Things have been pretty easy for the Phillies this season. Even when things seemed to be their bleakest (like that one day they weren’t in first place), this season has been somewhat…anticlimactic. So far.
That’s not to say that the Phillies have not had their fair share of difficulty (remember that time they lost two games in a row? Those were truly dark days, indeed), but it’s safe to say that most of us have been an autopilot since the middle of July or so, thanks to the utter domination of this team. We're only waiting to flip the fandom switch from “yawnsies” to “geek out” when the playoffs arrive.
But before that can happen, the Phillies have one final hurdle -- 33 games in 31 days. It’s quite a mountain to climb, one that can be blamed on a hurricane and an earlier rain out, and one that will see to the Phillies not having another off day until September 29. One day after the season ends.
Call it a scheduling snafu by the brass at MLB, or call it the baseball gods needing to make this season just a wee bit harder on the Phillies, or call it baseball. Whatever the case may be, it’s happening and they need to deal with it.
The sprint to the finish line will pit the Phillies against the likes of the Reds, Braves, Marlins, Brewers, Astros, Cardinals, Nationals, and Mets. Of the final 10 series of the season, only four of them will come against better than average teams. Even still, the Phillies are in a wildly fortunate position and are extremely well-suited to deal with the grind of the next month, thanks to a six game lead in the division. Oh, and an all-but-guaranteed spot in the postseason. That’s not to say that they should or will get complacent, but it’s not like they have to claw their way to their fifth straight October.
It will be tiring and grueling and probably altogether unpleasant, but there is an upside to it, and that is the fact that teams can expand their rosters to 40 players come September 1. Not only will this grant the Phillies the opportunity to spell their regulars with fresh arms and bats from the minor leagues, but it also gives the front office a chance to see exactly what they have in their younger players -- some of which will be auditioning for next season’s club. Or some, if all goes well, a spot on the postseason roster.
While the 25 men who will determine the club’s playoff fate are all likely on the team as of this moment (barring injury, of course), you never quite know who will step up and impress over the last month. Another piece of the bullpen puzzle could be discovered in arms like Phillippe Aumont or Justin De Fratus, or the fabled left-handed bat could be discovered in the hands of Brandon Moss. Maybe one final bench piece/pinch hitter/pinch runner could be the ticket that Domonic Brown needs to get back to the postseason.
More than anything, though, the last games of the season should be focused on getting the team – starters, relievers, whoever – well-rested. If that means cutting back Roy Halladay’s pitch count by 10 or so pitches per outing, or sitting Chase Utley or Ryan Howard, then so be it. At this point, it’s about October.