October 9, 2010

The team to beat.

The 2010 Cincinnati Reds remind me of the 2007 Philadelphia Phillies.

Three years ago, sneaking into the playoffs was all that mattered. When Brett Myers struck out Wily Mo Pena to clinch the division, well, that was our World Series. The celebration afterward was epic; the games to come seemed irrelevant. It turned out they were, as the Phils were swept by the Colorado Rockies in the National League Division Series a few days layer.

In 2010, history, albeit reversed, seems to be repeating itself. I barely followed the Reds this year, so I can't tell you that winning the NL Central was their Mount Everest. But when a team records zero hits one game and commits four errors the next, they certainly don't look prepared for the intensity of playoff baseball.

In Jim Salisbury's game recap, he uses the word "experience" about eight thousand times. Charlie Manuel says it, Brad Lidge says it, everyone fucking says it. By the end of the story, you want to smash your computer screen.

But they're right. These Phillies really have seen it all, and they're showing a patience and unflappability that all good championship teams have in spades. The Reds might have offered them last night's game on a silver platter, but the Phils still had to take it. Shane Victorino still had to draw that bases-loaded walk. Chase Utley still had to beat out that fielder's choice at second. The bullpen still had to shut the door.

And they all did their jobs, because the Phillies have completed their transition from a fun, power-happy team to a methodical, winning team. They don't bludgeon you with homers anymore, they beat you with walks and defense and dominant starting pitching. It's very nerve-wracking to watch, but considering that they had the best record in baseball this year, it's damn effective.

Besides the joy they took in getting Mike Sweeney and Roy Halladay to the playoffs for the first time in their careers, the 2010 Phillies didn't seem all that jazzed about winning another NL East title. Even Halladay's no-hitter, amazing as it was, is already old news. Roy refused almost every media request, including a spot on David Letterman, because he wanted to "keep the focus on the team." You'd think he'd done this a dozen times already; the rest of his team actually has. That's why people keep saying the Phillies are the team to beat.

The Reds are a good team with a hell of an offense. If they can stay healthy, learn from their time in the playoffs and bring in a true ace, a Cliff Lee or a Zack Greinke, to go with Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez, they might end up being the team to beat in the National League.

Right now, however, they're no Phillies. These last two games have all but proven that.

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