On most days, you can catch David Schoenfield tearing it up on ESPN’s Sweet Spot blog, offering his take on anything that happens in Major League Baseball. You may recall that Schoenfield said, before the season, that the Phillies wouldn’t make the playoffs. He has since posted a mea culpa. With the Phillies recently clinching a playoff berth and well on their way towards clinching the division and home field advantage, I wanted to get his take as the regular season is wrapped up.
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1. The Phillies are on pace for a 106-win season. Meanwhile the Yankees, with the second-best record, are on pace for 98 wins. Are the Phillies eight wins better than the Yankees, or is the National League just that much worse than the American League?
I would argue that the Phillies and Yankees are certainly more equal than their records would suggest. As I write this, both teams have a Pythagorean W-L record of 94-50, but the Yankees have “underperformed” by four wins while the Phillies have “overperformed” by one win. If you factor in that the Yankees have played 69 games against teams over .500 while the Phillies have played 49 such games (the Phillies do have a better winning percentage. 571 to .551), it seems more clear that the teams are pretty even, although I’m sure the Phillies will head into the postseason as the favorite by a large margin.
2. As we wrap up the regular season, what do you see as the Phillies’ biggest weakness entering post-season play?
The first inclination may be to say “the offense,” but since acquiring Hunter Pence, the Phillies are averaging 5.0 runs per game while hitting .262/.328/.427, up from 4.3 runs per game and a .249/.322/.388 line before acquiring Pence. Sure, Raul Ibanez is a big defensive liability when he plays, but I guess my major concern would be the bullpen depth outside of Ryan Madson and Antonio Bastardo. If the starters can pitch deep into games like they have all season, it’s not an issue, but avoiding the middle relief will be key (even if it has been better than expected).
3. Of the possible NLDS match-ups, which team has the best chance of beating the Phillies in a five-game series — the Brewers or Diamondbacks?
As hot as the Diamondbacks have been, and as good as Ian Kennedy has been, I’d still prefer to face them than the Brewers. Their rotation goes four-deep and all four starters are capable of a shutdown performance. John Axford has converted 39 consecutive saves and Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder are MVP candidates for a reason.
4. You unwrap a candy bar to find a golden ticket inside. The ticket allows you to set the Phillies’ post-season rotation. Assuming you’ll roll with a top-three of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels, who wins the #4 spot — Roy Oswalt or Vance Worley?
You have to go Worley, no? And I say that as a big Oswalt fan. But isn’t Worley the team’s good-luck charm? Plus he’s been better. Yes, Oswalt has a good track record in the postseason, but this is about 2011.
5. Should the Phillies be at all worried about meeting up with the Braves in the NLCS?
Let’s see: Phillies lead the season series 9-6, have outscored the Braves by 25 runs, we don’t know the status yet of Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens. I just don’t see the Braves winning a seven-game series, but this is baseball and anything can happen in October.
6. Which AL team would match up best against the Phillies in a World Series meeting?
I think the Yankees are the best club in the AL right now. CC Sabathia can pitch on three days’ rest, the bullpen is excellent and they can certainly score runs. The interesting thing is that none of the AL contenders really has much in the way of left-handed relief pitching (the Yankees do have Boone Logan; the Tigers have Phil Coke and Daniel Schlereth), so Ryan Howard may still face right-handers late in the game.
7. Which player has the most potential to be a playoff series-changer for the Phillies? Call him an X-factor, if you will.
Aside from the obvious – Cliff Lee certainly appears pretty locked in right now – I’ll go with Ryan Howard. After a homerless postseason a year ago, maybe he’s due for a few longballs. Plus, whether the Phillies play the Brewers or D-backs, he’ll be playing in a good hitter’s park and facing some pitchers who can serve up some home runs (Shaun Marcum, Yovani Gallardo, Randy Wolf, Joe Saunders).
8. As you look back on the season, which Phillies player surprised you the most? Who was the most disappointing?
Besides Worley? Antonio Bastardo has held opponents to a .119 average – that’s the lowest ever for a pitcher with at least 50 innings. Yeah, that surprised me. No Phillies player performed below expectations this year other than Oswalt (and Blanton, but he got injured).
9. Does a Phillie walk away with Cy Young hardware? What about Worley and the Rookie of the Year award?
Man, I think it’s still too close to call. Clayton Kershaw has a chance at the pitching Triple Crown (wins, ERA, strikeouts), so he’ll be hard to beat if he leads all three categories. But voters love shutouts and Lee has six of them. And Halladay deserves it. Can we split it three ways and give part to Cole Hamels as well? As great as Worley has been, Craig Kimbrel wins the Rookie award pretty easily, I think Worley’s case is much better than most are saying.
10. Do you have any bold predictions for the playoffs? (Doesn’t have to be Phillies-related.)
No bold predictions, although Phillies fans may be aware of this note: No NL team with the best record in the majors has won the World Series since the 1986 Mets. Maybe that means the odds are in Philly’s favor.
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Thanks, as always, to Schoenfield for taking time out of his very busy schedule to provide his thoughts on the Phillies from an outsider’s perspective. Keep up with the whole Sweet Spot crew — including Christina Kahrl, Steve Berthiaume, Eric Karabell, Mark Simon, and more — throughout the playoffs. They’ll have you covered from every angle.