How the Phillies Can Win the World Series

Because it's never too early to start talking about next year

There can be little disputing the fact that all living, breathing organisms need water to survive. Yet after the Phillies’ stunning NLCS defeat, it became obvious that they must have more than just H2O.

It is tempting to spend the time immediately after such a disappointing conclusion spraying blame in all directions, and that’s what a lot of us did after Ryan Howard struck out to end game six and the Phils’ 2010 season. But with time comes perspective, and with perspective comes the realization that although things didn’t end the way fans wanted, ’10 was a fun, exciting ride. The Phillies accomplished a lot during the season and gave their 3.5 million fans plenty of reasons to cheer. Winning a fourth straight division title, posting the majors’ best record and winning a playoff series are accomplishments about which fans in some other cities can only dream. In a town that has often been all or nothing when it comes to its teams, it’s refreshing to see the way people have embraced the Phillies and realized that their success is rare and to be enjoyed. [SIGNUP]

The good news is that the core of the team is in place and ready to go when the Astros visit town to start the 2011 campaign. It has 16 players under contract, including its entire starting pitching staff and most of its position players. It’s folly to think the Phils won’t compete for the NL East title next year and be one of the National League’s best teams. Its manager, Charlie Manuel, is signed and ready to keep everybody loose and confident in the clubhouse while dazzling the rest of us with his homespun baseball wisdom. The stands will once again be packed, and team’s cash registers will be ringing merrily.

Amidst all of that happiness, confidence and good will, GM Ruben Amaro had better be adhered to a phone in his office, spending the next several weeks – and ensuing months – in an effort to fill some of the yawning holes the team has on its 2011 roster. While he’s at it, he might want to book Manuel some face time with Tony LaRussa, Joe Torre or even Bruce Bochy, the better to help the skipper understand how baseball is being played these days. There are many reasons for the Phillies’ NLCS collapse, but one of the biggest was its inability to manufacture runs at a time when that is at a premium, and the old-fashioned, bombs-away approach is a thing of the past.

If the Phillies are to be legitimate World Series contenders next year, they must do several things. First, they must commit to assembling a legitimate, fire-breathing bullpen, rather than constructing a relief staff out of spare parts, Rule 5 draftees and Danys Baez. In game six of the Giants series, San Francisco received seven innings of five-hit, no-run pitching from its ‘pen, which admittedly included Tim Lincecum for an inning. Bochy was able to dictate matchups with the depth of his staff and shut down the Phils many times with his relievers. In the post-season, when starters who normally go seven innings struggle to get through six, it is vital to have many options for the later innings. Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge were terrific for most of the season. They are not enough for ’11. Even if it costs some more money (the Phillies will devote a lot of wind during the off-season to reminding us that they have $135.35 million tied up for next year), the team must upgrade the area significantly.

The issue of righthanded power will be crucial also. It will be a Fatima-sized miracle if Jayson Werth re-signs with the Phils. He turned down their $10 million/year offer early on and then hired the Prince of Darkness as his agent. Expect the discussions between the Phils and Scott Boras to be quick and definitive. Werth wants five years and about $80 million. The Phillies won’t pay that. Good-bye, Teen Wolf. The Phillies will try to make fans see their point of view, that giving Werth all that money would put them in a precarious position for 2012 and beyond. The problem is that without Werth, the Phillies lose the prime long ball source from the right side of the plate. Werth hit 87 of the team’s 248 righthanded homers (35 percent) over the past three seasons. Replacing that won’t be easy in a market that doesn’t include a lot of powerful outfield options. The Phils could trade Jimmy Rollins or Joe Blanton to create salary space, but they aren’t signing Werth. He wants too many years and too much money. If you think a corner outfield grouping of ancient Raul Ibanez, Ben Francisco, John Mayberry and Domonic Brown is a recipe for long-term success, you need professional help.

Finally, the team needs to build a bench that can deliver in crucial situations. Yes, the team’s reserves, particularly Wilson Valdez and Brian Schneider, were invaluable during the injury-plagued regular season. But in the series against the Giants, Phillies’ pinch-hitters were 0-for-9 with a walk. Further, there was little speed coming off the bench, something that must be addressed at a time when finding ways to score runs, rather than waiting for the big fly, is more important than ever. A change in approach from Manuel would help in that regard, but you have to have personnel capable of implementing the strategy for it to be successful.

As fall bleeds into winter, and Amaro fills out the roster, we’ll see whether the lessons of the NLCS have resonated. It’s entirely appropriate to celebrate the Phillies’ past, but they had better look to the future, or the good times will fade away.


  • Good thing the NFC is a pile of mediocrity. Otherwise the 4-3 Eagles would be in trouble. But with no obvious powerhouse in the conference, the post-season remains a possibility, no matter how ugly Sunday’s loss at Tennessee was.
  • Everybody, sing together: “One, two, three, four, five, Sixers.” There hasn’t been this much anticipation for the start of an NBA season since Toby Kimball and Freddie Boyd were tearing it up. I’ll stand by my April forecast of 41 wins, but the confidence level isn’t so high.
  • The Union closed its season out of the post-season money, but by all accounts, it was a successful debut. Fans were energized, Sebastien Le Toux was marvelous, and the team showed some promise. Now, it’s time to upgrade the roster, particularly in regard to midfield depth.