David Beats Goliath, Phillies Out of Playoffs

The called strike three to Ryan Howard that clinched the National League Championship Series for the Giants was, among other things, emblematic of the Phillies’ offensive ineptitude throughout the NLCS. Despite banging out eight hits and drawing five walks, the Phillies were only able to push across two runs against Jonathan Sanchez and the Giants’ bullpen. Once again, they were disappointing when runners were in scoring position, notching hits in two of a whopping eleven opportunities. Overall, they were 8-for-45 in the series — a measly .178 average with RISP.

The Phillies also played poorly defensively, continuing a surprising trend in the 2010 playoffs. Shane Victorino misplayed a fly ball in center field, Chase Utley misplayed another grounder, and Placido Polanco made a throwing error. Defensive failures helped the Giants score two runs in the third inning, marring what was an otherwise impressive outing by Roy Oswalt. Chase Utley, baseball’s best defensive second baseman, was the biggest goat of the goat defenders in the NLCS — a shocking revelation to say the least.

In the end, the Phillies came two playoff wins away from becoming immortalized in baseball history, perhaps as a dynasty. They would have been the first National League team since the 1942-44 St. Louis Cardinals to reach three consecutive World Series. Though that was not realized, what the Phillies have accomplished is impressive nonetheless.

Consider that, when the Phillies clinched the division on the last day of the regular season in 2007, we Phillies fans were simply thrilled that a 13-year playoff drought had ended. The Colorado Rockies promptly swept the Phillies out of the NLDS. And that was all right.

Now, on the heels of a championship in 2008 and a near-repeat in ’09, the Phillies’ exit from the NLCS in Game Six is considered premature. The disappointment from Phillies fans in the restaurant I was in at the time of Howard’s called strike three was palpable. Sports talk radio callers — and the hosts — blasted Howard and his sizable contract awarded to him earlier in the season, wondering how someone with zero NLCS RBI could be worth such a large sum of money. Utley was denigrated for, apparently, typically shoddy defense. Charlie Manuel’s decision-making, for the first time since the Phillies have enjoyed playoff berths, was second-guessed.

Amid the disappointment, it is important to step back and appreciate what we have witnessed out of the Phillies. Yes, the dismissal from the 2010 playoff stings, but the team gave us a lot to be proud of in this season alone. For instance, coming back from a plethora of injuries and seven games out of first place in the division, was an incredible feat. There was also:

Roy Halladay‘s perfect game against the Florida Marlins, and his no-hitter in the NLDS against the Cincinnati Reds.

Roy Oswalt playing left field — and recording a put out — in the 14th inning was great theater.

Jayson Werth put up one of the best offensive seasons by any Phillies outfielder ever.

Carlos Ruiz‘s emergence as a legit offensive threat.

Cole Hamels‘ bounce-back season after a disappointing 2009. Brad Lidge, too.

Ryan Madson‘s continued dominance as the set-up guy for Lidge.

Ruben Amaro’s ability to fill in around the edges, with Wilson Valdez, Mike Sweeney, and Ross Gload playing big roles outside of being reliable bench players.

Remember, three years ago, that Kyle Kendrick started Game Two of the NLDS and Jamie Moyer started Game Three. The Phillies have come a long way. They should not be ashamed of what they didn’t accomplish this season.

While the Phillies will likely part ways with Jayson Werth, the core group is still intact and primed for another deep post-season run with a trio of ace starting pitchers and a solid but aging offense.

In closing, if I can ask one thing of the Phillies fan base in the aftermath of the NLCS — don’t harp on players for what they didn’t do in the post-season. There aren’t enough innings and plate appearances from which to draw conclusions confidently. That Ryan Howard didn’t have an RBI isn’t indicative of decline, or mental shortcomings, or what have you. If you replay Howard’s 22 at-bats again in the same situations, he will likely come away with at least one RBI. Likewise, Utley’s defensive miscues are not representative of his true ability as a second baseman; they were just a few ugly plays in a very small sample of opportunities.

Rolls of the die can be cruel. The Phillies happened to roll snake eyes  several times in the NLCS. Them’s the breaks. The Phillies have been on the other end as well. Just ask the Los Angeles Dodgers about Matt Stairs, or the Tampa Bay Rays about Joe Blanton and Geoff Jenkins.

Ask Brock Lesnar about Cain Velasquez.