TBS experts: How Halladay handles first playoff appearance is key

It's well known that the Phillies begin the playoffs with a starting pitching threesome as strong as any in the postseason. Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels can strong-arm any opponent.

The major question is, how will Halladay handle his first playoff appearances?

Two former major league pitchers now doing TV think Halladay will be fine. Ron Darling and John Smoltz are game analysts for TBS, which is carrying the division series and the American League Championship Series.

"Each [Phillies] pitcher is so diverse the way they get you out," Darling said on a Monday conference call. "The only question about them having great success in the postseason is, Roy [Halladay] has never done it.

"When you make that first start in the postseason, it's a whole different animal. You almost have a feeling of, is this baseball? This doesn't seem like the thing I've been doing since I was 9 years old.

"If you can quickly adapt to it, which I'm sure Roy will do, [he'll be successful]. He's going to have to find a quiet place for himself amidst all this craziness."

While Smoltz calls Halladay "probably the best pitcher in the game," the former Atlanta Braves starter said Halladay is "a little more vulnerable" in Game 1.

"You have a little more of a chance to make contact if Roy wants you to," Smoltz said. "If not, he can strike out 10 to 12 guys.

"What a hitter can't do against those three guys is, 'OK, we're going to lay off this and this.' What it does is put undue pressure on the opposing pitcher to pitch perfect, and that is what gives you the advantage. The other pitcher thinks, 'I can't give up three runs.'

Taking a hitter's view of the Phillies terrific trio, TBS studio analyst Cal Ripken said, "They're all legitimate No. 1s. Especially when you get to the playoffs, that type of pitcher that can get out of jams, can strike you out. It just makes it that much harder [for opponents].

"Philadelphia's got a great offense, but the pitching staff is the reason you think they're going back to the World Series."

Besides the Phillies' starting threesome, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jayson Werth and Brad Lidge receive deserved attention as keys to the team's success. Darling mentioned another Phillies player he admires: third baseman Placido Polanco.

"He's a professional hitter and a professional player," Darling said. "He's a guy every team would love to have hitting in their second spot."

It's almost obligatory that Cliff Lee must be mentioned in a story about Phillies pitching. After helping the Phillies reach last year's World Series, Lee was traded to Seattle. The veteran lefthander will lead Texas vs. Tampa Bay in an ALDS matchup.

Asked about the impact Lee can have on a series, Darling said: "The biggest impact Lee can have is, you don't need any other pitchers when he pitches. He wants to finish the game. He's been unbelievably successful in the postseason."

Said Smoltz: "Lee is one of the most underrated great pitchers, if there is such a thing. He's awfully tough against righthanders, and the power of the Rays from the righthand side can get neutralized."

Smoltz' enthusiasm for the postseason was evident on the call. Talking about Halladay and Texas third baseman Michael Young, in their first postseasons, Smoltz said: "You have to slow everything down and play like it's a normal game. It's magnified, it's crazy, you're answering questions you wouldn't answer in the regular season.

"You get the chance to do the things you always wanted to do in a quick three-out-of-five series. What guys have learned to love and hate about the playoffs is, they're not given a chance to make up for a slow start."


How they see it


Two of the three TBS analysts on the conference call predicted the Phillies will win the World Series:

John Smoltz: "Philadelphia and Tampa Bay are the two most balanced teams in the playoffs. Philadelphia finds a way to win."

Ron Darling: "Philadelphia beats either Minnesota or Texas in the World Series."

Cal Ripken picked Tampa Bay over the Phillies in the World Series. *

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