Can the Phillies Beat the Red Sox in October?

That's the only question that matters

It doesn’t matter whether I’m being interviewed by a radio station in Seattle or talking with Big John at the Acme, people get angry about my stance on the Phillies.

“How can you be upset when they have the best record in baseball?”

To some, mine a typically Philadelphia take on success. No matter how well things happen to be rolling along, we’re going to be upset about something. We can’t handle prosperity. We’re always grumpy. And all that.

It’s different with these Phillies, because a mid-June series with Seattle isn’t the focus, no matter how inept the offense looked during the three games. It doesn’t matter whether the Phils win 120 regular season games and turn the NL East into a pile of dust. It will be nice if Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels tie for the Cy Young Award with 20 wins apiece and microscopic ERAs. But none of it really matters. After the past two seasons, when the Phillies have lost a World Series and an NLCS, the entire season is about winning it all and nothing else.

That’s where the consternation comes in. This has nothing to do with Philadelphia and its history of worry and dissatisfaction. Everything this team does must be considered within the tight parameters of a championship run. Can the Phils win a World Series with corner outfielders who aren’t productive? Can a bullpen whose new linchpins –- Antonio Bastardo and Michael Stutes -– aren’t even a combined 50 years old stand up to the post-season crucible? Is Roy Oswalt fading?

These questions don’t seem so crucial when all you care about is that the Phillies have THE BEST RECORD IN BASEBALL. But when you’re wondering whether the team can beat the Red Sox in late October, they become extremely important. And that should be the way every fan looks at things. Sure, it’s fun to watch the Phils smack around the hapless Fish in a June series. That’s how you keep the ballpark packed, and the cash registers singing.

To ensure true fulfillment, there must be a championship. This franchise is not shooting for second place. It has invested a lot of money in a roster designed to win big, not just give fans a happy ride through the summer. That truth may not make the live-for-the-moment crowd too happy, but let’s remember how we felt last October, when Cody F—ing Ross and the Giants were celebrating a pennant on our turf. At that moment, it didn’t matter one bit that Halladay threw a perfect game against Florida and a playoff no-no against the Reds. All the fond memories of hot summer nights at the ballpark disappeared when Ryan Howard looked at strike three from The Beard.

That’s why I’m somewhat mystified when people get angry with me for saying the lineup needs a boost, and the bullpen could use an upgrade. If you feel this team is guaranteed to win it all, then by all means, enjoy yourselves night to night. Don’t let GM Ruben Amaro know that a right-handed bat with some pop would make the Phillies much more potent, especially against a Boston team that has already hit double figures four times this month and hung a nine spot as well. Don’t worry about whether Stutes and Bastardo -– though wonderful so far -– might not be able to replicate their great performances once the playoffs begin.

Boston comes to town in eight days, and Phillies fans will get a great chance to see how their heroes stack up, along with expressing their disdain for locals who have adopted the Sawx as their “second team” and will be wearing the Carmine Hose’s colors to CBP. There is no guarantee Boston will win the American League, especially since the Yankees are right behind them in the standings. But the Sawx are the AL measuring stick right now, and the Phillies could well see them in October. Relying exclusively on Halladay, Lee and Hamels against a team with that kind of nasty firepower is a dangerous proposition.

By all means enjoy the daily success the Phillies achieve. Cheer loudly when opponents are dispatched with a brutal efficiency that only talented, veteran ballclubs can produce. But be careful not to lose sight of what really matters this season, and that’s a World Series title. Last off-season, the Phils muted our grief by signing Lee, the baseball equivalent of going shopping to cure mild depression. We can’t count on the team to buy us presents every time it falls short of the ultimate goal. If the team doesn’t get it done this fall, it’s going to hurt and hurt bad. Believe me, you don’t want that. The Phils are great, but they could be greater.

If you want to win a championship, that’s all that matters.


* Don’t get too excited about an end to the NFL lockout just yet. A strong cadre of owners still wants blood, and convincing it to compromise won’t be easy. We have more hope than before, but it’s still going to take some time.

* The Sixers need a big man, and it would be great if Markieff Morris is available at number 16 Thursday night. Here’s what an NBA GM had to say about him: “He has a higher ceiling than his brother [Marcus]. He’s a very good athlete who rebounds and blocks shots. His jumper is improving.” Sounds good. Let’s hope he’s still there.

* R.I.P. Clarence Clemons. The Big Man was the backbone of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. His horn lifted audiences, and his friendship with Bruce was inspiring. Clarence plays with the angels now.