Eight notes and observations on each of the eight playoff teams ... and now the we-won't-delay-this-preview-with-a-tiebreaker-game Phillies.
1. More Canadian connections
The Phillies have teased their fans with 85+ win seasons for years, but last year's divisional championship was their first playoff appearance since the days of Joe Carter. And they promptly lost in three games to the red-hot Rockies, hitting just .172 in the series. The last time the Phillies made the playoffs two years in a row, 1980 and 1981, they lost to the Expos in the '81 strike-induced half-season format (after winning the 1980 World Series, though).
2. Without Moyer, they're probably underage
This is the oldest team in the playoffs this year. Both the "playoff team" part and the "oldest team" part have 45-year-old Jamie Moyer to thank for his "historically remarkable" season.
3. Maybe Pujols will finally win another...
Back-to-back MVP winners on the same team, like Philly had with Ryan Howard in 2006 and Jimmy Rollins last year, is actually kind of common. Three in a row (by different players) hasn't happened since Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle, and Elston Howard in the 60s. I'd say there's nobody deserving on the Phillies anyway, but that was the case last year, too...
4. It only hurts the ballclub
Cole Hamels, with an ERA near 3 in over 200 innings including 6 complete games, is a rare youngster on this team. He's so young, in fact, that it's still relatively recent to say that in 2005, the year before he reached the majors, Hamels pitched in only six games because he broke his hand in a bar fight. Never hit a drunk with your pitching hand, meat, especially when nobody can resist fanning on your fastball/changeup combo.
Hamels was drafted out of high school in 2002, two spots after Scott Kazmir and three after Russ Adams. Make your jokes now.
5. Pat the Bat
Pat Burrell is an example of a consistent hitter who's above-average in everything but outstanding in nothing. The combination means he's not leading the league in anything but still someone with whom care is required. He's been a Phillie seemingly forever and has played in 144 or more games seven out of the last eight years, with virtually identical slugging numbers each of the last four. Trailed only Adam Dunn and Albert Pujols in walks this year.
6. Too bad it wasn't a real trade
Kyle Kendrick won't pitch in the playoffs, most likely, so let's remember the time he was famously goofed in Spring Training (starts at 36 seconds into the clip):
Kendrick's ERA was nearly 20% below league average as he failed to even reach the Michalak Line in strikeouts. But the worst part of his year had to be when Brett Myers---Brett Myers!---got the better of him. If only for a few minutes.
7. Lidge to Nowhere
As much as I mock the closer role, one aspect they have to deal with in spades is the blown game. Byung-Hyun Kim, devastated after the 2001 World Series. Mitch Williams, death threats. Billy Koch, being Billy Koch. And Brad Lidge's simply outstanding 2004 and 2005 seasons were immediately forgotten once Albert Pujols hit a ball farther than most people take vacations.
Never mind that Lidge's team won that playoff series. Lidge was hearing it left and right the next year as his ERA jumped over 5 and people babbled about Lidge's loss of faith and loss of confidence and being "naked before God and the masses" while on the mound. Meanwhile, the rest of us took a breath and waited for Lidge to return to normal levels. He's back.
Of course, I reserve the right to retract all of that if Manny hits a 450-footer this week.
8. Anyone speak Manuel?
"To get back here two--uh, two times or twice in a row, I think that that means a whole lot to us and you know, like, it means we were determined to get where we're at and--but now--now even comes the hardest part when you're like, 'we gotta move on' and moving on is very important..."
Upshot is the Phillies are "much ready." Good, so we can stop at 162, then?
NL Central Notes: Schebler, Cora, Cardinals
15 minutes ago