On the playoff roster and rotation

You feelin’ it yet? That playoff buzz? How do I know if it’s working? 

There are so many reasons why this is a fun time of year, especially if you follow a championship-caliber team.  All the questions surrounding the Phillies since spring training have involved their chances of repeating, and now they will finally have the chance to try.   Playoff baseball, especially during the division series, feels almost like college football—one loss, one play even, can determine a team’s entire year.

The Phillies drew a favorable matchup with Colorado, despite the Rockies strong play to finish the season.  Colorado simply does not hit lefthanded pitching, a good thing for a team with lefties Hamels, Lee and (maybe) Happ in the rotation.  It would be a better thing for the Phillies if J.C. Romero were around, but he ain’t.

The Phillies, of course, have a lot of pretty good lefty hitters, and Colorado’s best lefty starter, Jorge De La Rosa, came up with a groin injury Saturday.  His status for the series is undetermined, and that would be a huge loss for the Rox. Ryan Howard, one of the only Phillies who remembered how to use his bat on a regular basis in September, is a career .226 hitter against LHP; .303 versus RHP.

Now for the roster and rotation.  The Phils do not have to announce anything until 10am Wednesday, but will probably notify us of their decisions today or tomorrow.  Charlie Manuel said yesterday he was thinking about going with 11 pitchers to make room for the hot-hitting and experienced Miguel Cairo.  The position players would be:

--Cairo, Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Pedro Feliz, Eric Bruntlett, Carlos Ruiz, Paul Bako, Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, Matt Stairs.

In writing a piece for Wednesday’s paper about the bench, I realized that it ain’t as bad as you think—but it could be better.  Dobbs is hurt, says he won’t be better until the offseason.  Jason Giambi and Jim Thome were available this summer as lefty pinch hitters, and the Phils front office did not believe that they needed to upgrade that position.  It’s hard to dump Stairs, because of his on-base skills and power potential, but why not bring in a guy like Giambi and allow Dobbs to heal for next year?

I know, I know, Dobbs plays third base.  But so does Miguel Cairo.  There was more than one way to put this thing together, is all I’m sayin.

Ben Francisco represents the brighter side of things on the bench.  A talented hitter and smart acquisition, Francisco allows Charlie Manuel to DH Raul Ibanez in a potential World Series.

And what about the pitching?  I was on Comcast’s playoff preview show with Mitch Williams last night, and he surprised me with his certainty that Cliff Lee would start Game 1.  I think it will be, and should be, Cole Hamels.

Mitch’s point was that Hamels threw 47 pitches on Saturday, and would never go on three days rest.  That’s true, he wouldn’t.  But 47 pitches is a side session, not a game, and Hamels was a better pitcher in September than Lee.  Frankly, Lee looks gassed after throwing more innings this season than he has in his life.  Joe Blanton, after a workhorse year, is also a concern in the rotation.

Manuel likes to go with guys he has seen succeed in a given situation.  And Hamels has done well as a postseason ace.  Apologies to Wild Thing, I still believe it will be Hamels on Wednesday. Could it be Lee? Sure.

Then comes the mystery of J.A. Happ’s role.  Yes, they need a lefty in the bullpen.  But should it be your most consistent starter? I believe that Phils brass decided about a week ago to move Happ to the playoff pen, and are now reconsidering.  Let’s put it this way: Based on reporting and hunches, I won’t be shocked if Happ is a reliever this week, and I’ll be only mildly shocked if he starts Game 4 or even earlier.  A lot of options are being considered with regards to Happ.

As far as the bullpen goes, I do not believe Sergio Escalona and Antonio Bastardo will make the team—unless Happ is in the rotation. Manuel basically said yesterday that the two young lefties are not ready, but still might be there because the team’s thin bullpen.

So we are left to consider Clay Condrey, Chad Durbin, Scott Eyre, Kyle Kendrick, Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, Brett Myers, Tyler Walker, Happ and Pedro Martinez as possibilities for the bullpen (Martinez could also start a Game 4, but the opponent makes that less likely).

Durbin may have used a strong Sept. to win a spot.  Condrey, Walker, Kendrick and Myers are all bubble guys.  I would personally leave Myers off, because he is the biggest health question and has not been able to solve the closer problems.  To me, Walker, Durbin and Condrey are all more valuable at this moment, because of health.

And what about the ninth inning?  The following may cause you to experience a sudden aneurysm or stroke, but if Hamels or Lee leaves after seven with a lead Wednesday, I’ll bet Manuel goes with Madson-to-Lidge.  Lidge will have the shortest of leashes, but he’s you Game 1 closer.  If that doesn’t go well, it’s closer-by-committee.

Yes, there are issues.  Who knows how far this thing goes? But whether it ends this weekend or in November, let’s enjoy the intensity.

Keep checking in for updates.