Looking at the Phillies

The Atlanta Braves currently sit eight games behind the division leading Philadelphia Phillies and if they have World Series aspirations, they will almost surely have to go through Philly in the NLCS.

The Philadelphia Phillies became the National League favorites in the offseason when they signed superstar pitcher Cliff Lee to a lucrative $120 contract for five years. This signing stunned the baseball world and turned the already contending Phillies into the outright favorite.

The 2011 Phillies pitching staff is arguably one of the greatest ever assembled. Two-time Cy Young winner and eight-time All-Star Roy Halladay leads the Phillies five man rotation. The number two (or as many believe 1A) starter Cliff Lee immediately give the Phils a one-two playoff punch that almost guarantees wins in the first two games of a series. In my opinion, Halladay and Lee are the two most dominant pitchers in all of MLB. They both have dominant stuff and anytime they take the mound there is potential for a perfect game. Halladay actually pitched a perfect game on May 29th of last year. As if the two best pitchers weren’t enough, the number three and four starters are Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt. Hamels has been an elite pitcher in his six years in Philadelphia, winning the World Series, World Series MVP, NLCS MVP, and earning two All-Star collections. Oswalt was the ace of Houston’s staff winning the NLCS MVP and earning three All-Star selections before being acquired by Philadelphia in 2010. Oswalt has since been placed on the disabled list with back pain, but is expected to return Sunday. The fifth spot in the rotation has been sort of a revolving door. Joe Blanton started the season, but has faded out of contention with trips to the disabled list and poor play. Rookie Vance Worley has been most successful, going 7-1 with a 2.33 ERA. The fifth spot won’t be much of a question come playoff time as most teams use a four-man rotation.

While the pitching is Philadelphia’s true strength, their offense is nothing to sneeze at. Newly acquired hitter Hunter Pence gives cleanup hitter Ryan Howard more protection in the lineup. Phily’s lineup features strong bats in Howard, Pence, Chase Utley, Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino, and Jimmy Rollins. Dominic Brown is a highly touted rookie who has the potential to really heat up on the playoff’s big stage.

[caption id="attachment_283" align="aligncenter" width="432" caption="Phillies Sluggers Chase Utley and Ryan Howard (Photo by AP Photo / Nick Wass)"][/caption]

In all honesty, Philadelphia is just too good to slip up and lose the division given their eight game lead and remaining schedule. Their pitching and hitting looks really good right now, but come playoffs, guys can choke or play out of their mind. For Atlanta to beat Philadelphia in the NLCS, they can’t just play well; they need to play exceptionally well.

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