The Phillies enter the last week of the 2006 season in somewhat familiar territory; on the cusp of a postseason berth. While the team's play of late has been outstanding, with generally solid pitching and productive and timely hitting, the Phillies are nowhere near a lock for the National League's Wild Card playoff slot.
If the Phils are playing golf in October yet again, I suspect it will be due to the following:
- The Bullpen. Rick White sucks. I don't think I can put too fine a point on this. Aside from his "Paul Bunyan meets Ming the Merciless by way of System of a Down" facial hair, there's nothing remotely positive about the guy. I mean, the Reds don't even want him, and they regularly trot Ryan "Home Run Derby" Franklin out to the mound in key late-inning situations. Ryan Madson has given up two runs in each of his last two appearances. And Tom Gordon isn't quite the same All-Star caliber pitcher he was in the first half. Aside from Geoff Geary, who is continuing a nice string of exceptional overlooked and underutilized career seasons by Phillies relievers (Cormier in 2003, Madson in 2004, Fultz in 2005), and erstwhile Yankee Matt Smith, no one in the bullpen really inspires my confidence right now. The Phils have been fortunate that their offense has built substantial leads in these past few games, because the bullpen has done damn near everything to cough them up.
- The Outfield. Nursing a wrist injury, any time on the bench for Shane Victornio equals an outfield of Burrell/Dellucci/Conine (a/k/a "Limpy, Gimpy, and Died"), whose offensive "prowess" would probably not even come close to compensating for the defensive butchershop they would be. Add Chris Roberson to the mix and you have probably the weakest blend of outfield options in recent memory. Anyone else miss Abreu?
- Dodgers' pitching. With a rotation including Brad Penny, Greg Maddux, Derek Lowe, and Chad Billingsley, the Dodgers have the rotation arms to hold their own for the last week, and although their offense is pretty mediocre, it's good enough to win some ballgames. Add exceptional closer Takashi Saito (2.18 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 11.99 K/9), and most late-inning leads can be considered safe. By the way, can someone ask the Dodgers where they come up with these dominant closers?
- Fatigue. Unlike the Dodgers and Padres, who each have an off day on Monday, the Phillies will be playing their last ten games straight through without a day off. The long trip from DC to Florida for the final weekend could wear on the squad, and I doubt adrenaline will be enough to overcome it.