We continue our seven-part look at the NLDS.
Part V : Intangibles
Manager: Charlie Manuel
Ballpark: Citizens Bank Park
Unit experience: Lost in 2007 NLDS, 3-0, to Colorado
Player experience: Most have been to postseason; So Taguchi won a title with St. Louis.
Season: Held first place majority of season; fell a few games back, but never out. Erased 3.5-game deficit to claim second straight division crown.
Manager: Dale Sveum
Ballpark: Miller Park
Unit experience: None
Player experience: A handful have been to the postseason; Craig Counsell won two titles with Florida, Jeff Suppan won with St. Louis, and Eric Gagne won last season with Boston.
Season: In third place much of the season until CC Sabathia acquisition, then remained in second. Won Wild Card on final day.
The Brewers are a lot like the 2007 Phillies. They’re in the playoffs for the first time in years; they have a strong foundation of young talent; they have a couple veterans who can tell you about the postseason; they won with a late flourish over the New York Mets; they’ve been hovering around the playoffs for a couple years, finally grabbing an invite.
So yes, the Brewers are prone to first-timer disease, where the team is so caught up in actually making the postseason that it lays an egg in the division series. The Phillies did it last season. Then again, as the Wild Card, Milwaukee is also prone to catch-fire disease, where the team tears through the league playoffs en route to the World Series. You know, the Rockies did that last season.
There are reasons to look at the Brew Crew that way. Fired up fanbase. Fresh manager. Clutch hits. A couple pantheon pitching performances. Youth and exuberance. All those things can add up to trophy hoisting.
I really like the Brewers’ mix of young and old. Hot shots Prince Fielder, Yovani Gallardo and Ryan Braun sit well with seasoned veterans Craig Counsell, Salomon Torres and Jeff Suppan. And the final 10 days or so were filled with excitement and victory for the Brew Crew, so you can’t even think this will be easy.
A word on Dale Sveum. It’s hard to say how he’ll factor, as he’s been in office for about two weeks. But he has been with the team for a year and has won two titles as part of the Red Sox coaching staff. He’s been there, he’ll know what to do.
Milwaukee: Homefield Advantage
Then there’s Miller Park, which is an odd indoor/outdoor carnival. The franchise itself is slightly hokey-pokey, with the sausage races, Bernie Brewer, the slide in the outfield. This ain’t your traditional baseball franchise, but they have young, energized fans who want a winner. Face it, there’s the Packers, but in Milwaukee, there ain’t much to celebrate.
Of course, “ain’t much to celebrate” was coined by Philadelphia fans circa 2005. In 25 years, it’s been NLL and Arena Football conquests. Yeah, please. We even tried rallying around horses. If any fanbase is slobbering for a title (sorry, cute, cuddly, ugly Cubbie fans), it’s us.
The city has adopted the Phillies because they’re starting to resemble a classic dynasty. The best foundation in baseball (Utley, Rollins, Howard, Hamels, Myers), a couple great secondary players (Lidge, Burrell, Victorino, Moyer, Werth), a cavalcade of role players scraped from the dirt of every major league park. This team has the makeup of a champion.
They’ve also been there already, and can finally say they mean business. In fact, the 2008 campaign resembled a business campaign. They’re goal is the brass ring. They’ve shoved off young upstarts (Florida) and old rivals (New York) while making a patented comeback to prominence. Now it’s time for real work.
The Phils also have a great mix of young and old. The very young (Hamels) is already very seasoned. And the very old (Moyer) is still an above-average player. The team’s average age is 30 — these guys are mostly in their peak years. Nobody seems to be a very weak link, and if they’re close, they make up for it in experience.
Charlie Manuel also has experience, but has never reached the World Series. He took the Indians to the ALDS in 2001, then got the Phils to the NLDS last season. He knows his team extremely well, and he has been better at in-game situations this season.
Philadelphia: Homefield Advantage
Back to Philly fans. They want it bad. And Citizens Bank Park, while more carnivalistic than the cannibalistic Vet, is a perfect baseball-viewing, playoff-hosting house. There are rally towels, seas of red and white, loud and drunk townies and a big, green thing leading the cheers. He don’t need no stinkin’ slide.
As if I haven’t analyzed the intangibles already. The Brewers are a true mix of young and old, green and experience. Their best offensive players are the former, which may pose some problems. But with Sveum leading the clubhouse, there’s likely an aura of calm, which proves deadly if demonstrated on the field.
The Phillies have been calm all year, almost the point of making us want to kill ourselves. Then again, they’ve masked that “calm” aura with a press offensively. They know they can hit bombs, so they try all the time. If they can temper that mentality and play good baseball, there’s no reason they shouldn’t win this series.
It is important the Phils take a game at home. While I’m not conceding to Sabathia, I’m not thinking about a 2-0 lead into Milwaukee. The Phils do play better on the road, and there’s a chance the young Brewers will press the heck out of themselves trying to impress the newly-minted playoff crowd. In fact, there’s a very good chance.