2008 Phillies = 2006 Cardinals?
In 2006, the St. Louis Cardinals won a World Series no one expected them to win, beating the more talented Detroit Tigers in five games. The Cardinals did it with one absolutely dominant starting pitcher (Chris Carpenter), one amazingly talented slugger (Albert Pujols) who affected the other team's strategy even when he wasn't crushing home runs, and a closer (Adam Wainwright) who locked down every single inning he was asked to pitch (9 2/3 innings in the postseason, zero earned runs, 15 strikeouts). And of course, they filled in around that foundation with all-star-quality players (Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds, etc.) and the requisite collection of lesser role players (Jeff Suppan, David Eckstein, etc.) who played out of their minds for the bulk of the month of October.
That's what I'm seeing from the Philadelphia Phillies right now. Up 3-1 over the Tampa Bay Rays after last night's Game 4, they can clinch the series tonight at home with ace Cole Hamels on the mound.
In the Cardinals comparison, Hamels is the Phillies' Chris Carpenter. Ryan Howard is their Albert Pujols. Brad Lidge is their Adam Wainwright (only better). And last night, Joe Blanton produced a pretty fair approximation of Suppan:
Suppan in Game 4, 2006: 6 IP, 3 ER, 2 BB, 4 K
Blanton in Game 4, 2008: 6 IP, 2 ER, 2 BB, 7 K
So, now Game 5 is here. In 2006, the Cardinals sent Jeff Weaver to the mound for Game 5 -- because Carpenter had pitched Game 3. Tonight, though, the Phillies send Hamels back to the mound, and there is little visible reason to believe he will do anything less than produce yet another shut-down outing.
Now, then... About Game 4...
I felt the game came down to Joe Maddon's decision to allow starter Andy Sonnanstine to face Ryan Howard with two on in the fourth inning. As I was writing for the print edition, which goes to print without the benefit of postgame quotes, I thought Maddon had not gotten lefty Trevor Miller ready in time, and thus could not bring him in to face Howard. In fact, as I found out afterwards, Miller was ready -- Maddon just chose not to make the move. Either way, it was a mistake. Howard hit a three-run homer that blew the game open. And from there, the rout was on.
Maddon understandably loves Sonnanstine -- and his faith in him is admirable, in many ways -- but this was not the real Sonnanstine. He was seemingly behind every hitter, and had already walked three by that point. Yes, the fourth inning is a bit early to start mixing and matching in the bullpen, but the Rays should have been treating this with the urgency of an elimination game (because of Hamels looming in Game 5) and Maddon does, after all, have three lefties in his bullpen. HIs faith in Sonnanstine was a fatal flaw.
Maddon was also trying to get Sonnanstine through the inning because the pitcher's spot was due up the next half-inning and he didn't want to waste a reliever, only to have to turn around and pinch-hit for him.
And there's also the fact Howard wound up crushing a homer against Miller four innings later. We'll never know if the same thing would have happened in the fourth, but Miller probably would have pitched him differently (more cautiously) with the game still on the line, as opposed to a blowout situation.
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