Phils eye right October formula
If pitching, hitting come together, look out NL
PHILADELPHIA -- They held first place intermittently, losing it and reclaiming it as necessary.The offense took a 10-week nap during the summer, squandering some stellar pitching performances. The bats returned at the right time, especially Ryan Howard, igniting a 17-8 September.
When leading after eight innings -- as was the case 78 times -- the Phillies won, thanks in large part to perfect closer Brad Lidge. So on Game 161, the Phillies found their way to their second postseason.Again, Philadelphia rallied to win the National League East, then fended off the Mets in the final weekend. The Phillies clinched on Saturday with a 4-3 win over the Nationals, granting them their second successive division title. "We earned this because we didn't take anything for granted," Lidge said. "We knew what we had to do every day and did it." Since the three-division system came into existence in 1994, the Braves had won the NL East every season until 2006, when the Mets won. The Phillies have now taken the last two. This is Philadelphia's 11th playoff appearance. The 2008 goal is to advance further, something they couldn't accomplish last season, when they encountered a red-hot Colorado team with more momentum. Three games after an exhilarating celebration, the Phillies were sent home. That won't suffice this time. It wasn't ideal last season, either, but that's how it happened. In earning their first postseason trip since 1993, Philadelphia was barely able to enjoy the taste. With the Rockies absent, Philadelphia must contend with an opponent looking for revenge. The Brewers stumbled badly in September, and temporarily coughed up the NL Wild Card lead. A four-game sweep at Citizens Bank Park from Sept. 11-14 cost them sole possession of the top spot in the Wild Card standings and manager Ned Yost his job. Left fielder Ryan Braun called that lost series, "a complete and total disaster." On the Phillies side, it was much different. "I believe in momentum," manager Charlie Manuel said. "Attitude, charisma, whatever you want to call it. We're playing well." "The pieces of the puzzle are starting to connect," Jayson Werth said. The Brewers recovered, fending off the Mets on the final weekend to recapture the Wild Card. Philadelphia opens at Citizens Bank Park, where the Phils went 48-33 and set a franchise record in attendance. The best-of-five NLDS begins on Wednesday at 3 p.m. ET on TBS with Cole Hamels tossing for Philadelphia. An offensive juggernaut last season, Philadelphia is too reliant on home runs and can have trouble scoring otherwise. This was evident in June through September, when the team scored three or fewer runs more frequently than desired. There is power potential with Howard, Pat Burrell, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins. The Phillies finished the regular season ranked first in the National League with 214 homers, 110 of which were hit at home. The Phillies will try to end a 28-year drought without a World Series championship and capture a second title. Success will be the first title for a major sports team in the city since 1983, when the 76ers won the NBA championship. Since there is no clear-cut offensive MVP on this team -- Utley and Burrell carried April while Howard owned September -- no one has been more consistent than Lidge and starters Hamels and Jamie Moyer, who won the clinching game. "They've been outstanding," Manuel said. "Pitching-wise, those guys have done a tremendous job. We wouldn't be where we are without them." Hamels posted an ERA a shade above 3.00, and Moyer won a team-high 16 games. Lidge saved 41-of-41, the only regular closer in baseball not to blow a save chance in 2008. After struggling in September, Howard was the driving force in the final month. The big first baseman didn't hit for a high average, but produced 48 homers and 146 RBIs, both league-leading totals. The big guy in hitting .352 with 11 homers and 32 RBIs in September. He can provide instant offense. "It's always nice who can give put you up 2-0 in the first inning, assuming we get somebody on base in front of him," Shane Victorino said. "He's fun to watch." Pitching hasn't been a problem. The club has relied on Hamels, Moyer, and, in the second half, Brett Myers. Joe Blanton pitched in after being acquired July 17 from Oakland, and J.A. Happ has contributed in place of Kyle Kendrick, who struggled in the second half. The bullpen remains the strength. After Lidge, Manuel can rely on Ryan Madson, Chad Durbin, J.C. Romero, Scott Eyre or Clay Condrey. All have gotten big outs all season. The Phillies bullpen finished with an NL-best 3.22 ERA. The Phillies have also received significant contributions from Jayson Werth, who wrested the starting right fielder job away from Geoff Jenkins and Greg Dobbs, a dangerous pinch-hitter who has also filled in at third. "You need all 25 guys on your roster," Dobbs said. "Our job is to contribute when called. Everyone on this team has been able to do that."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.