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Phillies: With power and pitching, Philadelphia beat the wild-card Brewers three games to one in the first round to reach the NLCS for the first time since 1993. Hamels pitched eight shutout innings of two-hit ball in the opener, and the Phillies finished with a 2.31 ERA. Lidge closed out all three wins, earning two saves. Victorino was 5-for-14 (.357) with 3 doubles, 3 walks, 3 stolen bases and 5 RBIs. Werth went 5-for-16 (.313) with a homer, a triple and 3 doubles. Burrell broke out of a slump with 2 homers and 4 RBIs in Game 4. Howard was 2-for-11 (.182) with an RBI and 5 walks. Utley went 2-for-15 (.133) with 2 RBIs and 4 strikeouts.
... With 16 games left, manager Charlie Manuel's team trailed the Mets by 3 1/2 games in the NL East and were four games behind wild card-leading Milwaukee. For the second year in a row, they played their best down the stretch. A four-game sweep over the Brewers got the Phillies going and they won 12 of 15 to clinch their second straight division title on the next-to-last day. ... After being swept out of the first round by Colorado last year, the Phillies (92-70) weren't satisfied with simply reaching the postseason this time. Every player and coach emphasized during a slightly less subdued celebration following the division clincher that the only goal is to win it all. ... This is the Phillies' 11th postseason appearance in their 126-year history. They've won one World Series title (1980) and lost more games than any franchise in professional sports. ...
The 92 wins were the team's most since '93. ... A strong pitching staff carried the Phillies while a star-studded offense was often inconsistent. Lidge was 41-for-41 in save opportunities, making him worthy of MVP consideration. The rest of the bullpen also was solid and the top three in the rotation match up well with most. Hamels was an ace and Myers was dominant in the second half after a brief demotion to the minors in July. But the biggest surprise was the 45-year-old Moyer. His 16 wins tied Hall of Fame knuckleballer Phil Niekro for most by a pitcher that age. ... Howard led the majors in home runs and RBIs. He had another big September, making him a strong candidate to win the MVP award for the second time in three years. Utley tailed off considerably after an excellent April, hitting just 12 of his career-best 33 homers in the last 103 games. Rollins didn't come close to matching his MVP numbers from a year ago. ... Defensively, the Phillies are strong up the middle, particularly with Rollins and Victorino.
Fast Starts. Each team has a speedy shortstop batting leadoff who is coming off a strong division series. Back from injury, Furcal was 4-for-12 (.333) in the first round with 4 runs scored, 3 walks and 2 RBIs. Rollins went 6-for-16 (.375) against Milwaukee with 2 doubles and a leadoff homer in Game 4.
Manny Being Awesome. How will Philadelphia handle the sizzling Ramirez? The 12-time All-Star and 2004 World Series MVP went 8-for-13 with five RBIs in his first three games with the Dodgers, and that was just the beginning. He became a team leader almost immediately, adding life to a previously drab clubhouse, and he's hustled all the way.
Lights Out Lidge. That mammoth homer Lidge allowed to Albert Pujols in the 2005 NLCS is a distant memory. Lidge was perfect in his first season in Philadelphia, helping the Phillies go 79-0 when leading after eight innings. He had a 1.10 ERA in save situations and a 0.61 ERA in his last 15 appearances. While Howard is the fans' choice for MVP, Lidge was chosen the Phillies' most valuable player by the local chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
Young Gun or Old Hand? When laying out his rotation for the first round, Torre would only go through the first three games, with Lowe, Billingsley and Kuroda getting starts. They all delivered. The 42-year-old Maddux, eighth on the career wins list with 355, pitched in relief during Game 1 against the Cubs. The 20-year-old Kershaw won his last three decisions during the regular season, but Torre put him in the bullpen against Chicago and didn't use him. Kershaw could be a weapon in the NLCS, however, against Philadelphia's lefty sluggers: Utley and Howard.
The Flyin' Hawaiian. The underrated Victorino gets overlooked in a lineup filled with big names. But he's a spark plug who can turn a game around with his bat, glove or speed. The switch-hitting center fielder is excellent defensively and has one of the strongest arms in the majors. His grand slam off Milwaukee ace CC Sabathia in Game 2 sent the Phillies on their way.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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