Phillies/Reds NLDS Preview: Four Up, Four Down

I'm still lost in the trance-like power of the three-headed monster, so I'm predicting a sweep for the Phillies in the NLDS.  But, to be fair to the very strong Cincinnati Reds, here I'll present a fair and balanced look at the series by recapping four reasons the Phillies will win along with four reasons they'll lose.

Why The Phillies Will Win

1) The three-headed monster.  This is not a surprise entry here.  Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels are as good as advertised.  Pick your stat.  Roy Halladay and his 2.44 ERA, 165 ERA+, and 76.8 VORP will win the Cy Young Award this year.  Roy Oswalt was even better in his time as a Phillie, posting a 1.74 ERA, 0.895 WHIP, and 232 ERA+ in 13 games.  After the All-Star break, Cole Hamels posted a 2.23 ERA with a 1.00 WHIP while striking out the most batters in baseball.  And my favorite:  collectively, since Oswalt joined the team, the three-headed monster posted the following line:  in 37 starts (not including Hamels' 2-inning tune-up "start" on the last day of the season), a 2.34 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 8.5 K/9, 1.7 BB/9, and 0.9 HR/9.  And, in those 37 starts, the three averaged just over 6.67 innings per start.

2) A healthy, re-charged offense.  With Jimmy Rollins returning to the lineup in the last week of the season, the Phillies entire offense is healthy.  And, it's rolling for what seems like the first time since April and early May.  In September and October, the Phillies were first in all of baseball with an .822 OPS.  They scored 167 runs, good for first in the majors.  By contrast, the Reds come into the playoffs having scored only 127 runs in September and October (16th in the majors) with a .760 OPS (5th in the majors).  And, let's not forget, that even in this down year for the Phillies offense, they still finished with 772 runs scored, second in the NL only to the Reds (and only 18 behind them).

3) Dominant late-inning relief.  The Phillies have a rested bullpen, having thrown only 421 innings all year, good for the second-fewest in baseball and the least in the NL.  The Reds' bullpen has thrown 67 more innings this year.  And, the Phillies' bullpen is not only rested, but also dominant on the back end.  Ryan Madson had a rough start to the year, but since July 22, he has appeared in 41 games and posted a 1.16 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 11.4 K/9, and 2.3 BB/9.  Since August 1, Brad Lidge has been even better in his 26 appearances, posting a 0.73 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 9.1 K/9, and 3.6 BB/9.  That's a dominant back-end of the bullpen if I've ever seen one.

4) Home-field advantage.  The Phillies have home-field advantage in the post-season.  I put this fourth because playing at home won't overcome bad pitching and bad hitting.  But it sure can help when other things are going right.  At home this year, the Phillies were 54-30.  In the past three post-seasons, they've been 12-5.  They will play before 45,000+ rabid fans who intimidate opposing players.

Why The Phillies Will Lose

1) No pitcher is a sure thing.   In 1968, the Cardinals lost 10 of the 34 games Bob Gibson started.  In 1985, the Mets lost 7 of the 35 games Doc Gooden started.  In 1995, the Braves lost 6 of the 28 games Greg Maddux started.  In 1999, the Red Sox lost 5 of the 31 games Pedro Martinez started.  You get the point.  Teams lose baseball games even with the best pitchers in baseball on the mound.  As taco pal documented last week, Halladay, Oswalt, and Hamels guarantee nothing in the post-season.  Just ask the 1990s Braves.

2) A slump-prone offense.  The Phillies offense did pretty well this year, all things considered.  But, it suffered through some serious bouts of offensive ineptitude.  In over 20% of the Phillies' games (34 games), the team scored 0 or 1 run.  The team had five completely separate 4-game stretches in which it scored a total of 9 runs or less, a different 6-game stretch in which it scored only 13 runs, and an incredible 9-game stretch in which they scored 11 runs, including three straight shutouts by the Mets (the Mets!).  This offense can go cold when it most needs to be hot, as evidenced by the 9 total runs it scored from September 22 through September 26 when it was trying to clinch the NL East (although, thanks to great pitching, the Phillies split those four games).

3) The Reds offense is really good.  Let's not forget that there's another team playing the game too, and the talented players on the Reds are going to be giving it their all to beat the Phillies.  It's often easy to forget this and blame all of a team's fortune or misfortune on its own talent.  But the other team matters too, and the Reds are a very good team, particularly their offense.  They finished first in the NL in runs scored, OPS, SLG, MLVr, wOBA, WAR, and RAR.  (They were second to the Braves in OBP by .001.)  This is an outstanding offensive team, with probably their only flaw that they have some horrible out-makers at the top of the lineup.  If Brandon Phillips and Orlando Cabrera can actually get on base, watch out.

4) Best record is no guarantee.  The best record in baseball guarantees nothing.  In fact, in the Wild Card era, the best record in baseball is quite a disadvantage.  Since 1995, there have been 19 teams with the best record (four years with two teams tied).  Those 19 teams have not fared very well.  Only 3 won the World Series (1998 Yankees, 2007 Red Sox, and 2009 Yankees), while 4 made it to the World Series but lost.  5 of the teams lost the championship series, which means that 7 teams with the best record didn't even make it out of the divisional series.  Yes, the odds are good for the Phillies to win this series, as 12 of the 19 teams have done so, but that still means 7 of the best teams in baseball were out of the playoffs in the first round.  In this short five-game series, there is no lock.

All that being said, while the Reds are good, I still think the Phillies' combination of outstanding pitching and very strong offense will be decisive.

Phillies in 3.

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