Congratulations Phils’ fans, your team is coming back to Philadelphia after staving off elimination in San Francisco for one, possibly two, home games versus the Giants in the NLCS. The question becomes which of the two teams that you’ve watched over the past three seasons will show up? For simplicity’s sake, we’ll call the team from the 2008 season and first half of the 2009 season “PC,” which stand for “Pre-Cliff (Lee).” The team from the second half of 2009 to present is naturally “AC” or “After-Cliff.”
Charlie Manuel said it himself that this team hasn’t hit consistently since the mid 2009 season. Could it be that the addition of an undeniable top 5 pitcher in Cliff Lee cast an aura of complacency in a lineup that played with reckless abandon for the previous 18 months? What other explanation can there be? Yes, many of the core everyday players are in their young 30s, but that’s still considered prime in baseball years. But it’s not that as if their hobbling to the plate on walkers or limping around the base paths. To see the real difference in the PC Phillies to the AC Phillies, you have to look at their demeanor during the game.
Winning a game like Thursday night’s Game 5 was classic PC Phillies. The Giants committed critical errors which the Phillies took advantage of, Roy Halladay pitches an effective game despite suffering a strained groin in the 2nd inning, and the Phillies looked as if they actually felt like winning a playoff game. After Aubrey Huff’s third inning error which scored two runs, followed by an RBI single from Placido Polanco, you could see looks on faces in the dugout which we haven’t seen since late September. They looked like the same team that went 20-6 in September, barreling through the Atlanta Braves on their way to first place in the division and into the playoffs. The dugout was alive, the players were hootin’ and hollerin’, and they looked as if they were having fun again.
Games three and four of this NLCS were the exact opposite, and classic AC Phillies losses. In these types of games, the team looks flat, beaten, and, frankly, disinterested in playing the game. Every mistake the Phillies made, the Giants took advantage and resulted in runs that one could argue won the game for them. Once a mistake such as this is made, no matter what inning it occurs, the players look as if the game is already lost, and the remaining innings are just a formality.
One player who seems to be stuck in AC Phillies mode is Chase Utley. While he will always hold a place in every Phillies’ fans heart, there’s no denying that he just isn’t playing good baseball right now. He’s making uncharacteristic errors, he’s hanging his head after a pop-up or ground out, and his swing looks lackadaisical. No one is doubting his talent, but the drive and workman-like attitude that made him a fan favorite since he came up to the big club seems to be missing.
With the addition of true aces like Cliff Lee in 2009, and Halladay and Roy Oswalt in 2010, it feels as if the every day players think like they can walk in to any game and the other team will just roll over on them. As we’ve seen during the past week and after five NLCS games, the Giants aren’t the New York Mets or Washington Nationals. You don’t get to this level without being a good enough team.
People will argue that the Phillies are down 3-2 to an inferior Giants squad. However, anyone who has watched these games as a baseball fan rather than a Philadelphia Phillies fan will counter that the Giants are playing better as a team.
Now, the series moves back to Philadelphia with the Giants holding onto a 3-2 lead. Which Phillies team will show up to Citizen’s Bank Park with 45K+ fans waving those familiar playoff rally towels?
Talent-wise, the Phillies should be the ones up in this series. But as the PC Phillies would tell you, the game is played on the field, not on paper.