Entering The Gauntlet

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During every baseball season, there is that stretch of games that every team has to go through in order to prove that they are a legitimate force to be reckoned with. It's a sort of crucible that serves as a way to separate the champions from the also-rans; the wheat from the chaff.

For the Phillies, that time is upon them. After taking care of the Padres, Astros and Cubs over the past week to move above .500 for only the second time this season, they are tasked with their hardest test to date: 23 games in 24 days, and all against tough teams.

It starts on Friday night, when the Phillies host the Boston Red Sox in a three-game interleauge matchup. From there, they host the Washington Nationals for three games, before heading on the road to take on the St. Louis Cardinals. They then face the New York Mets, before coming back home to take on the suddenly hot Miami Marlins and then the first place Los Angeles Dodgers. They will wrap up that stretch in Baltimore, where they take on the Orioles for three games.

And with the exception of the Red Sox, every one of those teams has a winning record, and three of them (Dodgers, Orioles, Cardinals) are leading their respective divisions. If that's not a true test of what this team is, I don't know what is.

But if the Phillies want to prove that they aren't a last place team, they'll have to do it against some of the toughest teams that the game has to offer. The Red Sox, despite their 18-20 record, aren't going to roll over for the strong starting pitching of the Phillies. The Nationals, who were leading the division a few days ago, have a chip on their shoulder thanks to Cole Hamels and his ill-advised baptism of Bryce Harper.

It only gets tougher, as the St. Louis Cardinals will provide a very tough challenge for the Phillies, thanks to the best offense in the National League, plus a pitching staff that isn't what you would call “hitter friendly.” From there, they visit New York to take on the Mets, who were last seen rallying in three straight games to sweep the Phillies at home.

The Miami Marlins? Oh, they've only won 14 out of their last 16. And the Phillies will be very lucky if the Dodgers are still without Matt Kemp, who, if not for Josh Hamilton, would be considered to be the greatest ballplayer alive.

If they are still breathing when all that is over, they need to visit Baltimore, where the first place (!) Orioles will be waiting for them. It's never easy, I tell ya.

And if the Phillies find themselves above .500 at the end of those hellish three weeks, then it's fair to say that they aren't going anywhere in 2012.

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