One season after getting swept in their first playoff series in 14 years, the Philadelphia Phillies are one win away from being on the other end of an NL division series sweep.
That’s likely little consolation for the Milwaukee Brewers, who are on the brink of elimination in their first postseason appearance since 1982.
The Phillies look to complete a sweep and advance to the NLCS on Saturday night when they visit the Brewers, who are still looking for their first playoff victory in nearly 26 years.
Philadelphia ended a 13-year playoff drought by rallying to win the NL East title in 2007, only to lose three straight playoff games to eventual NL champion Colorado.
The Phillies have looked determined to get the bad taste of last year’s playoffs out of their mouths this year. After a dominant pitching performance from Cole Hamels led them to a 3-1 victory in Game 1 Wednesday, Shane Victorino hit a second-inning grand slam off Milwaukee ace CC Sabathia in a 5-2 win Thursday.
The first grand slam of Victorino’s career was also the first postseason grand slam in Phillies history. The speedy switch-hitter was batting in the No. 2 hole after hitting sixth in Game 1, and gave credit to manager Charlie Manuel for mixing up the lineup.
“I never question what he does,” Victorino said. “Obviously it works. He’s not our manager for no reason, took us to two pennants for no reason. … I think Charlie’s done a great job and it might just be a coincidence, but it worked out for us tonight.”
Manuel has the Phillies on the verge of their first playoff series win since they beat Atlanta in the 1993 NLCS before losing to Toronto in the World Series.
If history is any indication, Philadelphia has a very good shot at closing out this series. All four teams that have come back from 0-2 deficits to win division series since baseball introduced its current wild-card format in 1995 were AL clubs, while all 16 teams that have been down 0-2 in NL division series have gone on to lose - 13 in sweeps.
Still, the Phillies insist they’re not taking anything for granted.
“None of us are thinking about the numbers,” closer Brad Lidge told the Phillies’ official Web site. “We’re thinking about winning Game 3. Our goal is to go to Milwaukee and take care of things as quick as possible.”
The Brewers are just as willing to overlook the long odds of a potential comeback in the series. To accomplish the feat, though, they’ll likely need to improve at the plate. Milwaukee, which won six of its last seven regular-season games to capture the wild card and its first playoff berth since 1982, has three runs and seven hits in the first two games of the postseason.
“Well obviously we’ve got to swing the bats a little better than we have,” said interim manager Dale Sveum, who took over the club after Ned Yost was fired Sept. 16. “And it’s not a mystery. We haven’t really swung the bats that well for the last month. We’ve had some big home runs to get us to this point. But on a whole, we’re still not getting enough men on base to do a lot of damage. So we’ve really got to get home and figure the bats out.”
The struggles of slugger Prince Fielder are particularly conspicuous. After batting .391 over his last 18 regular-season games, Fielder is 0-for-7 with three strikeouts and a walk in the playoffs.
“Right now, I’m kind of garbage, but hopefully I can pick it up,” Fielder told the Brewers’ official Web site. “I haven’t been able to do much of anything. This is not frustration talking. This is just fact. We can’t afford me not doing my job a little better. That’s the bottom line.”
Sveum was less critical of Fielder, who hit .276 with 34 homers and 102 RBIs in the regular season.
“Prince was hotter than blazes for two weeks, and now he’s cooled off a bit,” he said. “But Prince can turn it on just like that, and obviously, he knows that we’re going to need that when we get home.”
Fielder, a .239 hitter against left-handers this season, is 2-for-8 with a home run in his career against left-handed Philadelphia starter Jamie Moyer (16-7, 3.71 ERA), who’s 9-5 with a 3.63 ERA in 22 games - 17 starts - against the Brewers.
Moyer’s 3-1 with a 2.43 ERA in five career playoff starts. In his only postseason outing since 2001, he held Colorado to one run and five hits in six innings of Philadelphia’s 2-1 series-ending loss last Oct. 6.
Moyer will match up against Dave Bush (9-10, 4.18), who’s making his first career postseason start. The right-hander is 0-0 with a 5.88 ERA in six starts against the Phillies.
Bush was 6-4 with a 3.50 ERA this season at Miller Park, where Milwaukee is hoping to build on a 49-32 regular-season finish - second-best in the NL. The Phillies, though, aren’t planning on letting up just because they’ve built a 2-0 lead in the series.
“Our mindset can’t change,” reliever J.C. Romero said. “The series isn’t over. We have to go to Milwaukee and end the series. This is like a boxing match. Once you have your opponent on their knees, you don’t want them to get back up.”