That the Phillies got eliminated early in the playoff process was a huge disappointment, but it should not have been shocking, or even particularly surprising.
It should have been recognized going in that the Cardinals were a dangerous team. This is a team that was hot going into the playoffs with lots of momentum, having come from way back to catch the Braves. St. Louis has three of the best hitters in baseball in Pujols, Berkman and Holliday as well as some key role players, particularly one of the best catchers in the game in Molina. Their relief pitching had been their prime weakness all year but their starters had been adequate. And when Chris Carpenter is healthy, he is one of the best in the game. Moreover, the Cardinals had taken the season series from Philadelphia so they had no reason to believe they didn't match up with the Phils.
The conventional wisdom was that it didn't matter whom the Phillies played in the first round. The home team's overwhelming starting pitching would trump all. But the conventional wisdom was probably misplaced. The Cardinals hit better than the Braves who have nothing to compare with St. Louis' Murderer's Row. Of course, the irony is that the Phillies were instrumental in helping the Cardinals pass the Braves on the last day of the season.
When Cliff Lee was re-acquired, the mantra all year was that the Phillies were pre-ordained for a World Series victory. Yes, they were the favorites and the 102 regular season wins seemed to confirm that. But in the past 20 years, the history of the Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees provides numerous examples of regular season dominance failing to translate into post-season gold. There are just too many vagaries in short series, particularly of the five game variety, to contribute to unpredictability.
As good as Halliday, Lee and Hamels are, they don't throw shutouts every night. And as Phillies' fans know too well, their team's offense has a tendency to shut down for long stretches. When Hunter Pence was acquired, it looked for a while that this might have been remedied but the last few weeks of the season punctured that balloon. Victorino's average fell 35 points in a few weeks, Utley finished with a batting average of .259 and Howard .251. Polanco appeared to be barely able to hold a bat in his hand. Utley and Rollins hit well in the playoffs, but it wasn't enough.
But the reality is, no matter how much Ruben Amaro wheels and deals, there is no sure-fire formula for post-season success.