Things To Love About The Phillies/Cardinals NLDS
One of the great aspects of having a League Divisional Series is the chance for storied divisional rivals to finally face each other in a final showdown for glory and honor. This is playing out in the NLDS this year, as two of the oldest franchises in professional sports – The St. Louis Cardinals and the Philadelphia Phillies - are locking horns for the first time in their long and illustrious histories.
The two clubs have battled to a 2-2 tie, with the fifth game set to decide the outcome tomorrow night. While the tension mounts and predictions fly, it’s nice to sit back and savor what we’ve seen thus far from these two great teams during this series.
RESPECT: Unlike many National League teams, the Cards and Phillies share a mutual respect. Both franchises honor the game and its integrity, resulting in an ongoing admiration for their opponents. It’s been a regular love-fest all week. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel has been praising the Cardinals’ resiliency and tenacity, while Tony LaRussa has expressed awe at the powerful construction of the Phillies roster. Even the players are getting into it, most recently in the mutual admiration shown between Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter (someone not known for heaping praise on an opponent).
This kind of Summer Of Love circle jerk is a far cry from the disrespectful and nasty altercations the Cardinals have experienced with the Milwaukee Brewers and the Cincinnati Reds in recent years. Unlike the Phillies, who have maintained themselves as one of the classier franchises in the National League, the Brewers and Reds mistake untucked shirts, cowardly head kicks, and tobacco tossing for gamesmanship.
Playing the Phillies in that kind of atmosphere has been refreshing for the game.
COMPETITIVENESS: As competing teams, the Phillies and the Cardinals represent the collision of matter and antimatter. The Phillies have one of the best rotations in baseball, but their offense often sputters and struggles to score runs. Meanwhile, the Cardinals have the National League’s best offense, but their pitching is spotty and constantly in danger of breaking down.
So far, the series has shown that, under duress, great teams rise up against their own weaknesses. Despite having a weaker offense , the Phillies have played an aggressive game at the plate and on the bases; they’ve also scored first in two games, something the Cards rarely allowed. Meanwhile, the Cardinal pitching staff, although still erratic, has mostly contained the Phillies offense, particularly the dangerous Ryan Howard.
TALENT: No matchup in the postseason this year will feature the kind of star power we’ve witnessed in this NLDS between these two clubs. This contest features the game’s greatest hitter (Albert Pujols), two of the best pitchers in baseball (Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee), two of the best lefthanders in baseball (Jaime Garcia and Cole Hamels), the best defensive catcher in a generation (Yadier Molina), and multiple All Stars, including Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Matt Holliday.
Still, many of the key moments in the series so far have not been decided by the superstars. For instance, Ben Francisco ripped a game-winning home run to take game three, while oft-injured newbie David Freese crushed a home run to put game four out of reach. For the Cardinals, their belittled bullpen came through with six brilliant innings to hold the Phillies in game two. These examples attest to the incredible depth present in both ballclubs.
GAME-CHANGING PLAYS: We’ve seen both teams go all out in this series in a desperate effort to eliminate each other, and it’s made for a terrific run of baseball. From Ryan Howard’s diving stop in the second inning of game one, to Marc Rzepczynski picking off Jimmy Rollins to preserve the lead in the second game, to Skip Schumaker and Rafael Furcal making incredible catches in game three, to Albert Pujols’ brilliant play to gun down Chase Utley at third in game four – this series has had a lot of heads-up, balls-out play.
Tomorrow night one of these two teams ends their season while the other advances down the yellow brick road leading to immortality. They are both worthy of the final prize. No matter which team loses tomorrow’s gut-wrenching series finale, they can be proud of how they played their season and represented the game. This has been a classy and competitive series between the two greatest teams in the National League, and there are no losers in this kind of contest.