Glancing around the internet and flipping TV channels the past few days, an uneducated fan (I guess we have to call him "Joe Fan," right?) may be duped into thinking the Tampa Bay Rays just won the championship. If you mentioned the World Series to him, he may simply ask, "didn't that Tampa team just win it?"
Um, no, they didn't. They did just win one of the most exciting playoff series in recent memory, but there is still business on the docket before Major League Baseball crowns its 2008 champion.
Should we really be ignoring a team that sports an unparalleled trio of superstar infielders in Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins? Rollins had an off-year, but he's coming off an MVP season. Howard is in MVP consideration this year, as he exploded in the second half and ended with 48 home runs and 146 RBI. Utley is easily the best offensive second baseman in the league, sporting a .915 OPS with 33 HR and 104 RBI in the regular season. Chase has been raking in the postseason, but Rollins has struggled and Howard hasn't shown any power ... and the Phillies have won seven of nine games. What if things change and Rollins and Howard start to deliver?
Oh, and the Phils have much more than just those three players. Shane Victorino sports speed, a power arm, and some sneaky-power at the plate. Pat Burrell is a fickle power hitter. He'll go through stretches where he rakes like an MVP, and then hit a cold spell average-wise, but the power never totally goes away. He ended the season with 33 homers and a .250 average (one point behind the much maligned Ryan Howard mark). It should be noted that right now Pat the Bat is in one of his hot streaks. In the playoffs thus far he's 9-30 (.300) with three home runs in seven RBI in nine games.
Jayson Werth has also gone through a breakout season of sorts, with his 24 homers and .861 OPS. He hit a dry-spell in the NLCS, but you can't count him out just yet. Pedro Feliz is also capable of some offense.
When it comes to pitching, the Phillies are headlined by two stars. Cole Hamels is a bonafide ace, and Brad Lidge was the best closer in baseball this year. Yes, he was better than the fraud that was KRod. Lidge still hasn't blown a save, so that's 46 perfect chances including the postseason. The bullpen in front of Lidge is among the best in the league, and the rest of the starting rotation has enough depth to win any series -- as they just illustrated in the NLCS.
In partnership with NBC Sports Philadelphia
Finally, you gotta love the good 'ol boy manager, Charlie Manuel, who wanted to fight a reporter last year. That alone makes this team worth your attention.
Don't forget about them just yet ... they have at least four games to start grabbing headlines.