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The Playoffs and the Phillies Offense

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Great two days, wasn’t it? Three elimination games, all classics. I’ll be very happy to make a donation to Planned Parenthood for my reverse-hedge bet with Howard. For the championship series, I’ll take Brewers in 6 and Rangers in 7.

Since this has come up a lot in comments, a note about the Phillies. I have been arguing that while the Cards winning was probably the biggest upset of the first round, it’s not a historic upset, simply because the Phillies are more the rich man’s Giants than a great two-way team on the order of the 2004 Red Sox, 1998 Yankees, 1989 As, or 1986 Mets. Their rotation was historically good (although the massive edges they have over the rest of the league in the 4 and 5 slots largely vanishes in the division series.) But the Philadelphia offense, I insist, is ordinary. While I thought “worse than the Mets” was enough to make the point, apparently not, so it’s worth going through this a bit. They key is Howard, still perceived as a star but in fact not even a good player. And I don’t mean that he has a bad contract, I mean he’s below average now. For a (poor) 1B in a tremendous hitter’s park, 253/346/488 is barely good enough to stay in the lineup, no matter how many MVP ballots he’s listed on. And he wasn’t significantly better in 2010. Ibanez, posting a sub .300 OBP with limited power and atrocious defense in left, is even worse. Polanco makes a defensive contribution but no longer an offensive one. You can overcome three spots with inadequate production with stars, only (unless Utley, the greatest player of the Phlly mini-dynsasty even if he’s the one without the MVP award, can come back) the Phillies don’t really have any. Ruiz, Rollins, Victorino and Pence are good solid players, but nothing more than that (although the latter two had career years and half-years, respectively.) It’s an offense good enough to win with their rotation, but it’s fundamentally mediocre, and when you play a team with a better offense it counts.

This isn’t to say that, in the short term, this should be a major problem. The long-term issues with the Phillies are well-known, but the window remains open and Amaro knows what he’s doing and isn’t complacent. The Citizens Bank issue has another side to it, of course — it conceals the fact that Howard isn’t really helping the team, but the pitching is even more amazing than it looks at first glance. They’re probably stuck with Polonco (who’s under contract for $6.5 million), but Utley might have another great year or two left in him. They have nowhere to go but up in LF, although they need to resist the temptation to give the job to Mayberry after his fluke half-season. They could get Reyes. And even if the offense doesn’t improve a lot they’re by far the best team in the division. But as of now, it’s just not a very good offense despite having a lot of famous people. The could use an upgrade or two going into next year’s postseason.

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