Coming into this postseason, there were many concerns about the world champion Phillies’ chances of repeating this year: their bullpen was in question, their new ace was struggling, and their offense was in a funk in almost the entirety of September. With game one of the NLDS now over, the Phillies responded to two of the three concerns with style in their 5-1 victory over the Colorado Rockies.
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The questions surrounding the new staff ace were answered with four words: Cliff Lee is back. After setting a torrid pace in his first five starts with the Phillies, Lee had slumped as of late, causing a bit of concern for fans when he was named Game 1 starter. In his playoff debut, Lee dazzled, throwing a complete game, allowing only one run while striking out five in 113 pitches. Looking like the pitcher who won 2008 Cy Young award, Lee took command of the game, escaping some tough jams in the early innings and allowing the solitary run to the Rockies in the bottom of the ninth inning. If Lee continues this pace and Cole Hamels is able to emerge from the dugout tomorrow in 2008 World Series MVP form, then the Phillies may in fact have the scariest 1-2 punch in the postseason.
In terms of offense, the Phillies exploded for five runs in the fifth and sixth innings. Highlighting the outburst were an RBI triple by Jayson Werth and RBI doubles by both Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez. While those plays highlighted the Phillies’ offensive display, everyone in the lineup looked as though they were seeing the ball much better, which can only mean good things for the Phils. It looks as though the four days of rest may have helped the Phillies more than it hurt them, as Pedro Feliz and Carlos Ruiz, who were mired in slumps, got into the mix with hits of their own.
There remains only one question left for the Phillies: the bullpen. Since Lee pitched a complete game, there was no problem sealing today’s victory. But not every pitcher will go nine innings, which means the relief corps will come into play at some point. The potential additions of Joe Blanton, Pedro Martinez, and/or J.A. Happ to the bullpen may provide a great deal of help in ensuring a lead remains safe in the final nine outs.
Fans will remember that Kyle Lohse, a starter picked up before the trade deadline, was quite effective in the reliever role in the short 2007 postseason run. If the starters stuck in the bullpen can make an effective contribution during this postseason, there should be no reason the Phillies can go deep into October once again.
-Tom Hagan ’11