Phil Sheridan: This squad can be awesome in the next round and beyond.

The Phillies didn't hit well in the NLDS, but they swept the Reds anyway. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
The Phillies didn't hit well in the NLDS, but they swept the Reds anyway. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer) (Jonathan Tannenwald)
Posted: October 12, 2010

The most amazing thing about the Phillies, in the aftermath of their methodical sweep of the Cincinnati Reds, is how much better they can be.

That applies to the National League Championship Series and to the World Series, but also to 2011 and 2012. This astonishing run, which has produced four NL East titles, two pennants and a championship so far, might be only at its midway point.

Let's start with the short term, the four to 14 games the Phillies will play in the rest of this postseason. The Phillies advanced to the NLCS with what looked and felt like the most dominating performance in franchise history. It was the complete opposite of this group's first postseason appearance, when the Phillies were swept by the Colorado Rockies in the 2007 NL division series.

Or was it?

In 2007, the Phillies' team batting average was .172 in those three losses. They scored just seven earned runs and had seven extra-base hits - two doubles and five home runs.

Against the Reds? The Phillies' average was .212. They scored the same number of earned runs (seven) and had even fewer extra-base hits (three doubles and a homer).

There were two obvious differences. The Phillies' pitching was not very good in 2007 and it was otherworldly against the Reds, and Cincinnati's hilariously inept fielding provided the Phillies with six unearned runs. The Phils scored just one unearned run against the Rockies three years ago.

You could look at all this and worry that the Phillies' offense is too cold to carry this team to eight more wins. Or you could look at these numbers and conclude that the Phillies' prospects are awfully bright. They dismissed the most productive offensive team in the NL without their own offense clicking. Imagine how good this team can be when the bats get hot.

Numbers, as always, tell only part of the story. You got the sense in this series that the Phillies did exactly what it took to win each game, no more and no less. After jumping out to a 4-0 lead in Game 1, they let Roy Halladay work his magic. There was simply no urgency at the plate after the fourth inning.

Game 2 was textbook whatever-it-takes-to-win baseball. Roy Oswalt had a rough outing. The Phillies fell behind, 4-0. They chipped away, then broke through in that wild, messy seventh inning to seize the lead and break the Reds' spirit.

Game 3 was like Game 1, only it was Cole Hamels shutting down the Reds. The Phillies made plenty of contact against Reds starter Johnny Cueto. They didn't look tight or overwhelmed as they did back in 2007.

You just had the feeling that the Phillies would have scored more if they'd needed to.

"I saw some well-hit balls," manager Charlie Manuel said after Game 3. "Do I want us to score more runs? Of course. And we're definitely very capable of it. I look at it this way: I'm always positive. When we start [hitting the ball], somebody is in trouble."

So, yes, the Phillies can be scary-good in the next round and beyond. Halladay and Hamels can't be much better, but there's no reason to expect them to be less effective. Oswalt can be better. And the offense can be much better.

But here's the part that should chill the hearts of the Mets and Reds, Braves and Dodgers, Cubs and Cardinals and Giants. The same logic applies to the Phillies in the next couple of years. The team that has become the class of the National League should be better in the next couple years than it has been over the last few.

Unless Ruben Amaro Jr. works some monster trade, the Phillies will start 2011 with the best rotation they have ever had. Halladay, Hamels, Oswalt, Joe Blanton and Kyle Kendrick (or whomever) had Reds manager Dusty Baker evoking memories of the Jim Palmer-led Baltimore Orioles staffs of 40 years ago.

That group led the Phillies to their breathtaking stretch-drive record of 48-19. It may be unreasonable to expect that kind of winning percentage over a full season, but that is still a fearsome fivesome.

Now factor in the offensive doldrums this team went through because of injuries and slumps. After averaging 837 runs per season for three years, the Phillies scored 772 in 2010. Jimmy Rollins scored 60 fewer runs than his 162-game average. Ryan Howard hit 16 fewer homers and drove in 30 fewer runs. Chase Utley had roughly half as many home runs and 40 fewer RBIs than his averages.

All that and the Phillies still won their fourth division title in a row. All that and they are right back where they have been and where they expect to be in October.

Imagine. The best run in Philadelphia sports history just might get better.


Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or psheridan@phillynews.com.

Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.

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