Paul Hagen: Phillies need better bats for NLCS

Phillies' Shane Victorino gets kicked by Reds' Brandon Phillips as he slides into second base.
Phillies' Shane Victorino gets kicked by Reds' Brandon Phillips as he slides into second base.
Posted: October 11, 2010

CINCINNATI - So the Phillies disposed of the Reds, almost without breaking a sweat. They remain the hottest team on the planet, having won an amazing 37 of their last 44 games. That's an .841 winning percentage, kids, an almost incomprehensible number over such an extended period of time.

Which makes the National League Championship Series seem like little more than a formality, doesn't it? Just looking at their dominance for the last 6 weeks makes it difficult to imagine either the Giants or Braves being much more than a minor inconvenience standing between the team that once again sprayed champagne last night and earned a third straight trip to the World Series.

It isn't that easy, of course. And one number stands out like a red, blinking warning signal against overconfidence after a 2-0 win touched off yet another clubhouse celebration, this one at Great American Ball Park.

Their NLDS team batting average: .212.

"I'm never disappointed as long as a W comes out of it," insisted manager Charlie Manuel. "That's our main objective. I also watched the game and I saw some well-hit balls. I also saw here we just missed some balls. We had a few on the end of the bat that were just below the fat part of the bat. Like if we had've hit 'em a little better, we could have gotten something out of it. That's what I saw.

"Do I want us to score some more runs? Of course. And we're definitely very capable of it. I'm always positive. When we start [hitting], somebody is in trouble. That's how I look at it. We're going to start sooner or later and when we start getting 'em, we'll take care of things.

It didn't really matter in the first round because their pitching was so good and the Reds' defense was so bad - eight errors that helped account for six unearned runs.

They have to believe they can count on their pitching to remain a strength. They can't rely on the largesse of their next opponent, though.

This is a team that has made a remarkable transition in just one season from a lineup that clubs the other team into submission to one that is capable of throwing a shutout on any given night.

Nothing is a given, especially at this time of year. On paper, though, they appear perfectly set up to advance.

If they play the Braves, this is a team they beat five out of six times in the last 2 weeks of the season when the games mattered more to Atlanta than to them. If they play the Giants, they meet a team that has had trouble scoring runs against even mediocre pitching this season. Likely they wouldn't need to score as often to win.

Still, no matter who they play, they probably are going to need a little more help from the bats next time around.

Hero

Who else but Cole Hamels? He looks very much like the pitcher who was voted MVP of both the NLCS and World Series in 2008.

Goat

Yes, the Phillies have good pitching. But the Reds' .124 team batting average just isn't good enough.

The quote

Charlie Manuel on having Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels in his rotation: "It's good when you throw no-hitters and shutouts. I think I'm a pretty good manager, what do you think?"

The overlooked moment

After Reds centerfielder Drew Stubbs led off the bottom of the first by reaching on an error, Brandon Phillips ripped a line drive toward the gap in left-center. Off the bat it looked like extra bases, but centerfielder Shane Victorino raced over and made the catch, helping snuff a potential rally and helping starter Cole Hamels settle down at the same time.

The second guess

Shortstop Orlando Cabrera wasn't originally in the Reds' lineup last night after being forced to leave Game 2 with strained oblique. But after batting practice, he talked manager Dusty Baker into starting him instead of Paul Janish.

Is that why he made the throwing error that handed the Phillies an unearned run in the top of the first and went 0-for-3 with a strikeout? Can't say for sure. But a painful side could have been the reason for a high throw that pulled first baseman Joey Votto off the bag . . . and was so wild that it had Phillies first base coach Davey Lopes ducking for cover.

The stat

Last night was Cole Hamels' fourth start in a clinching situation. In his previous three tries - Game 5 of the 2008 NLCS, Game 5 of the 2008 World Series and Game 5 of the 2009 NLCS – the Phillies were undefeated and Hamels was 1-0 with a 3.12 earned run average while allowing 15 hits and five walks in 17 1/3 innings and striking out 11.

Hurry up and wait

The Phillies wanted to win last night, of course. But that also created a dilemma. It means they won't play again until the National League Championship Series opens Saturday at The Bank, 5 long days without a game. They will also have played just three times in 12 days. And that always creates a concern about players losing their edge.

"I don't know what can be done," Charlie Manuel shrugged. "If you advance to the next round and you do good, nobody says nothing. But if you don't, people say the rest hurt 'em, things like that.

"There's always something to talk about. It's part of the game, I guess. Until somebody does something about it or changes it, I don't know what I can do about it. I mean, does it hurt us? I don't know. Seriously, if we play good I would say no. If we don't play good, I'll go, 'Yeah, it hurt us.' That's how people are and I'm no different."

Lemme hear ya

Reds infielder Paul Janish said the biggest difference he noticed between the regular season and playoffs is how loud the crowds are at this time of year. And he conceded that it might have affected his team the first two games at Citizens Bank Park. At least at the outset.

"The baseball itself is not different. The volume is different. And Philly was obviously pretty crazy with the towels and just the sheer noise was significant. I think this was the biggest thing, the first game and then, you know, Game 2 as well. Just becoming accustomed to the atmosphere."

Send e-mail to hagenp@phillynews.com

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