Here at The Hanging Slidepiece, I'd like to take a moment to congratulate all of the teams that have qualified for the postseason thus far, especially the local nine in Philadelphia.
I'd also like to take a moment to congratulate myself on a superb job predicting that the Phillies would clinch the NL East on Tuesday night.
True enough, the Phils are too good to keep playing as poorly as they have at home, while the Braves aren't good enough to keep playing as well as they have everywhere since September 10th. So it wasn't exactly like predicting Eric Bruntlett would turn a game-ending unassisted triple play two months before it happened, but I'll take it.
The Phils took out Houston on Tuesday night largely on the strength of a grand slam by Pedro Feliz. With the score tied at 1-1 in the fourth, Feliz stepped up with the bases loaded and no outs and smacked the first pitch he saw over the wall in left for a 5-1 Phillies lead which was never seriously threatened in a 7-4 Phillies win. The pitch Feliz hit out? A hanging slidepiece, of course.
By virtue of the Braves loss to Josh Johnson (isn't he starting at QB for the Buccaneers this Sunday?) and the Marlins, the Phils only had to beat Houston to clinch their third straight NL East title. The official clinch came in Atlanta, when, down one run with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth inning, Matt Diaz inexplicably got picked off of third base after a pitch in the dirt. The Phillies did not post the score in the stadium, however, and when Brad Lidge retired Lance Berkman on one pitch to end the Phils 10-3 win over the Astros, the celebration was on.
By the way, Charlie Manuel bringing in Lidge, who has struggled mightily in 2009, the way he did in order to get the last out and wrap up a divison title was one of the classiest on-field things I've ever seen from a coach or manager. When you see things like that, you know why guys play so hard and have so much respect for Manuel.
Now that the Phillies are officially in the playoffs, many, many issues remain. Let's examine the most prominent...
1) Who is the closer?
Well, let's do process of elimination. It's not Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Kyle Kendrick, Jamie Moyer, Clay Condrey, Sergio Escalona, Chan Ho Park, Chad Durbin, Tyler Walker, Scott Eyre or J.C. Romero. That leaves Ryan Madson, Brad Lidge and Brett Myers. I think Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee will end up treating each playoff game like a football game, putting one of the three in the game, hoping for the best, and having someone else ready at all times if that day's chosen one doesn't have it. This is the single biggest question the Phillies face, and it could determine whether they repeat, or go out in the first round.
2) Who's in the starting rotation?
Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Joe Blanton appear to be locks. The fourth starter could depend upon the health of Pedro Martinez (likely) or a matchup against a team that struggles with lefties like Colorado (less likely). Whoever does not start game four will be expected to help out of the bullpen, and if it's Martinez, he may find himself in the closer's role.
3) Who's injured?
Everyone. Ok, not everyone. But the list of players still dealing with injuries includes Carlos Ruiz, Raul Ibanez, Greg Dobbs, Chan Ho Park, Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer, J.C. Romero and Scott Eyre. Obviously, this list disproportinately hits the bullpen, which makes the starters going deep into games that much more important.
4) Can the bench contribute anything?
Well, maybe Matt Stairs can land a big blow like last year, but he's a year older now. Greg Dobbs was too hurt and didn't get enough at-bats this year to get into a rhythm. Ben Francisco could help, or he could be invisible. Everyone else is completely drawing dead.
6) Can this team repeat?
Yes they can. They have a deep starting staff, a great lineup, grit, and playoff experience. They have as good a chance as anyone.
7) Will this team repeat?
I'm not predicting that either way. I'm just superstitious enough that I'm not making any pronouncements regarding my beloved team. But you can look forward to an extended playoff preview soon, complete this lists, rankings and a few frivolities.