The Makings of a Little Red Machine

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

The Cincinnati Reds from the 1970’s were christened with the name ‘Big Red Machine’ as they systematically destroyed the National League during a decade which they reached the NLCS 6 times and the World Series 4 times, winning twice. Coincidentally, those two championships came during the back-to-back seasons of 1975-1976. After their convincing 5 game series with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Phillies are looking to become the first National League team since the ‘Big Red Machine’ to repeat as champions. In their own way, they’re trying to establish their own ‘Red Machine’.

The Phillies have built their success on developing players and acquiring the right talent that meshes well with their team. Since 2001, the Phillies have had just one losing season, which happened in 2002 when the team went 80-81. Since then, they have won at least 86 games each season. In 2008 and again this year the Phillies won 90+ games. Their lineup is littered with homegrown talent and key free agent pickups;

Their catcher, Carlos Ruiz, was signed as a free agent in 1998 and spent 7 years in the minor leagues before breaking into the everyday lineup.

Ryan Howard, the hulking first baseman, was drafted in the 5th round in 2001 and has since won the 2005 Rookie of the Year award, the 2006 MVP award and most recently the 2009 NLCS MVP award.

Second baseman Chase Utley was drafted in the first round of the 2000 draft and established himself as an everyday player and perennial All-Star by2006.

Jimmy Rollins was drafted by the Phillies in the second round in 1996 and made his mark in his first full season in 2001 when he swiped 46 bases, was made an All-Star and challenged Albert Pujols and Roy Oswalt for Rookie of The Year honors. Rollins won the NL MVP award in 2007 along with his first of 2 Gold Glove awards.

The Phillies leftfielder, Raul Ibanez, spent much of his career with the Seattle Mariners and was 2 years removed from his 30+ HR seasons when the Phillies signed him as a free agent before the 2009 season. He responded to switching leagues for the first time by cranking a career high 34 home runs.

Speedy centerfielder Shane Victorino was twice left exposed during the Rule 5 draft, to the benefit of the Phillies. First drafted by the Padres from the Dodgers in the 2002 Rule 5 draft, he was returned to the Dodgers in May of 2003. Victorino was again left exposed during the 2004 draft and the Phillies picked up their centerfielder who has been an All-Star and Gold Glove winner while swiping over 100 bases for the team in 5 seasons.

Phillies rightfielder Jayson Werth was traded twice before the age of 28 when he became a free agent. The Phillies signed him, and he had a breakout year in 2008 with 24 home runs to go along with 20 stolen bases, with an equally impressive 2009 campaign with 36 home runs and 20 stolen bases that earned him his first All-Star appearance.

Even the Phillies pitching is in part a result of drafting choices.

Cole Hamels was drafted by the Phillies in the 1st round of the 2002 draft, establishing himself in the rotation by 2007 when he led the team in wins, ERA and ERA+.

J.A. Happ was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2004 draft, and had two brief stints with the big league club in 2007 and 2008. This season he emerged as a solid compliment to Cole Hamels in the rotation.

The mid-season acquisition of Cliff Lee helped provide the Phillies with a formidable 1-2-3 punch down the stretch. In 12 regular season starts Lee went 7-3, with 3 complete games including a shutout against the Washington Nationals in September.

At the All-Star break, future Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez was still sitting on the sidelines, waiting for a call to pitch in the 2009 season. On August 12th, Pedro made his first start with the Phillies, a good effort 5 innings of work versus the Chicago Cubs. In 9 starts, he went 5-1 with a 3.63 ERA. In his one postseason start this season, he held the Dodgers to 2 hits in 7 shutout innings.

The Reds of the 70’s had Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Joe Morgan, Dave Concepcion, and Ken Griffey to go along with Gary Nolan, Jack Billingham, and Don Gullet as they ran the table in 1975 and 1976. The Phillies collection of Utley, Howard, Rollins, Werth, and Ibanez to go along with Hamels, Lee, Happ, and Martinez may very well be the first team to give the National League back-to-back World Series champions since the Big Red Machine.

As the Phillies prepare to face either the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim or the New York Yankees, they may want to look to Pete Rose from the Big Red Machine and member of the 1980 World Champion Phillies for quotable motivation.

“Somebody’s gotta win and somebody’s gotta lose and I believe in letting the other guy lose.” – Pete Rose

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