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Congratulations

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Congrats to the Phillies. They’re a very good team who had a very good postseason. So much for the meme that the Phils’ layoff between the NLCS and the World Series would leave them rusty, ala the 2006 Tigers. (or could it be that the Tigers weren’t rusty after all?) The truth is that, in a short series, anything can happen – whether it’s the Tigers’ pitchers routinely throwing the ball around the diamond or the Rays allowing Eric Bruntlett to score by being hit by a pitch, advancing to second on a wild pitch and to third on an error by the catcher, and then scoring the game-winning run on a dribbler.

I really didn’t think they had the lineup depth or rotation depth they needed to pull this off but, if there’s one thing we’ve learned about the postseason, it’s that the postseason rewards strength over depth. And the Phillies proved to be strong. They’re lineup is stout – Rollins, Utley, and Howard are as good a 1, 2, 3 punch as anybody in baseball has. They’ve also got Werth and Victorino to create a solid top-5 in the lineup. It is a stars-and-scrubs lineup, to be sure but, in a short series, anything can happen. Carlos Ruiz, one of the scrubs, batted .375 and had a 1.188 OPS in those 5 games.

The rotation, again, has strength – power at the top in Cole Hamels – and probably lacks solid depth. Still, b/c anything can happen in a short series (is it trite yet?), even Moyer and Blanton – 2 pitchers the Rays had to defeat – came up strong in games 3 and 4. The Phils pen had more power. Ryan Madson, J.C. Romero, and Brad Lidge pitched 10.1 out of the 44 innings the Phils’ staff threw during the series. Add in Hamels’ 13 innings and the Phils had their 4 best pitchers throw more than half their innings.

The postseason rewards strength rather than depth. In 5 World Series games, the Phils hit 9 home runs to the Rays’ 4. We hear a lot about being able to play "small ball" in the postseason – that’s what wins championships. Ummm…actually, it isn’t. It’s being able to score runs w/o getting 3 hits. It’s being able to score runs by hitting the ball out of the ballpark as the Phils did expertly this postseason. They hit 19 HR in 14 games against, presumably, 3 of the top 8 teams in baseball. On the mound, the Phils’ staff struck out 110 batters in 123 innings this postseason – 8.05 per 9 innings. Power on the mound; power at the plate – the Phillies had it in spades ‘lo these 14 games.

Not only did much of the Phils’ team – and most of their stars – come up through their farm system, but their payroll is remarkable in its relative frugality. The Phils, with all their stars, had just 2 players earn as much as $10 M this year – Pat Burrell and Ryan Howard. BTW, neither of those players was a high-priced free agent acquisition. They both arrived via their farm system – as did Hamels, Utley, Rollins, Madson, Myers, Victorino, and Ruiz. They do have some dead weight on their payroll, though none of it carries a huge contract. They’ll carry Adam Eaton for another year + an option buyout. They’ve got Geoff Jenkins for 1 more year but Tom Gordon’s and Tad Iguchi’s contracts come off the books at the end of the season. Eaton and Jenkins, combined, will earn just $1.25 M more than Carpenter will next year. Do you think they’ll get less from those 2 than we’ll get from Carpenter next year? Sadly, I don’t.

There’s a lot that we can learn from the Phils’ success as we approach the offseason. The first, and probably most important thing, is that we need to pursue stars, and eschew average to above-average players at their expense. What does that mean? Hang on to Rasmus. Mo will be tempted to trade him for someone like Matt Holliday – my greatest fear this offseason. Holliday’s a nice player but he’d only be a Cardinal for 1 year before free agency takes him away. Rasmus may never be a star, but we’ll never know until we put him out there. The Phils never knew if Utley, Rollins or Howard would be stars either, but they traded away vets – Polanco and Jim Thome – to make room for Utley and Howard. Is there any doubt that those moves paid off?

The second thing we can learn from the Phils’ postseason success is that there is considerable value in the ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark and the ability to miss bats. Sure, the Phils have a lot of speed as well but they didn’t win the World Series b/c of their ability to steal bases. They hit 9 homers to their 7 steals whereas the Rays had 4 homers to 7 steals. We know that a lot can happen in 5 games, but you can’t defense the homer. You can’t throw someone out at 2nd on a homer. And you can’t score 2 or 3 runs at a time on a stolen base. It’s true that a stolen base can ultimately create a run on occasion -- B.J. Upton’s romp around the bases in game 3 proved that. But the Phils won even that game, in no small part b/c of the 3 home runs they hit that night.

When trying to fill out our pitching staff, we need people who can miss bats. We’re going to need a left-handed reliever – someone who (hopefully) can get Utley and Howard out next October. Will Ohman, for his career has average 9 K per 9 innings – higher than Brian Shouse, Jeremy Affeldt, and John Grabow. Strikeouts don’t skip through the infield for hits and they don’t carry over the fence either. The organization has a tendency to admire the ability to keep the ball on the ground. We need a couple of guys on the staff who can strand the runner on 3rd w/ less than 2 outs.

The essence of this missive is to suggest that, when building this team, we need to build the kind of team that can win championships, rather than contend for the Wild Card. If we want to win the World Series, we’re going to need multiple bites at the apple b/c it’s not an easy task to accomplish. I’d like to contend in ’09 as well, but not if it’s at the expense of 2010 and 2011. There’s a lot we can learn from this year’s champs.

On another note, there’s a pretty good piece on the Cards’ minor leaguers over at milb.com. In the AFL, Brett Wallace is starting to hit a little and Tyler Greene has really played well. Derrick Goold thinks Greene might be next year’s McClellan. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m a bit skeptical. It’s true that he’s playing very well in the AFL – and has even increased his BB rate to 11%. Unfortunately, his career minor league BB rate is just 7.4%. He walked 33 times in 536 PAs last season. Maybe he has turned over a new leaf, and I hope he has, but Greene hasn’t had a minor league OBP greater than .340 since 2005. Still, let’s bring him to camp and see what he can do.