NLDS: Phillies/Cards Recap Part 2
It has been four days since my beloved Phillies lost to the Cardinals in a decisive NLDS game 5 and even though I'm typically objective and unbiased on this blog, I'm suffering from Post Traumatic Phils-Loss Disorder and I think that I need to talk this thing out if I'm ever going to watch/analyze baseball again.
This post is in reply to Mc's wonderfully crafted post NLDS: Phils/Cards Recap Part 1. He brought up a key point of debate that is lingering in Philadelphia - did the Phillies do the right thing by beating the Braves out of the postseason?
The Braves were limping down the stretch and match-ups are of the utmost importance in the postseason, especially in a short five game division series. Last year, the highly favored Phillies ran into a buzz saw in the eventual World Champion San Francisco Giants (who won 30 of their final 44 games) and this year, it appears as though they allowed themselves to fall into the same trap, yet again, only this time, the team was the St. Louis Cardinals, and this time, they might have had a choice in the matter.
While I do not agree with the strategy to purposefully lose, I do think that the question bears asking, "Why run your best team out on the field for a meaningless series that can do more harm than good?" And to justify that point, lets be clear, that I'm not just talking about harm in terms of wins/losses/match-ups, I'm talking about physical harm and the health of the team.
You see, winning your way into a tougher match-up is actually not my biggest gripe. I can get over that because, hey, at least we knocked the Braves out of the mix but the one thing that I can't get over is indelibly linked to the painful image of the final out of the season for the Phillies and Ryan Howard writhing in pain a few steps out of the batter's box. Given what we know now regarding the health (or lack thereof) of the Phillies team, as a whole, and knowing that there was absolutely nothing left to play for down the stretch besides an absolutely meaningless franchise win record and to crush the Braves, the question that I have is why were the starters trotted out there time and time again over the final weeks of the season? Why was Pence asked to play through a sports hernia and patellar tendinitis? He logged 26 plate appearances over the final seven games of the season (after they had already clinched home field advantage throughout the playoffs). Why was Placido Polanco asked to play through his sports hernia? He logged 25 plate appearances over the final seven games of the season. Why was Chase Utley playing in spite of his knee/hip issues and a concussion suffered on September 7th (he had one true day off after he returned from the concussion on September 15th). How about Ibanez, at 39 years old, logging 58 plate appearances over the final 16 games- a bit concerning, eh? And finally, asking Ryan Howard to play every day of the final meaningless week of the season in spite of his ailing foot/heel/achilles goes beyond explanation.
With regards to Howard, I'd like to set up the timeline here - he received a cortisone shot on Monday September 19th in his heel (ya know, the same heel that is attached to the achilles tendon that he ruptured) and sat out for the next five days. Upon returning to the lineup, he appeared in six games over the next five days (starting five of them) without a day off. I'm not a doctor but I think that it would have been prudent to give him a couple of off days in there to see how his heel/foot/achilles would respond in an off day.
Howard, like so many Philadelphia athletes, is a polarizing figure in Philadelphia- Phils fans either love him or hate him. Regardless of how you feel about the Big Piece, it is clear that the pain and discomfort that he reported feeling was real - the need to "calm it down," with a cortisone shot, as Amaro suggested in early September, should have been complimented with ample rest and an MRI before he blew the thing out... just a thought (and that's at a minimum - assuming the MRI would not have shown any tearing).
This is not hindsight... I brought all of this up as it was happening. Playing 162 games is a grind and, for professional baseball players, baseball is a job. I know how ineffective I would be at my job if I had to work for two weeks in a row without a day off. Off days down the stretch have got to be like snow days for middle schoolers - let's be honest, there are very few joys that rival the excitement we all got waking up on a cold January morning to a nice 3-6 inch coating of snow and mom telling us that we could sleep in a little longer.
So maybe the Phillies would have fallen short of the 102 franchise win mark had they rested their starters and maybe the bleeping Braves would have made the playoffs. Who knows, maybe it was only a matter of time before another team exposed the flaws that were there. But it's pretty obvious that the outcome we chose in beating the Braves has left everyone feeling unsatisfied and frustrated and therefore it was undoubtedly wrong and I have to blame someone or something. So I'm blaming the trainers and the lack of foresight by everyone involved in allowing Charlie Manuel to use his starters down the stretch in meaningless games. Maybe the extra rest wouldn't have mattered because, like Mc said, you never know when it comes to match-ups but judging by the end of the year injury report, I'd say that a little extra rest wouldn't have hurt.