Ex-Blue Jay Roy Halladay is a man with a mission.
And that mission won’t end until he’s hoisting the World Series trophy, something that I believe will happen this October.
The workhorse right-hander is the ace of a dominant Phillies rotation that also boasts 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels and two-time, 20-game winner Roy Oswalt. It’s this starting trio that will lead the Phillies past the Reds in their best-of-five National League Division Series (NLDS) match-up.
As a Canadian, I’m rooting for Etobicoke, Ont., native Joey Votto. The Reds power-hitting first basemen is the best hitter on a team that topped the National League in batting average, slugging percentage and home runs. On top of Votto, Jay Bruce, Drew Stubbs and Scott Rolen also hit at least 20 homers for the Reds this season, while second baseman Brandon Phillips and outfielder Jonny Gomes added 18 each. The upstart Reds are a young team, but Rolen and shortstop Orlando Cabrera do own World Series rings, and Dusty Baker has significant experience managing in October. The offense is clearly this team’s strength, but can these players produce against three of the National League’s best starters in baseball’s most hostile park (Citizens Bank Park)?
Though young and impressive, the Reds rotation doesn’t stack up to the Phillies. Edinson Volquez (4-3, 4.31 ERA), who was overpowering in his four September starts, will face Roy Halladay at Citizens Bank Park in Game One. There’s no question this will be the greatest challenge of the young right-hander’s career. Lanky right-hander, Bronson Arroyo, a 17-game winner who serves as a veteran presence on the Reds staff, will pitch Game Two, but owns a lofty 7.41 post-season ERA. Johnny Cueto, who won 12 games and posted a respectable 3.64 ERA this season, will start Game Three.
The Reds bullpen will boast talented arms like Homer Bailey, Travis Wood and Aroldis Chapman. Owner of a 105 mile-per-hour fastball, the left-handed Chapman could be a key in shutting down left-handed Phillies sluggers Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez. The Reds pen also includes reliable veterans Arthur Rhodes and Francisco Cordero.
But while the Reds staff is adequate, the Phillies rotation is one of the best in major league history. Halladay had 21 wins and led the league in innings pitched, shutouts and complete games this season and is hungry to pitch in his first post-season. Hamels won 12 games and posted a 3.06 ERA this season, and since being acquired from the Astros in July, Oswalt is 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA in 12 starts. On the off chance that any of their elite three falter, the Phils can call on Joe Blanton or Kyle Kendrick. In the pen, closer Brad Lidge has returned to form and is once again one of the game’s best closers, while Ryan Madson, Jose Contreras, Chad Durbin and J.C. Romero all represent reliable bullpen options.
With a 21-7 record in September, the Phillies are playing the best baseball of any of the teams heading into the post-season. Charlie Manuel should be a finalist for the National League Manager of the Year award for coaxing 97 wins out of a club that lost Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Placido Polanco to injuries for extended periods this season. Now that they’re all healthy the Phillies offensive core – Howard, Utley, Rollins, Ibanez, Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth – should be a potent force in these playoffs.
I wish Canadian Joey Votto much success this post-season, but, unfortunately, he’s up against what I consider to be the best team in this year’s playoffs. Any club with Halladay, Hamels and Oswalt at the top of their rotation should win handily. Prediction: Phillies in 4.