By Chris Murray
For the Sunday Sun and Chris Murray Report
Bring on the Cardinals: The Phillies are rough and ready for the Division Series
PHILADELPHIA—Even though they had clinched the National League East and homefield advantage for all the National League playoff series, the Phillies were trying to shake themselves out of a season-worst eight-game winning streak.
Shortly before his team’s final road series of the regular season, Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins predicted that his team’s batteries would be fully charged on their road trip, especially in their final series against a desperate Atlanta Braves team.
“It helps when another team is coming to get you, you find a way to turn it up,” Rollins said.
J-Roll was right, but will the rush the Phillies got from their sweep of Atlanta enough to ward off an equally hot St. Louis Cardinals team in the best of five National League Division Series, which begins Saturday afternoon at Citizen’s Bank Park (5:07 p.m. TBS).e
“We have to be hungrier than anyone because we’re expected to, we have a target on our back,” said Phils right fielder Hunter Pence. “It can add pressure, but the main thing is to not think about that. It’s about being hungrier and go with everything you’ve got with all your focus and concentration.”
2010 Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay (19-6, 2.35 ERA) will start for the Phillies against St. Louis starter Kyle Lohse (14-8, 3.39 ERA) .
Even though the regular-season is now in the past tense, the Phillies seemed to be energized by their recent experience in Atlanta and the now feel that they are in the right frame of mind to battle a scrappy Cardinals team that overcame an eight-and-a half-game deficit to win the National League Wildcard race on the final game of the season.
“I think that series, going in, was a playoff series,” Howard said. “We had to look at it to get ourselves geared. The Braves knew they were playing for something to try to get into the playoffs. We knew that they were going to bring it and come with whatever they had and just gear ourselves up for October. Yeah, I thought that was a good series for us to get things going and get ready for October.”
During the regular season, the Cardinals, who clinched their playoff spot on the last day of the regular season, beat the Phillies in six of their nine games. Two of those losses came at Citizen’s Bank Park after the Phillies had clinched a playoff berth.
“Everybody’s dangerous, you can’t overlook anybody,” Howard said. “Sometimes wildcards can be the most dangerous team because they had to scratch and claw and do what they had to do to get to this point.
“As far as they nine games we had against St. Louis, it’s a whole different ball game. When you get to this point, you throw all that other stuff out the door because now it’s a sprint to the finish, every body’s going to come with their A-game.”
Of course, the Phillies will come into the postseason with the best pitching staff in baseball with the likes of Halladay, Cliff Lee, who will start in Game 2, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt. Halladay opened last year’s postseason with the second no-hitter in the history of postseason baseball in Game 1 of the 2010 NLDS.
With all the pressure and expectations heaped upon what is arguably a “Dream Team” of a starting rotation, Halladay said there is no more extra pressure on the Phillies than what they put on themselves.
“You know I don’t really see a lot of extra pressure,” said Halladay, who pitched a major league leading eight complete games. “I think that everybody expects what we expect out of ourselves. You know if if doesn’t happen, I’m sure there would be a lot of disappointment, but we don’t look at that side of it right now. I think we have the opportunity in front of us and we have the chance to do it.”
The big question for the Phillies will be whether they can hit consistently enough and score enough runs for their starting pitchers In a season where the Phillies have gone through more than their share of injuries, hitting slumps and losing streaks, they have managed to do well enough to win 102 games.
“I think that when we lost eight in a row, I don’t think our players were panicking,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. “I think we were at even keel, but also we knew it was time for us to get our best team on the field and get our pitchers out there and win some games before the playoffs started. I think that’s who we are, that’s the way we play and our team stays on an even keel.”
Perhaps for the first time all season, the Phillies will be fielding a team that will be healthy, something that they haven’t been all season and they’ve gone through dozens of injury depleted lineups. Manuel said his team will be in good shape just in time for the postseason.
“Healthwise, we’re in the best health we’ve been, I should say, all year long,” Manuel said.