(Sports Network) – The Philadelphia Phillies’ charge towards a third straight National League pennant begins this evening when they open the NLDS against the Cincinnati Reds at Citizens Bank Park.
The Phillies, who are vying to become the first NL team to reach the World Series in three straight years since the 1942-44 St. Louis Cardinals, enter the postseason on the heels of their fourth straight National League East title.
Philadelphia overcame a ton of injuries in its lineup this season to post 97 wins, as it finished with the best record in major league baseball for the first time in franchise history.
A big reason behind the team’s success is the man who will be taking the ball for them tonight; NL Cy Young Award front-runner Roy Halladay, who will be making his first-ever postseason appearance.
“It’s definitely something I’ve thought about a lot, but, you know, I think since we’ve got ourselves into the playoffs, it’s been more of a preparation mode than anything, and that’s been great for me,” said Halladay of his first playoff start.
After 12 years in Toronto, Halladay was traded to the Phillies this past offseason and has been nothing short of brilliant. The talented right-hander exceeded expectations, as he tossed a perfect game on May 29 and finished with a 21-10 mark to go along with a 2.44 ERA. He also led the majors in complete games (nine), shutouts (four) and innings (250 2/3).
“I think he’s starving, all right,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "He’s intense and he wants it. I mean, he wants it. This guy’s for real. He loves the game and he wants to be on a winner. He wants a ring. I think he’s going to give everything he’s got.
Halladay faced the Reds twice this season. He gave up four runs and 13 hits in a loss in the first meeting, before scattering five hits in nine scoreless innings of a no-decision back on July 10.
“I’m going to give up hits at times. That’s part of who I am,” Halladay added. “I think if I can control that to a certain extent and control the damage of it, I think that is a big factor. So yeah, I’m going to continue to be aggressive, continue to challenge guys, but I’m going to try to do it on my pitches, get quick outs, get outs on quality pitches, and I think that’s the biggest the biggest difference.”
Philadelphia’s vaunted lineup went through its share of ups and downs in the regular season for sure. All the big sluggers — Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins — spent time on the disabled list, and Jayson Werth, playing in the final year on his contract, trailed off on several occasions. The team, however, still scored the second most runs in the NL at 772.
When the Phillies look across the field Wednesday night at Cincinnati they might see a glimpse of themselves from the 2007 campaign. That fresh-faced squad ended more than a decade of not winning a division title and seemed ecstatic just to be there. Philadelphia was swept in the first round of the playoffs and used that experience to win it all in 2008. A loss to the New York Yankees in the 2009 World Series is something the Phillies are trying to forget this time around, though.
The Reds know what it feels like to overcome pressure and are in the postseason for the first time since 1995. They battled St. Louis almost the entire season for NL Central supremacy and now face an even tougher challenge with the Phillies.
Cincinnati may be short on playoff experience, but showed a lot of heart and confidence this past season. MVP candidate Joey Votto was clutch and led the Senior Circuit in slugging percentage at .600, finished second in batting with a .324 average, was third in homers with 37 and third with 113 runs batted in. Votto’s season was incredible and Cincinnati will be counting on the first baseman to come through this fall.
Votto’s terrific campaign helped the Reds lead the National League in average (.272), runs scored (790), RBI (761), home runs (188) and slugging percentage (.436).
Getting caught up in the moment is probably what killed Philadelphia’s buzz back in 2007. Cincy is counting on Edinson Volquez to keep the momentum going when he takes the ball for Game 1 against Halladay only a year removed from Tommy John surgery.
Volquez, a right-hander, said he’ll be ready for the noise and deafening shouts from the crowd because he’s been through it before in the Dominican Republic. Volquez, who won 17 games and made the All-Star team during his breakout 2008 season, returned after the All-Star break and went 4-3 in 12 starts.
Volquez, who also had to serve a 50-game suspension for performance enhancing drugs earlier in the year, beat out Bronson Arroyo and Johnny Cueto for the top spot.
“[Johnny] Cueto has been pitching the whole year and has done good, Bronson Arroyo, too, and [Travis] Wood and Homer Bailey,” Volquez said. “I will do my best. We’re trying to win the first game because it’s very important.”
After winning two of three meetings with the Phillies at Great American Ball Park from June 28-30, the Reds were swept in four games at Citizens Bank Park more than a week later from July 8-11. Cincinnati has not scored in 20 innings at Philly and has not won in six games there dating back to 2009.