up is the Rockies, who also know a little something about that feeling. While the Phillies managed to get right back into the playoffs after their victorious World Series, the Rockies slipped to third place in the NL West at 74-88 last year.
It turns out both years helped them get to where they are now.
"I never forgot '07, and it's great to experience it again -- it never gets old," said star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. "In '08, we learned a lot, too. It's not easy getting here, so we value it that much more. We knew we had a good team. Every team goes through a struggle. Ours was early and we overcame it and played great since then."
This year's struggles had the Rockies at 20-32 before they supplanted Clint Hurdle as manager, replacing him with Jim Tracy, a former Dodgers and Pirates skipper. It didn't take long to see that the transition did wonders.
The Rockies wound up with the best record in the Majors after the All-Star break, making another thrilling run into the postseason that included a late bid for their first division title.
The Phillies held a 4-2 edge over the Rockies in the regular season, winning two of three at home and in Colorado.
The matchup features the top two power clubs in the National League, although the Phillies are far and away the leaders in that respect. With supreme slugger Ryan Howard hitting 45 homers and joined by a 30-homer trio of Jayson Werth (36), Raul Ibanez (34) and Chase Utley (31), the Phillies not only led the league in homers, but in runs per game, RBIs, total bases and slugging percentage. The Rockies, meanwhile, boast four players with 20 or more homers, led by Tulowitzki's 32.
Both clubs also have starting pitching to handle just about any lineup, when it's on at least. The Rockies' rotation was on pretty much all year, delivering five starters with 10 or more wins, led by Jorge De La Rosa with 16 and Ubaldo Jimenez and Jason Marquis with 15 apiece, but also led by example of veteran Aaron Cook. The Phillies have strong starters in 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels, summer addition lefty Cliff Lee and right-hander Joe Blanton. But starting hasn't been their problem -- closing out games has, and it's uncertain whether it'll be Brad Lidge or Ryan Madson in the ninth if they need a save.
Somehow, the Phillies overcame their struggles and the pitfalls of having a World Series target on their back all year.
And they enter the 2009 postseason with lofty goals for an organization that is back to thinking big, more than two decades after a run of six postseasons in eight years from 1973-83, including a World Series championship in 1980.
"I hope this group has an opportunity to do something that they didn't do: win it all more than once," team president David Montgomery said after the Phillies earned their third consecutive division title.