by Steve Infanti
So Major League Baseball's version of the "Final Four" is underway and amazingly enough, it doesn't include the "Big Three" -- the Phillies, Yankees, and Red Sox. The three franchises have the highest payrolls in the game -- combining for a total of $535 million. But which team was the biggest disappointment this season? I say the Phillies. I understand the Red Sox had the worst September collapse in history to miss the postseason entirely. I understand the Yankees spend the most money and have that "World Series Or Bust" mentality, so getting eliminated in the first round for a second straight year is a "failure" as the team's president Randy Levine suggested the other day.
I just believe that given the expectations at the beginning of the season, no team was a bigger disappointment here in 2011 than the Philadelphia Phillies. They assembled a pitching staff that during spring training was considered not only the best in baseball, but maybe one of the best starting rotations of all-time. Their ace is a two-time Cy Young award winner and a three-time 20-game winner in Roy Halladay. They signed the top free agent pitcher last offseason in Cliff Lee who is another former Cy Young award winner as well as one of three pitchers in history to win his first seven postseason decisions. Then you have Cole Hamels, a former World Series MVP and Roy Oswalt who twice won 20 games in a season. Half of the teams in the league would love to just have one pitcher with those credentials -- the Phillies had four of 'em. How in the world did they get knocked out in the first round of the playoffs by the Cardinals? Lee gave up a four-run lead in Game 2, that started the slide. The big bats in the lineup then went silent -- namely Ryan Howard who hit just .105 in the series with six strikeouts. To cap it all off, Roy Halladay got out-pitched by his close friend Chris Carpenter in Game 5. Halladay was great allowing just one run, but Carpenter was even better tossing a complete-game three hitter.
On paper, the Phillies looked like the best team heading into the regular season -- and they were, winning a league-best 102 games. Heading into the playoffs, they still looked like the best team on paper. But that's why they play the games ... and that's why their early exit makes the Phillies the biggest disappointment of 2011.