If you've been paying attention to baseball at all this season, you know that the Phillies have been ridiculously hot of late -- despite the weekend layoff for Irene.
They are 27-12 since the All-Star break -- that ormally put them so far ahead of the pack that you'd need a telescope just to see the closest competition. This isn't a normal season for the National League, however.
The Braves were just 6.5 games back of the Phillies entering play Tuesday because they have kept pace with a 25-16 record over the same period of time. The Braves have won 16 of their last 22 games to all but cement their invitation to the postseason (as the wild card) and keep alive flickering hopes that they can steal the division. Barring a Phillie collapse, that's highly unlikely but the mere fact that it is possible tells you how well the Braves have played this year.
The same is true of the Brewers. The NL Central race is essentially over because Milwaukee has been even hotter than the two NL East clubs -- 32-11 since the break. They are 275 since they last lost twice way back in mid-July to pull way ahead of any divisional competition and keep themselves in shouting distance (5.5 games) of the Phillies for homefield through the NL playoffs. Getting it is just as unlikely as the Braves pulling out the division, but, again, the mere fact that it is possible speaks volumes.
We can't know just how things will play out over the final weeks of the season, but we can make a guess about what it means to have three teams playing such good baseball at this late date in the year. And that guess is that the NL Playoffs are going to be worth the price of admission.
All three of the frontrunners have a mix of good starting pitching, shutdown bullpens and potent offenses to bring to the table. If the Giants should make it past the Diamondbacks in the NL West, you'll get another terrific pitching staff to add to the mix. That should mean great baseball everywhere you look and close matchups that make most predictions little more than an educated hunch.
Best of all, the Phillies will likely only have to play either the Braves or Brewers to make it through the National League. The Diamondbacks or Giants won't be a pushover, but they each have more flaws than the Brewers and Braves have combined.
That said, it isn't going to be an easy ride. The Phillies can't sleep on any of their NL foes because all of them could figure out a way to steal a short series. While you might prefer an easy stroll to the World Series, it's hard to complain too much about a month of thrilling baseball especially when those Phillies have proven themselves to be the best team of the bunch.