The whole crew got together to discuss the Phillies’ top National League challenger. There were conflicting viewpoints as to who poses the biggest threat this Fall…
Michael Baumann: The biggest worry is the Braves, for two reasons: first, because the Braves, being in the same division, are in the most direct position to knock the Phillies out of playoff contention. The second reason is that they’re the next-best team in the National League. The Braves, like the Phillies, are constructed around a couple of great hitters and a phenomenal starting rotation, which also sets them up well for the playoffs, where a single great start by Tommy Hanson or Jair Jurrjens (never mind Roy Halladay or Cole Hamels) can swing a team’s fortunes.
It’s interesting to note that both leagues are shaping up the same way: two clear frontrunners in the East, a single good team pulling away in the West, and a cesspool of mediocrity in the Central, where three or four teams are vying for the privilege of being swept out of the first round of the playoffs. Simply put, the Phillies are clear frontrunners, and are setting themselves up for an exhilarating–if low-scoring–NLCS with Atlanta.
Jay Floyd: The Brewers. Milwaukee entered the season as a favorite in the NL Central division. While they’re currently battling in the standings with the upstart Pirates, that won’t last, as Pittsburgh doesn’t have the talent to stay hot through September. Milwaukee is primed to run away with the division, especially if the Reds can’t pull their season together.
With the trio of Rickie Weeks, Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder leading the team in virtually all offensive categories and the group of Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum and Yovani Gallardo leading the team on the pitching side, it’s clear where the majority of the talent lies on this club.
Additionally, with Corey Hart, Jonathan Lucroy and Nyjer Morgan adding their solid contributions at the plate and with John Axford, LaTroy Hawkins and now Francisco Rodriguez solidifying the bullpen, the Brewers have a more balanced roster than years past and could meet the Phillies in the post-season once again. The Crew would stand a better chance at advancing than they did in 2008.
Pat Gallen: I think it comes down to the Braves. They have the most talented pitching staff from top to bottom in the NL, other than the Phillies. And while their offense is in need of work, it is still filled with talent. Jason Heyward and Brian McCann are two very capable offensive weapons and if Chipper Jones can get healthy for long enough, they’re a team that can go on some sort of run in the playoffs. The bullpen is filled with solid lefties — three to be exact — not unlike last years Giants team that was able to neutralize the Phillies in the playoffs.
It’s not so much the offense or the starting pitching that bothers me about the Atlanta Braves, it’s that damn bullpen. Kimbrel, Venters, O’Flaherty, and Sherrill can make life hell on the lefties, and I would hate to see the same thing happen this year that happened in 2010. I wouldn’t say the Braves are as talented as the Phillies, but sometimes that doesn’t matter. The Giants of 2010 are proof of that.
Don McGettigan: Milwaukee has a dangerous lineup with both power and speed, and a core of players (Weeks, Braun, Fielder, etc.) with enough experience that the bright lights of October shouldn’t scare them too much, having been there once before. A rotation of: Greinke, Gallardo, Marcum, and Wolf, the Brewers possess one of the best overall starting staffs in baseball. I think if the Phillies don’t make the World Series the Brew Crew will be the ones representing the National League.
Jon Nisula: The Braves. Those guys in Atlanta were the biggest threat to the Phillies before the season started, and continue to be as we approach the trade deadline. The reason being that they are so much like the Phillies. They are quite close in team OPS, and the temas are 1-2 in xFIP from the starters. Not only that, but they have a weapon that’s been kept a secret all year long: Dan Uggla. Sure, he’s been “Dan Struggla” so far this year, but it’s hard to imagine he will struggle like this for the remainder of the season. His last two weeks have been red hot. Another thing that is worrisome is any moves they make at the trade deadline. If they acquire the right piece – an outfielder or even a righthanded reliever to supplant the Scotts (Linebrink and Proctor) – they will be very scary going forward.
Corey Seidman: Interesting that nobody mentioned the Phillies’ next opponent … the same team that eliminated them in 2010. The Giants are set up very similar to the Braves, with only the offense being worse. But in dispensing of Atlanta and the Phillies in last year’s postseason, San Francisco showed that all it takes is bloopy BABIP luck, a key home run here or there, and typically dominant starting pitching to advance through even the most talented teams. Keep in mind also that few expected the Giants to beat the Rangers in last year’s World Series, and that was one of the most lopsided Fall Classics in recent memory.