Eyeing repeat, Phils need to turn it on
Uncertain relief leaves defending champs vulnerable
PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies manager Charlie Manuel celebrated his team's third consecutive National League East championship in the same spot he celebrated its first World Series championship in 28 years last October.
In his office, away from the hoopla.
"This celebration is for them," Manuel said, referring to his players. "They're the ones who played. They're the ones who got it done. I'll celebrate when we get to the big one."
The Phillies have a chance to become the first National League team to win consecutive World Series since the 1975-76 Cincinnati Reds. They begin their title defense Wednesday with Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Colorado Rockies at Citizens Bank Park.
The Phillies finished the regular season leading the league in runs (820), doubles (312), home runs (224), total bases (2,493), RBIs (788) and slugging percentage (.447). They have six current and former All-Stars in the top six spots in their lineup: shortstop Jimmy Rollins, center fielder Shane Victorino, second baseman Chase Utley, first baseman Ryan Howard, right fielder Jayson Werth and left fielder Raul Ibanez. They have two former National League MVPs in Rollins and Howard. They have two former Cy Young Award winners in left-hander Cliff Lee and right-hander Pedro Martinez. They have one former World Series MVP in Cole Hamels.
The Phillies tied for second with a .987 fielding percentage. Their 76 errors were second fewest in the league. Their 4.15 ERA ranked sixth.
They also clinched the NL East with four games to play.
Easy year, right?
"This one was a little harder than people think," Manuel said. "We're a good team, but we had pitching problems all year. We had some holes. We were short in the bullpen all year."
Their 22 blown saves ranked sixth in the league. Those blown saves were spotlighted because Phillies closer Brad Lidge, who went 48-for-48 in save opportunities last season, including the postseason, blew a Major League-leading 11 saves this year. Setup man Ryan Madson, who closed on occasion, blew six.
The Phillies converted 66.7 percent of their save opportunities this season, which ranked seventh in the league. The Rockies fared much better. They rank third in the league at 73.8 percent.
The bullpen is the team's biggest concern entering the playoffs.
Can it do its job?
"I think we're going to be lining up pretty good," Lidge said. "We have a lot of options. Guys have been throwing good in a lot of different situations. Hopefully I can get out there and peak at the right time. I think we're looking good. I think we're going to be underrated to be honest."
"We have a lot of experience," Lidge said. "How we've pitched this season, we've blown a lot of saves collectively. I haven't done a great job, obviously. Once we get to the postseason, I think we're going to fall in line and do what we do. And when that happens, I like our bullpen as much as anybody."
The Phillies have other issues entering the postseason. Their starters struggled over the final two weeks of the season, and they have not hit the ball especially well down the stretch.
But Philadelphia has experience and it has the desire to leave a mark on the game as one of the best teams in baseball history. The Phillies can do that by repeating as World Series champions.
Their quest begins Wednesday.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.