Sunday, October 24, 2010

All Good Things...

Pat "The Bat" Burrell is headed back to the World Series, but unfortunately for the white-rally-towel twirlers, not as a member of the Phillies.

Brotherly love wasn't enough for the boys in red pinstripes as they saw their season end with a 3-2 loss in Game 6 of the NLCS to the San Francisco Giants, who needed to beat the San Diego Padres on the final day of the regular season just to make the playoffs.
Now the two teams that were expected to meet again in the World Series for the second straight year will both be watching from home. An offensive blackout led to the demise of the both the Phillies and the Yankees, though the writing was on the wall for Philadelphia.

Injuries took a heavy toll on the Phillie hitters for a significant part of the regular season. While the addition of Roy Oswalt led to a dramatic turnaround over the last two months and another NL East title, that same old magic that carried the team through the previous two postseasons was nowhere to be found. And playoff teams that boast some of the best pitching in baseball took a note from the Yankees on just how to handle such a dangerous lineup.

It was no surprise, then, that Ryan Howard was the strikeout victim who ended Philly's 2010 dreams.

Howard is now first or tied for first for the most strikeouts in two separate postseason series, and drove in nary a run from the clean-up spot this October. Since his infamous whiffing in the 2009 Fall Classic, the Big Piece has struck out in 30 of his 56 playoff at-bats. That means that in more than half his trips to the plate, the man who is paid $20 million per year to crush balls over the fence didn't even put the ball in play. Of the 26 times Howard managed knock the ball between the lines, only one left the yard.

Ironically, Howard was the only starter in the lineup to hit better than .300 in the postseason this year, though he was typically all alone on the basepahts. Raul Ibanez was a distant second with a .226 average. Carlos Ruiz, who had never hit below .262 in any previous postseason, was dead last at .192.

As Charlie Manuel explained, the Phillies were too concerned with working the count, rather than being selective. They stood and stared at too many fastballs down the middle of the plate, making it easier for pitchers to get them to chase at breaking balls that tailed out of the zone. Combined, Cincinnati and San Francisco held Philadelphia to 3.7 runs per game - compared to 4.6 in '08 and 5.5 last year - and not even the likes of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels can carry you to a championship with that kind of production.

The beleaguered Phillies pitching staff still consistently put the team in a position to win. Aside from Game 3, each one of Philadelphia's losses in the NLCS could have gone the other way. It was basically the Giants coming up with the big hits, and some would add Halladay not getting the start in Game 4. No one can predict what would've happened in that scenario, but as close as each game was, such decisions loom very large.

But the shadows cast on the end of this season will quickly fade, as the sun shines brightly on a new day for the Phillies in 2011. All three elements of H2O are returning, as well as the entire starting lineup, aside from the likely departing Jayson Werth. Should the corner outfielder follow in Burrell's footsteps and find his way back to the Fall Classic with another team, the Phillies hope that when he gets there, they will be staring him down from the opposing dugout.

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