Ryan Howard’s Return to Form Helps Propel Phillies to Brink of Championship

October 27, 2008

by Patrick Gallen… Be excited, but tread lightly.  Enjoy all of this, but celebrate with guarded optimism.

The Philadelphia Phillies are one win away from capturing this city’s first World Championship in any sport since 1983.  Forgive me for trying to spoil the fun, because the Phillies still have a job to do.  They have won nothing yet.

After last night’s explosive 10-2 victory, the Phillies are knocking on the door or history.  In Game Five tonight they send their ace and MVP to this point, Cole Hamels, to the mound to try and finish what he started.  After capturing the opening games in each series, Hamels can put the exclamation point on years of futility.  But just be cautious, there is still another game to be played.

As for yesterday, the Phillies’ bats came alive and their pitching staff continued to dominate.  Joe Blanton pitched six awe-inspiring innings, striking out seven Rays batters while chipping in on the offensive end as well.  Blanton’s offensive production was a home run to left center field off of Rays’ reliever Edwin Jackson.  “Big Joe” sent a 93-MPH heater into the night and left Phils’ fans, and teammates, in a frenzy.

Beyond Blanton’s great effort, it was nice to finally see Ryan Howard producing offensively.  He had been mired in a power slump for the better part of the playoffs; that was until his Game Three bomb that helped seal the deal.

Game Four turned out to be twice as nice.  Howard sent two out into the seats, one being the real nail in the Rays proverbial coffin, an opposite field three-run shot that told all of Philadelphia Ryan Howard was back.

His second statement shot was a laser beam to deep right center that could have taken the head off of a fan from 400 feet away.  That eighth inning blast was the icing on the cake, and it made everyone believe that a championship was on the horizon.  It’s a shame we had to wait so long for Howard to revert back to his old self, but as the adage goes, better late than never.

Jayson Werth was yet another hero from Game Four, as he smacked a two-run bomb off of Dan Wheeler in the eighth inning, two batters before Howard.  Werth had been struggling from time to time during the playoffs, but he is now hitting .400 in the World Series, and has given the Phillies a devastating one-two punch at the top of the order, alongside Jimmy Rollins.

Speaking of J-Roll, he too put together yet another outstanding performance, reaching base four times.  He too seems to have snapped out of his lethargic streak, finally putting forth consecutive consistent games.  We all know that when J-Roll rolls, so rolls the offense—or something like that.

If the series ends tonight, and if you could give the MVP to a group instead of just one human, how could it not go to the Phillies’ bullpen?

It started off as a question mark way back in spring training and has blossomed into one of the best in baseball.  The ‘pen as kept us in so many games and deserves a lot of the recognition it is not receiving.

Other than Brad Lidge, who has not blown a save all season, Ryan Madson has been the true anchor of the late-inning lock down.  He has been absolutely spectacular, and deserves credit for getting the game to Lidge without incident.  JC Romero, Scott Eyre and Chad Durbin have all stepped up in the postseason and made this possible.

So we are one win away from a Philadelphia championship.  Most people didn’t think this was possible, but here we are, on the edge of it.

Tonight will be a very special occasion if they do clinch the title, so make sure you celebrate it in style.  Have fun, and most importantly be careful, because the city is brimming with intensity, and the lid is about to blow off.

Just nine more innings of Phillies baseball, and we can call ourselves champions.

Sounds good to me.


2008 World Series: Is There a Ray of Hope for the Phillies?

October 22, 2008

By Patrick Gallen… The wait is over.

The Philadelphia Phillies have finally found out who their opponent will be in the World Series as the Tampa Bay Rays finished off the defending champion Boston Red Sox in seven games.

Nearly enduring a complete collapse after speeding out to a 3-1 lead, the Red Sox won Game Five by erasing a seven run deficit in the seventh inning and nearly streaked to the finish line. However, the Rays did not falter in Game Seven, and they wrapped things up to reach their first World Series in franchise history.

The Phils can now worry about one challenger. Having faced the Rays just a handful of times over the years, the Phillies are completely unfamiliar with their team. If you too are unfamiliar with Tampa Bay, here are a few things you need to know before the series begins:

Excellent Pitching

The Rays are heavy handed with very good starting pitching, and also boast a decent bullpen.

Their starting rotation of James Shields, Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza and Andy Sonnanstine all sport ERAs under four in the postseason.

Garza, the so-called third starter, won twice in the ALCS against Boston and was awarded the MVP of the series. Sonnanstine was the victor in each of his starts in the postseason and Shields, while just 1-2, has not given up more than three earned runs in a game in the playoffs.

Kazmir is their “ace”, although Shields or Garza could be given that title as well, and has been the “worst” in the playoffs so far. He did shut down the Red Sox in Game Five, but the bullpen blew the game for him, leading to the seven game series.

The bullpen is a bunch of unknowns to us Philadelphians, but it may be every bit as potent as our own group of relievers.

Five of their relief pitchers have ERAs under two and their ‘pen is complete with several lefthanders who will give the Phillies batters nightmares in the late innings.

J.P Howell is one of the prime lefties and is their most used option out of the bullpen. He has appeared in nine games so far this postseason and has given up just two earned runs over 9 2/3 innings, while striking out 12. Look for Howell to be a thorn in the sides of the lefty batters in the Phillies lineup, as we all know they struggle in late-inning situations against lefthanders.

David Price, the relative unknown who closed out Game Seven against the Sox, is just 23 years old. But don’t let his age fool you. The kid can thrown up to 96 MPH on the gun and has nasty breaking pitches. Oh, and he is lefthanded, so look out Ryan and Chase.

Chad Bradford is a submarine-style pitcher who does not throw hard, but will fool you with his style. He is one of the elder statesmen on this squad, having appeared in 22 career postseason games.

Trever Miller is another lefty specialist who we could see in the late innings too. He has appeared in only four postseason games, but is still a lefty to be reckoned with.

Edwin Jackson was relegated to the bullpen but was the Rays fifth starter throughout the season. As their fifth, he actually led the Rays in wins this season with 14. He is a righty who throws smoke and can throw long innings of relief should the Rays need him to.

Rounding out the ‘pen are their two workhorses, Grant Balfour and Dan Wheeler. They have been the go-to guys in relief for most of the playoffs, but each suffered a meltdown of sorts in the Game Five loss against Boston in which they were given a seven run lead.

Balfour is a hard-throwing emotional type who will use that emotion to psyche out the opposition. Wheeler is a veteran who does not have overpowering pitches, but wills his way to get the job done.

All-in-all this is a scary pitching staff from top to bottom. They can throw out a number of lefthanders, most of their guys throw very hard, and the rotation is incredibly deep. The Phillies do not match up well with left handed pitching, but will see plenty of it in this series. Tomorrow, the Rays lineup and defense goes under the microscope.

more of Patrick Gallen


World Series: Philadelphia vs. Tampa B…Wait a Sec!

October 18, 2008

by Patrick Gallen… Going to the bottom of the seventh inning, the only thing the Tampa Bay Rays seemed to be worrying about was whether or not the champagne in the clubhouse was chilled yet. Perhaps they were considering wearing goggles while spraying each other with liquid celebration. They could have been looking ahead, and if they were, it showed.

The Boston Red Sox were down 7-0 going into the bottom of the inning and somehow, some way, came back to win 8-7 on a J.D. Drew single in the ninth. It was the greatest postseason comeback in Red Sox history and one run shy of an all-time MLB comeback.

Boston still trails 3-2 in the series, but you have to imagine that the momentum that the Rays carried is all but gone.

David Ortiz and J.D. Drew were the saviors in this one, just as they have been so many times before. And Boston is used to this sort of thing. Twice in the last four seasons they have come back from at least a two-game deficit to win the ALCS. That does not bode well for this young Rays club. If the Rays prove to be fragile, this could be yet another chapter in the book of Red Sox Nation.

In 2004, the Sawks came back from being down 3-0 to the Yankees in the Championship series, only to win four straight, the first team in Major League Baseball history to accomplish that feat. Last season, they trailed the Cleveland Indians 3-1 and won three in a row. And both times the outcome was the same. A World Series ring.

As Phillies fans, what do we want to see? Do we want to see this go seven games with the Red Sox winning and bringing with them a slew of energy into the World Series?  Should we hope that the Rays close it out tomorrow night so that the Phils have more time to prepare for one club?

Maybe we should pray that the Rays win in seven themselves, so that they come into the next round demoralized but relieved that they escaped the wrath of the Red Sox.

What Philadelphia should hope for is the Rays closing this one out tonight. Historically, the Phillies have been awful against Boston in interleague play. All time, the Phils are just 12-19 against the Red Sox, but to be fair, they are just 5-10 against Tampa Bay.

Since 2004, the Phillies are 3-12 against Boston, an ugly stat. They have had very little success against these two ballclubs, and while no series has been of this magnitude, the numbers never lie.

My choice, and with caution, is Tampa Bay. Now don’t get me wrong, they have played remarkably all season, but the choice has to be the Rays. You want to take your chances with a team that has no playoff experience and is young and prone to mistakes. My gut tells me this because the Red Sox have been playoff tested these past few years, you want to stay away from them.

However, it’s not an easy judgment. Teams that are hot going into the next round are tough to face.

So when it comes down to it, would you rather have to face a team that has two World Championships in the last four years, a roster stacked with all-stars and clutch performers in the postseason, and a relentless fanbase? Or would you like to see the new kid in town, the up-and-comer with an array of amazing young talent that offensively is extremely hot right now? It’s a very tough call, and this argument may not be decided until seven games have been played.