By the time you finish reading this article, you might just know more about the Phillies than you do about the Brewers. At least you'll be ready to make fun of Brian Anderson when he says silly things on national TV.
To finish off our three-part Phillies q&a, we're going to turn to Peter Baker (WholeCamels) of The Good Phight, our sister blog in the SBN network. Scroll down for the other parts: We covered the Phils offense with Tim Malcom, the pitching staff with Tom Goyne, and now it's time for...well, everything else.
BCB: Who's your Phillies MVP for the 2008 season?
Peter Baker: Normally I'm loathe to drink the Cult of the Closer Kool-Aid, but I'm going to go with Brad Lidge.
My favorite "quick-n-dirty" MVP stat - WPA - shows Brad Lidge with a 5.43 WPA, higher than any NL pitcher (starter or reliever) and behind only Cliff Lee in the majors. And seventh overall among hitters and pitchers. Although I hate the Save stat as a be-all, end-all in reliever evaluation, 41-for-41 is awfully damned good. And the trickledown effect of 9th inning stability on the rest of the pitching staff played a huge part in making this bullpen one of the very best in baseball.
Chase Utley is a close second, but the absolute disappearance of his home run power over the season's second half was disappointing and troublesome. His terrific defense is underrated, and is a huge consideration in ranking him above the next guy...
Ryan Howard's incredibly sexy HR and RBI totals, and brilliant September, don't make up for the fact that he was an absolute anchor for the season's first six weeks, and that he's a butcher in the field.
BCB: If you had to pick one guy to have a monster series, who would you choose? (Let's make things harder and take Hamels, Howard, and Utley out of contention.)
PB: Pat Burrell. If Burrell is raking, then he's probably hitting Sabathia pretty well, and as their best right-handed hitter, they're going to need Burrell to get some good swings if they hope to knock off CC. Burrell's been terrible since the start of August; hopefully a couple days off will do him good.
BCB: I haven't paid a whole lot of attention lately, but last time I checked, Phillies fans felt about Charlie Manuel about the same way that Brewers fans felt about Yost. But now, for the second year in a row, you've charged into the postseason, so it's seems like Manuel can't be all bad. What's your take on having Manuel at the helm?
PB: It's gone from utter contempt in many circles to an acceptance of him, warts and all. He still struggles with in-game decisions (and what manager is blameless here?), but it's pretty well confirmed that he runs a loose clubhouse that has contributed in no small part to two consecutive teams rallying from fairly deep September deficits to claim the division on the season's last weekend.
Personally, I like him. He always has his players' backs and resists any and all urges to throw his guys under the bus. Which can be difficult here -- Philly fans want blood and they want blame. And I think his past experience as a hitting instructor/guru has only done good things for players like Howard and Utley.
I do find it funny, however, that some of his more vocal critics, who tend to harp on his West Virginia heritage and the associated accent, don't exactly sound like Sir Laurence Olivier themselves. "Yo, dis guy sounds like some redneck or sumthin', whaddanidiot!!"
BCB: The two "defensive" spots in your lineup are third base and catcher, for Pedro Feliz and Carlos Ruiz (hey, they rhyme...kind of) respectively. Both of them have good defensive reputations--are they deserved? Is it worth having Feliz manning a typically offensive position despite his ~300 OBP? Or maybe, at this point, anything would feel like an upgrade on Wes Helms?
PB: It's probably wrong to answer this question based on emotion, but for the first time since Scott Rolen left Philadelphia, I don't tense up the instant a ball is hit hard toward the third baseman when Pedro Feliz is playing. Whether that presents any real value vis-a-vis wins and losses is unlikely, but it's made the game-viewing experience that much more enjoyable for me. He also had a (probably unmaintainable) knack for close-and-late hitting, compiling a .943 OPS in those situations.
As for Carlos Ruiz... well, he has a decent walk rate and doesn't strike out too much. His defense is fine, but I think everyone pretty much recognizes that he's a placeholder until the Lou Marson Era begins in Philly.
BCB: CBP has always had a rep as a hitter's paradise, but it looks like it played closer to neutral this year. Any ideas why that happened? Any Phillies players who seem to benefit (or suffer) at home?
PB: I think moving the left field fence back before the 2006 season helped a bit. I also think that, while home runs remain inflated, the shorter fences shrink the outfield, leading to more flyball outs and fewer doubles and triples, which mitigates damage done by high home run totals.
There is also some speculation that the weather -- it was a relatively mild summer in the Delaware Valley -- suppressed home run totals in contrast with a normally hot, humid Philadelphia summer.
I also think a lot of the reputation comes from the introduction of the somewhat deserved meme into the league and media consciousness ("In that bandbox, NO lead is safe!") that just spiralled out of control until it became incontrovertible fact. And I have to love the soundbites from opposing pitchers who get bombed there: "That's not a home run in any other park." Hey, Genius, your guys get the same field and same dimensions. Deal with it. John Smoltz is the worst at this.
Anecdotally, Pat Burrell is always the guy who gets pegged as a CBP beneficiary; however, his home/road splits this season do not bear this out (.786 OPS at home, .964 OPS on the road). Ryan Howard certainly seems to poke a lot of his opposite field shots into the first couple of rows in left; he hit 26 homers at home this year, against 22 on the road, so it's not like it was a monumental difference.
BCB: One more. True or Super-True: The gritty veteran presence of Geoff Jenkins, even when injured, played a huge part in propelling the Phillies to the playoffs.
PB: Geoff Jenkins and Brett Favre both left Wisconsin in the same year. COINCIDENCE?!
Geoff needed his lookalike closer to him. The Jets are just 70 miles up the Turnpike from Philly. That's all it is.
BCB: Thanks, Peter! I think we can all agree that whoever wins this series should go the World Series. Especially if it's the Brewers.