With the Phillies' NLCS opponent yet to be decided, we take a look today at which of the two possibilities - the Giants or the Braves - would make a better sparring partner for the Phillies. In his post, dajafi points out why we should be rooting for the Giants, while here, I make the blasphemous argument that the Phillies and their fans should be rooting for the Braves.
I know this is hard to believe. For a Phillies fan to root for the Braves is a monumentally difficult task. The franchise tortured us for a decade and a half. Even now, when the team is far far removed from its period of dominance, we play them 18 or 19 times every year and they force us to listen to their moaning about unfair park dimensions, botched umpire calls, or how unfamiliar they are playing before a packed stadium when they travel to Philadelphia. It's tantamount to treason to argue that we should want the Braves to win the next two games of their NLDS, but here I am, making just that argument.
There are five simple reasons we should be rooting for the Braves:
1) A five game series. For the Braves to make it to the NLCS, there would have to be two more games in the NLDS. Two more games means eighteen more innings for a player to pull a hamstring or oblique or make career-defining errors. More importantly, two more games means that the Braves would have to push Tommy Hanson, their best pitcher, and the pitcher the Phillies have had the most trouble with, to the third game of the series, as he wouldn't be able to pitch in the first two.
2) Their pitching is inferior. Which then gets us to the second point, which is that the Phillies' lineup would be able to feast on the vastly inferior Braves' pitching staff. The Phillies can and have easily beaten Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson. But, more importantly, the Braves' staff is worse than the Giants' staff. The Braves let up 46 more runs this year than the Giants. They had a higher ERA and had fewer quality starts. Moreover, no one on the Braves' staff has a last name of Lincecum.
3) They're playing severely short. The Braves are short three of their best players that got them where they are. Chipper Jones has been out for a while. Martin Prado suffered a season-ending injury in the last week of the season. And, with Billy Wagner injuring himself on Friday, he's now out for at least the NLCS and possibly is done with his career. We've seen very clearly what this does to the Braves, as fill-in closer Craig Kimbrel blew the save yesterday and Brooks Conrad has been quite an adventure in the field. Plus, today, Troy Glaus is starting his first game in about a month and, more importantly, his first game at third base all year. Yeah, you read that right - Troy Glaus, the guy who has played all of 9 games at third in the last two years, is the starting third baseman in the playoffs. Bodes well.
4) They're flailing as a team. Even if the Braves pull out a win against the Giants, winning 3 out of 5 doesn't change the fact that they have been flailing since late July. To recap the blissful last two-plus months of the season, the Braves held a seven game lead over the Phillies on July 22. From that date to the end of the season, the Phillies gained 13 games on the Braves. They played barely .500 ball, going 35-32 over that stretch. With six games against the Phillies over their final twelve and desperately needing wins to get into the post-season, the Braves managed only one win against the Phillies, and that was with the Phillies playing scrubs for three of those games and knowing they had pretty much clinched for the other three.
5) We can put the nail in Bobby Cox's career. Perhaps most satisfyingly, if the Braves advance, the Phillies will have the unique opportunity to put an end to Bobby Cox's career. This is a chance of a lifetime for the Phillies and their fans. To be able to say goodbye to Cox by preventing his team from getting to the World Series in his final year would be oh so sweet. For the Giants to end the whining, wife-beating Cox's career wouldn't really be fair. Don't get me wrong, as it would still be quite enjoyable to watch his last year end in defeat, but it would be even better for the Phillies to do it.
It's obvious. As much as the Giants are an organization I enjoy following and would relish the challenge in defeating, for the Phillies, the better opponent this NLCS is clearly the Braves, as playing them would be a much easier and satisfying path to the World Series.