Having the best record in baseball meant little in October for the Philadelphia Phillies.
The two-time defending National League champions came up short in a year where nothing less than a World Series title would be considered success. Heavy favorites to win their third straight pennant, the Phillies were eliminated in six games by the San Francisco Giants.
Their trio of aces – Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt – each lost a game, their sluggers slumped and their defense was shaky.
All that added up to an early exit.
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“I think shocked is pretty appropriate,” closer Brad Lidge said. “I just don’t think any of us saw this happening. I felt like we had the best team in baseball this year. It doesn’t always work out. Unfortunately, we just caught a team that seems to be doing everything right.”
The Phillies captured their fourth consecutive NL East title, led the majors in wins for the first time in franchise history and swept Cincinnati in the first round.
But a star-studded pitching staff couldn’t overcome silent bats against the surprising Giants. The blame falls on the offense, which was inconsistent throughout the season and almost nonexistent in the playoffs.
Scoring more runs might be even tougher next year if right fielder Jayson Werth doesn’t return. Werth is set to test free agency, and it’s likely that the Phillies won’t meet his asking price.
They have more than $143 million committed to 18 players. That’s more than the entire payroll for this season.
So the nucleus will be back, and the Phillies should be favorites to win another division title. But winning the World Series is all that matters for this group. A second title in three years would’ve justified talk of a dynasty. Now they’ll have to try for two championships in four years.
But losing Werth, the only right-handed power hitter in a lefty-heavy lineup, will hurt. Promising youngster Domonic Brown, another left-handed bat, could replace Werth or at least be part of a platoon.
The Phillies are going to need Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins to rebound from down seasons. Ryan Howard had a solid all-around year, but his power numbers were way down. Raul Ibañez, Placido Polanco and Shane Victorino also have to step up.
Howard, the NLCS MVP a year ago, didn’t have an RBI against the Giants. He ended the series by taking a called third strike with the tying run on second.
“It’s humbling,” Howard said. “It’s a little disappointing and a little embarrassing. I’m not going to lie. I’ve just got to do better next year.”
Oakland pitching coach Curt Young is leaving the club to pursue other options within the majors. Yankees lefty Damaso Marte had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his pitching shoulder.