Last season, the Phillies were happy to be in the playoffs, but simply didn't have as much fire and passion as the Rockies did in the NLDS and the Phillies have to protect against that happening again this season. The difference is that this year's Phillies team isn't just happy to be in the post-season and instead, truly believes that they have business to finish that they started last season.
The fact that the Phillies can shorten their rotation is a big plus for the club, since the fifth spot in the rotation was pretty much a thorn in their side all season long. First, Adam Eaton struggled, then Kyle Kendrick's season started to go down hill. It's only been the past couple weeks when J.A. Happ took over as the fifth starter, that the Phillies didn't have to worry when the fifth spot in the rotation came up. Happ – a rookie - will move to the bullpen, providing insurance as a long reliever and considering that Brett Myers struggled in his last two starts of the season (0-2, 15.13 in 8.1 innings), the Phillies will need someone on standby.
Having Yovani Gallardo (0-0, 1.88 in four starts) go for Milwaukee in Game One is a little scary from the Philadelphia way of thinking. The Phillies have faced him only once and that was in August of 2007 when he allowed just four hits and one run in 6.2 innings against the Phillies. In general, the Phillies tend to struggle against pitchers that they're not familiar with, but they're counting on a strong outing from Cole Hamels to take Game One, especially since Myers – who starts Game Two – has struggled of late. It also doesn't help that they have to face CC Sabathia in Game Two. The good news is that the only time the Phillies have faced Sabathia, in June of 2007, they were able to pick up four runs against him in six innings, but current Phillies players have just a combined .190 average against Sabathia. While Sabathia is going on three-days rest for Game Two, he could then come back for Game Five on regular rest to face Cole Hamels, if the Brewers decide to go that way.
Ben Sheets status is going to be interesting. Even if he's available, there's no doubt that he's not 100% and not having him to go back-to-back with Sabathia is an advantage for the Phillies. In his career, Sheets has a 4.88 ERA against the Phillies, but much of that damage was done early in his career and in his one start against them this season when he allowed five earned runs in six innings of work against Philadelphia.
As with most clubs that face the Brewers, the Phillies will have to be careful about facing Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder. The two have a combined mark of 13home runs, 29 RBI and a .327 average against Phillies pitchers, while the rest of the Brewers lineup has just average stats against Philadelphia. The Phillies have to control the rest of the lineup and minimize any damage that Braun and Fielder might do in the series.
One interesting aspect about the Phillies offense is that it doesn't revolve around any one player and they don't need everyone to be hot at the same time to win. Early in the season, Ryan Howard was struggling horribly, but Chase Utley and Pat Burrell were on fire and carried the offense. Just about the time that Howard found his stroke, Utley and Burrell leveled off and the big man carried the club for a while. Later in the year, Jimmy Rollins got hot and other players like Shane Victorino chipped in with big games to give the Phillies enough offense to win.
It's somewhat ironic that Geoff Jenkins signed with the Phillies as a free agent over the winter because he wanted to play for a team that he felt had a shot at going to the post-season and now, here he is getting to play in the post-season, but facing the team that he spent ten seasons with and ultimately decided to leave. The bad news is that Jenkins suffered an injury and wound up on the DL and by the time he returned to the lineup, Jayson Werth had taken over as the team's right fielder. Werth reached the 20/20 plateau (20 home runs and 20 stolen bases) for the first time in his career this season after starting the year off in a platoon with Jenkins in right field. Ultimately, Werth figures to get the playing time in right, but Jenkins gives the Phillies a nice bat off the bench.
Milwaukee has two quality left-handers in the bullpen in Brian Shouse (5-1, 2.81) and Mitch Stetter (3-1, 3.20) and if Dale Sveum can use them in key spots, they can help against the big left-handed bats in the Phillies lineup. Most teams are lucky to have one left-hander in the ‘pen and the Brewers having two makes things a little more difficult for the Phillies although Howard is no longer an automatic out against lefties and Utley hit .277 against southpaws this season, with 13 of his 33 home runs coming off left-handers.
Just because the names on the Milwaukee staff aren't the best known in the game, don't think that they're not a good pitching staff. The Brewers had the second best team ERA in the National League at 3.85. If you don't think that pitching is important to the Brewers, they were 53-55 in months when their team ERA was over 3.70 and 37-17 when it was under that mark. For comparison, the Phillies were 61-45 in months when their team ERA was over the 3.70 mark.
The games could be very interesting if they stay close late into the game. The Brewers were 68-9 when they held a lead after seven innings, while the Phillies were 66-9 in those same spots. And while Milwaukee couldn't match the Phillies 79-0 (thanks in part to Brad Lidge's 40-for-40 on save opportunities) mark when leading after eight innings, they came pretty close at 74-5. The teams were also close when trailing after seven innings, with Milwaukee going 9-51 and the Phillies at 11-53 in those spots. And as for final inning comebacks, the Phillies went 6-60 when they trailed heading to the ninth inning and the Brewers were 3-57.
The Phillies did win five out of six meetings between the teams this season, including a key sweep of a four-game series at Citizens Bank Park in September that helped vault the Phillies into the post-season. The Phillies are also coming off a 17-8 performance in September, while the Brewers were only able to win 10 of 26 games in the final month, giving the Phillies the edge as far as which team is hotter and the psychological edge in head-to-head matchups.