Playoff Pulse: Phillies No Pushover

Playoff Pulse

Philadelphia captured its first NL pennant since 1993 Thursday night. The celebration is underway in the City of Brotherly Love, but so is the waiting game. The Rays and Red Sox still have some business to take care of in the American League, but no matter which team meets the Phillies in the World Series, they'll be the underdog.

That's largely a function of the AL's dominance in recent years. The junior circuit has won three of the last four World Series, compiling a 13-4 record over that span. The AL has dominated interleague play since 2004 as well, going 702-557 over the last five seasons for a .558 winning percentage.

Of course, that doesn't mean that the Phillies are dead in the water heading into the World Series. We know that anything can happen in a short series -- the 2006 Cardinals are living proof of that.

But there's reason beyond the random variance of a best-of-7 sample of games to think that Philadelphia has a very real shot to walk off with the World Series trophy at the end of the month.

For starters, the Phillies are not a red-hot team on a freak run as three of the last four NL pennant winners were. The Rockies finished with a historical flourish last September, the Cardinals won 83 games in 2006, but managed to win it all with a rotation featuring Jeff Weaver and Anthony Reyes, and the Astros were five games under .500 and behind eight teams in the wild-card race on July 1, 2005.

This Phillies club has been one of the best teams in the National League all season long, and they were particularly good over the last two months. They had the second best run differential in the senior circuit behind the Cubs, and the Red Sox were the only team in the AL to outscore their opponents by more runs.

They have the ingredients that sabermetricians and traditional analysts look for in a champion -- a good defense, a pitching staff that is much better than it appears because of the ballpark they call home and a shutdown closer in Brad Lidge. They even have an ace in Cole Hamels who is giving opposing hitters no quarter and one of the better lineups in baseball.

All of that doesn't mean the Phillies are going to knock off whichever AL East juggernaut winds up getting to the World Series. It doesn't even make it likely. But at least this time around, the American League champion will be getting the best shot of one of the top teams from the National League, not a team begging to be brought back down to Earth.

You can call the Phillies underdogs, but it'd be a mistake to underestimate them.

Yesterday's Hero: Jimmy Rollins, who set the tone from the first at-bat of the game. Honorable mention to Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard and Manny Ramirez.

Yesterday's Goat: Rafael Furcal, who booted away any chance the Dodgers had at mounting a comeback. Dishonorable mention to Chad Billingsley.

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