Paul Hagen: No wishful thinking on Phillies' NLDS opponent

Dusty Baker's Reds are likely to be playing in Philly on Wednesday.
Dusty Baker's Reds are likely to be playing in Philly on Wednesday.
Posted: October 01, 2010

ONE THING Charlie Manuel has preached is the importance of not looking too far ahead. And, honestly, that shouldn't be difficult for the Phillies going into the final weekend of the regular season.

Even though they've already clinched, there's a simple safeguard in place to keep them from focusing too much on who they'll play when the fourth edition of Red October begins to reveal itself next Wednesday at The Bank:

They don't know who they'll be playing yet. Could be Cincinnati. Could be San Diego. Could be San Francisco.

And since they can have an impact on that by what they do against the Braves, who currently lead the wild-card race, and because the Padres and Giants are playing each other, this could take a little while to sort out.

But that doesn't stop us from taking a look at the particular challenges each opponent might represent.

The Reds, who right now look to be the most likely to provide the loyal opposition, could be expected to be the biggest underdogs against the Phillies, who figure to have the shortest odds to advance to the World Series among NL teams.

Of course, the best-of-five format invites upsets. The Phillies, in fact, have been able to take advantage of that in the last 2 years. Their biggest hurdle in 2008 appeared to be the Cubs. The roadblock in 2009 seemed to be the Cardinals. Both were conveniently beaten by the Dodgers before the Phillies had to face them.

Reds starting pitchers don't come into the postseason with the same reputation as the Phillies' Big Three, but on any given night Johnny Cueto, Bronson Arroyo, Edinson Volquez and Travis Wood have the ability to shut a team down. Wood, in fact, took a perfect game into the ninth against the Phillies in July before Carlos Ruiz led off with a double.

Wood, however, is the only lefthanded starter manager Dusty Baker has to go against a Phillies team that can be vulnerable against lefties.

The Padres have not finished strong, although they'll have to get their act together just to make the postseason. They were cruising along through Aug. 25, but after a loss last night have gone 12-22 since.

Their best starter, Mat Latos, is scheduled to pitch Sunday, so he wouldn't be available until Game 2 at the earliest. And in his last four starts he's 0-4, 10.13.

If they qualify, though, they could be a difficult opponent. Their staff is tied with the Phillies for the major league lead in shutouts (20) and closer Heath Bell has converted 32 straight save opportunities.

The Giants are the only team that can go toe-to-toe with the Phillies in starting pitching, but their lineup has struggled to score runs all year. Still, that projects as the most daunting Division Series matchup for the four-time division champs.

Manuel, for his part, made it clear this week that he's not going to try to change his approach against the Braves to try to influence what happens next.

"Sometimes at this time of year I look down and I see teams that are trying to do things and they're beating teams with a weaker lineup. And I don't want that to happen," the manager said earlier this week. "I've always looked at it as trying to give ourselves a chance to win the game because I feel like we owe it to the people that are also playing for a spot."

He also understands that such trickery often backfires.

"Sometimes you get your wish and you get beat by getting your wish. That's baseball and that's how it goes," Manuel noted.

That's why there really is no point in looking ahead. Just come to the ballpark Wednesday and play whoever shows up.

AROUND THE BASES

* Seeing Reds: Cincinnati is going to the playoffs for the first time in 14 years, ending the fifth-longest drought in baseball. The longest current streaks without a playoff appearance: Expos/Nationals (29), Royals (25), Pirates (18), Blue Jays (17), Orioles (13).

* Century club: The Pirates have clinched the eighth 100-loss season in franchise history. Only the Phillies (14) and Braves (13) have more.

* Taking the under: The Padres on Tuesday won their 28th game of the season in which they scored three or fewer runs. That's the most by any team since the 1993 Braves won 29. As a reference point, the Phillies this year have won 24 times when scoring three or fewer.

* Nationals enquirer: While the Phillies were in Washington this week, fans occasionally chanted "Sign Adam Dunn" to urge the front office to bring back the slugging first baseman in 2011. However, one scout told the Washington Post, "I can tell you the only person in the front office who wants to re-sign him is the owner [Ted Lerner]."

* Add Nats: Yes, this is a team doing everything it can to encourage people to come to games. In fact, anyone putting a deposit down on two new 2011 season tickets will get two more for free.

* Hard to believe: Arizona's Mark Reynolds could end the season with a higher strikeout total (currently 208) than batting average (.198).

* Where's the fire, man? Reds reliever Aroldis Chapman threw 25 pitches against the Padres last Friday night. All were at least 100 mph and one hit 105 on the radar gun.

* Let's Go Mess: The New York Daily News reports that whoever ends up as the Mets' general manager and manager this winter won't be able to count on spending much money to rebuild with free agents like Cliff Lee, Carlos Crawford and Jayson Werth this winter. The team already has $130 million committed for next season, much of it to unproductive - and therefore untradeable - players like Carlos Beltran, Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez.

* Second thoughts: Adrian Beltre has had a nice season for the Red Sox. There is pressure from the fans to re-sign him. The Boston Globe points out, however, that Beltre has hit .300 and driven in 100 runs only twice in his career. Once was 2004 with the Dodgers. The other is this season. The common denominator is that both were free-agent seasons.

PHAIR AND PHOUL

* Just wondering I: At the end of the 2006 season, the Phillies let manager Charlie Manuel dangle. They waited until after the last game was played before announcing that he'd be back to fulfill the final year of his contract.

At the end of that season, he signed a 2-year extension with an option for 2010.

A year after that, following the Phillies' World Series win over the Rays, that deal was reworked. The option year was picked up and another year was tacked on, tying him up through 2011.

So you have to think the only Phillies manager to take the team to four straight postseasons (and only the third in NL history along with Bobby Cox in Atlanta and John McGraw of the 1921-24 New York Giants) shouldn't go into next season as a lame duck. You have to think he'll get an extension this winter. Don't you?

* Just wondering II: Charlie Manuel has been saying since spring training that he not only wants to go back to the World Series this year but would prefer to play the Yankees, which would give his team a chance to get even for last fall. Wonder if Tampa Bay is similarly hoping to play the Phillies for the opportunity to avenge 2008?

* Counting ghosts: The Marlins' home-attendance tally will be finalized Sunday. And how does that involve the Phillies? Well, on that day Florida will officially announce how many after-the-fact tickets it sold to souvenir-hunters for Roy Halladay's perfect game there on May 29. It's known, however, that the number is more than 10,000 and will be counted just as if actual people occupied those seats. Which is pretty amazing considering that, going into last night, the Marlins had announced crowds of less than 12,000 a total of 13 times this season. There's a joke to be made here that as many people are willing to pay good money not to watch the Marlins as those who paid to actually go to many games, but that would just be cheap and tacky.

* Still a big piece: Ryan Howard hit 58 homers his first full season, leading the league in 2006. The next 3 years he hit from 45 to 48 and finished in the top three. This season, with three games left, he has hit 31. That's tied for eighth in the NL. Part of the reason is that he spent time on the disabled list and has played in just 140 games (although he hit 47 in 144 games in 2007).

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