Wednesday, October 06, 2010


Next to the Liberty Bell, the Phanatic is Philly’s most enduring visual icon

A couple of people have asked me if I was going to write my usual start-of-the-playoffs note on baseball this year. I’m almost disinclined to do so. For one thing, I really haven’t focused that much on American League teams this year and saying that I hope Minnesota will make it to the series just so the world can get to see Jim Thome on the big stage one more time isn’t enough of an analysis in my book.

But for my money the real interest this year is in the National League playoffs, where the Phils will represent the National League East for fourth year in a row, while my childhood San Francisco Giants – who have lost the only three World Series they’ve played in since moving to San Francisco in 1958 – will represent the West. The Phils will start off playing the Cincinnati Reds, while the Giants play the wild card Atlanta Braves. Since the Giants and the Phils have the two best starting rotations in baseball, this strongly suggests that I am going to be looking at a Phillies-Giants championship series in about ten days. That might be glorious. But it also might be misery.

Even before the earthquake in 1989, I found the World Series between the Giants & the Oakland A’s to be impossible. Rooting for both teams, I found myself unable to enjoy the fortunes of either. It didn’t help that the Giants looked dreadful that fall either, and were swept in the slowest four straight games in history, interrupted as they were by the collapse of the Bay Bridge, the Cypress Superstructure and the burning of the Marina.

As to what I think is actually going to happen… Well, the Phillies have struggled & looked dreadful all year long. And have the very best record in baseball. They also have home field advantage throughout the entire playoffs, where the ever-so-subtle Philly fans can make Red Sox Nation look like so many Angelinos anxious to get to the tanning salon by the seventh inning.

The post season is so often about pitching. I have heard ESPN commentators this year wonder out loud if the Phils' top three starters are the most dominant in the history of the sport. And it’s true that Cole Hamels was the World Series MVP just two years ago, that Roy Halladay should be this year’s Cy Young Award Winner for the National League and that Roy Oswalt has never lost in Philadelphia. But the deeper truth is that this trio might not even be the best starting rotation in the National League. The Giants have not had this good a pitching since forever: Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Johnny Sanchez & Barry Zito. Juan Marichal at his best might have only been the number three starter on this year’s Giants.

But, while the Giants have great pitching, the only one of their everyday players who would have a shot at starting for the Phils might be Buster Posey. Except that the Phils catcher, Carlos “Chooch” Ruiz, has easily been the team MVP, arguably even the league MVP. Because of injuries, this has been the year when the story has been anything but the Phillies’ famous Big Three infielders – Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins & Chase Utley – two former MVPs and the best second baseman since Joe Morgan. Ruiz, right fielder Jayson Werth, left fielder Raul Ibañez, and backup infielder Wilson Valdez have been the players who carried this team to the best record in baseball.

The one most likely to become a household name over the next three weeks is Werth, the one player outside of the big three who can – and has at points – carried the team on his shoulders. Werth is a free agent & will make something on the order of $100 million to go elsewhere because he’s had such as good year at the very right time. And because the free agent market won’t be stuffed with power-hitting superstars. Werth comes from an old baseball family – his stepfather, uncle & grandfather all played in the majors – and he knows that an outfielder who hits 20 homers and drives in 80 runs doesn’t have many opportunities to make that kind of money. The Phils won’t pony up that much cash because they already have a young star-in-the-making in Domonic Brown just waiting for Werth’s spot to open up. So this will be Werth’s last hurrah with the Phightins, as the locals are known hereabouts. I’m expecting him to go out with a bang.


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