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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.
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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.

By Dave Sheinin  |  October 27, 2008; 10:18 AM ET
 
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Comments

I find it hard to compare the 2006 Cardinals to the 2008 Phillies. For one thing, yes the Rays were favored, but not heavily. Everyone saw this to be a pretty even series and felt it would go 6 or 7 games.

Second, the 2006 Cardinals were awful during the regular season and turned it on late. The 2008 Phillies were among the best teams in the National League all season.

Third, the Cardinals played a very well-rested Tigers team that never woke back up. The Phillies this year are the well-rested team, but they did enough to win before erupting in Game 4.

So yes the stats are similiar to the 2006 Cardinals, the teams are hardly similar.

Posted by: fussy | October 27, 2008 11:23 AM | Report abuse

Please, Sheinin, don't start claiming a Phillies victory now. I like to think that part of the Phils' success is due in large part to every sports writer in America picking the Rays (in four games? ha!) to take the series, just like you did. I like to think that the Phils feed off of that disrespect that they have received all season.

First, the Phils "would never beat the Mets". Then we had "no chance" against CC and the Brewers. Then Manny and the Dodgers were going to sweep us b/c they swept the Cubs.

I am afraid now that you might jinx it. Please tell us about how the Rays will win tonight and take the series back to that circus tent in Tampa Bay. Please.

Posted by: PhilliesPhan | October 27, 2008 12:06 PM | Report abuse

The Rays youth is starting to show. You can see it in the impatience at the plate, and the errors on the field. They are not comfortable, and appear to be feeling the pressure. I would be surprised if this thing makes it back to The Trop.

Posted by: CajunD | October 27, 2008 12:27 PM | Report abuse

I would be surprised as well if Hamels doesn't close this out in Philly tonight, but let's not all of a sudden go blaming "youth" on the Rays losing the Series.

First of all, much credit has to be given to the Phils starting pitching which has simply been outstanding.

Secondly, every team over 6 and 7 months is going to have hot and cold stretches and have to battle. You hope you don't hit one of those cold stretches at this point in the season, but it happens. Also, some guys just handle the spotlight of the WS differently.

Thirdly, the Rays more than proved over the course of the season and the playoffs up to this point that "youth" was not a stumbling block or obstacle they couldn't rise above -- to write off a couple poor games by saying their "youth" caught up with them is just plain lazy.

The Phils better starting pitching performances, superior bullpen and higher offensive production from the horses in the middle of the lineup is what has caught up with them.

Posted by: ryaneades | October 27, 2008 2:01 PM | Report abuse

Sports analyst are like weathermen. They get paid for their expert analysis, make all kinds of predictions then act as if they are still experts even after their previous predictions were wrong without even acknowledging how off their predictions were. Like a weatherman they don't explain their previous forecast or mis-forecast. They only speak up when they are accurate. Did wilbon ever correct himself for his misperception of sean taylor's death? No he acted as if he never made the statements. Will Sally Jenkins write an article that addresses her inaccurate assumptions about the Chinese Gymnast? You would think she would have. But no, its on to the next thing that I am an expert analyst on. Today its zorn and portis. With the exception of some days most of us can look outside and tell what kind of day its going to be weather wise. Does that make us weathermen? Everyone who gets paid to talk about sports aren't expert analyst.

Posted by: gdavis4 | October 27, 2008 3:05 PM | Report abuse

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