Phillies' starter Roy Halladay probably deserves the 2011 National League Cy Young award, and might just be the best pitcher in the Majors over the past three seasons.
But when the veteran right-hander takes the mound at Citizens Bank Ballpark on Friday night for Game Five of the National League Divisional Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Halladay will be looking to prove that he's just as valuable in the postseason as he is in the regular season.
After posting a 2.35 earned run average in over 233 innings in the regular season, Halladay took the hill in Game One and conceded a three-run homer to Lance Berkman in the first inning, and then proceeded to only give up one hit without a walk for the rest of the game, to get the win.
Including Game One, Halladay has a 2.75 ERA against the Cardinals this season.
Left-hand batters have hit a respectable.273 against Halladay this season, and the main left-handed bat for St. Louis is Berkman. Against Halladay, Berkman has gone 3-for-9, with two home runs. Against right-handers this season, Berkman batted .307, with 27 home runs.
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This is matchup that favors St. Louis, and when you face a star pitcher like Halladay, any advantage is a great deal of help. Should Berkman have a big game, the Cardinals could squeak out a victory, and advance to the National League Championship Series. But aside from Berkman, another player looms.
Two years ago, ESPN's Tim Kurkjian asked players what is the best pitcher-batter matchup in baseball. Roy Halladay against [Albert] Pujols, best against the best, said first baseman Aubrey Huff. Halladay is as good as I've seen other than Pedro [Martinez] in his heyday. He's not 96-97 [mph], he's not overpowering, but he's got that cutter, that sinker. He hits his spots and he never makes a mistake. He'll throw that cutter in, then throws a sinker away on the black. It's not fair.
Albert ... I'd just like to get inside of his head and know what he's thinking, what he's feeling. I saw he went 0-for-14 recently, then came out of it with two home runs. His slump lasts three days; mine lasts two weeks or three weeks. He adjusts pitch to pitch better than anyone.
Huff's comments apply today, as Halladay and Pujols arguably remain the two best players in the National League. The Cardinals slugger is having somewhat of an off year, as he's batting .299, which is considerably lower than his career average of .328. Pujols is a career 2-10 against Halladay,and doesn't have an extra base hit.
Perhaps Pujols is due to hit Halladay hard. Coupled with Berkman, the Cards' 1-2 punch in the middle of the order might be problematic for the Phillies.
Ther other starter is Chris Carpenter. The Cardinals' ace finished the regular season with a 3.45 earned run average. He got rocked in Game Two, as the right-hander gave up four earned runs in three innings, and will be looking to rebound.
But prior to that forgettable postseason game, Carpenter had dominated the Phillies more than he had any other team this season. In 15 innings, Carpenter gave up only one earned run, and one walk.
The Cardinals will need Carpenter to return to his regular season form if they expect to advance. He will be facing one of the best batting orders in baseball In one of Carpenter's successful starts against the Phllies, he didn't have to face slugger Ryan Howard and catcher Carlos Ruiz in the lineup. This time it will be the best batting order possible.
The Phillies' bats will be at their best at home. With the season on the line, a Phillies lineup that is solid at home will be tough to contain, especially since the arrival of outfielder Hunter Pence at the trade deadline.
It will be interesting to see which Carpenter shows up. Will it be the one who closed down the Philadelphia in the regular season, or the one who could only last three innings?
PREDICTION: Halladay is masterful, but Carpenter is strong after six innings. The Phillies get a late inning run to put the game out of reach, as the Cardinals pen can't contain Philadelphia's bats. Expect Pence and Chase Utley to have a strong game. South Street will be buzzing with the Phillies advancing to the NLCS.
PREDICTED SCORED: Phillies 4, Cardinals 1.