Halladay’s first trip to the postseason was quite a memorable one, though it ended in bitter disappointment. The two-time Cy Young Award winner, his teammates and just about everyone else in Philadelphia expects the Phillies to win the World Series this time around.
“We were anxious in spring training,” Halladay said Friday. “I know you play 162 games and you get to this point. This is the fun part. We’re looking forward to it. Obviously, the ultimate goal is to win a World Series, but we’ve done a lot of great things this year, and we have a great team.
“I think to a man in that clubhouse, there’s not a guy who would tell you that he would not be disappointed if we didn’t win it all.”
The teams took different paths to get here.
Led by their Four Aces, the Phillies cruised to their fifth straight NL East title, winning a franchise-record and major league-best 102 games.
The Cardinals needed an incredible collapse by Atlanta and help from Philadelphia to earn the wild card. St. Louis trailed the Braves by 10 1/2 games on Aug. 25, but went 23-8 the rest of the way and got in after Game 162 when the Phillies completed a three-game sweep of Atlanta.
“They are very good,” Phils manager Charlie Manuel said. “They’re playing good, especially the last two or three weeks, and without a doubt, we’ve got our work cut out. Three out of five is a short series, and for us to be playing them at this time, we’ve got to play good baseball.”
Halladay also praised the Cardinals, calling them a “dangerous” team. But the big right-hander borrowed a line from William Shakespeare to make it clear he’s not intimidated by Albert Pujols(notes) or the rest of St. Louis’ potent offense.
“I heard a quote a long time ago: ‘I came here to bury Caesar, not praise him,”’ Halladay said. “I think it’s true. We’re all aware of how good the team is. We obviously have respect for what they’ve done and how they’ve played, but you have to be confident going in that you’re going to be able to beat them.”
Halladay got his first taste of the postseason last October after spending 12 years in Toronto looking up at the Yankees and Red Sox in the standings. His debut was one for the ages. Halladay threw the second no-hitter in postseason history in Philadelphia’s 4-0 victory over Cincinnati in Game 1 of the 2010 NLDS.
But Halladay lost to Tim Lincecum(notes) in the opener of the NL championship series and the Phillies were eliminated in six games by the San Francisco Giants, falling two wins short of a third consecutive pennant. That won’t be acceptable in this all-or-nothing season.
“I don’t really see a lot of the extra pressure,” Halladay said. “I think that everybody expects of us what we expect of ourselves.”
The Cardinals (90-72) won six of nine against Philadelphia during the season, with two of those wins coming right after the Phillies wrapped up the division.
Players from both teams realize that regular-season success doesn’t mean much in the playoffs.
“It’s not going to be the same,” Cardinals slugger Lance Berkman(notes) said. “A lot is going to be made of the fact that we played pretty well against the Phillies this year, but with the playoffs all around it’s a different story. We just have to come out and try to be the team that we’ve been over the last month this year. If we do, we have a chance.”
While oddsmakers list the Phillies as 3-1 favorites, the Cardinals don’t consider themselves underdogs.
“We’re facing a tough group over there that had the best record in baseball,” said Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter, who will start Game 2 on three days’ rest. “They’ve got some really good starting pitching, a tough park to play in with their fans, but we’re gonna give it our best effort and go ahead and get it. Anything can happen. I don’t think there’s a favorite anywhere.”
The Phillies enter the postseason with all of their regulars, and a new-look lineup that was 4-0 after an eight-game losing streak. Chase Utley(notes), the longtime No. 3 hitter, now bats second behind Jimmy Rollins(notes). Hunter Pence(notes), who will make his postseason debut, hits third ahead of Ryan Howard(notes). Shane Victorino(notes), Raul Ibanez(notes), Placido Polanco(notes) and Carlos Ruiz(notes) round out a lineup that has more balance top-to-bottom than any of the previous ones.
The Cardinals are banged up heading in, though it appears shortstop Rafael Furcal(notes) (hamstring) and left fielder Matt Holliday(notes) (hand) will be on the roster when it’s submitted to the league Saturday morning.
Other popular stories on Yahoo! Sports:
• D-Wade, LeBron James would rather miss games than compromise
• Rays are rewarded for faith in rookie pitcher
• Fans’ appalling treatment of female sportswriter
Blog Coverage from SB Nation
- In charge but too large, Giants' Pablo Sandoval tries to slim down
- Tigers closer Rodriguez says he contracted Zika virus
- Betts hits 3 HRs, has 5 RBIs as Red Sox beat Orioles 6-2
- Cain homers, drives in 4 as Royals top Rays 10-5
- Peavy almost perfect through 7 as Giants blank Braves 4-0
- Rockies tie franchise record with 7 homers, beat Reds 17-4