We've finally reached the point in the season where calculating magic numbers and counting the postseason chickens isn't so much a jinx as it is an inevitability. With the summer behind us, we can focus our sights squarely on September, which is, at this point, one last stretch of road that the Phillies must traverse before they play in the fifth-straight postseason.
Because of that, the final stretch doesn't need to be nearly as taxing as it appears it could be. And now that the roster can be extended to 40 players, the regulars can get some much needed rest. Until that happens, though, it's business as usual for the best team in the game.
Let's recap some of what happened over the past month, and then take a gander to what the fates hold in store for the Phillies in September.
Huntering Season: On July 30th, the Phillies made their fifth big trade in recent history (Joe Blanton, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt), only this time, it was about the offense. Having been a sturdy fixture in the Houston Astros lineup for the last few years, Pence immediately had an impact on the Phillies in the five spot, and scored the winning run in extra innings in his second career game with The Fightins. Since the trade, Pence is hitting .327/.398/.570 with seven homers and 17 RBIs.
Whatever: To say that Cliff Lee has been good this season is understatement. Sure, he's been hot and cold at times, but when he's been on, he's been on. In August, the lefty had an ERA of 0.45 in five starts as he continued his dominance in his second tour with the club. In 39.2 innings pitched, he's fanned 39 batters, while walking eight. That's pretty good.
Ol' Filthy: When Ryan Madson went down at different times this season, the Phillies turned to Antonio Bastardo to close out games in the ninth inning. He certainly did not disappoint, as the 25-year-old reliever continued his breakout season into the month of August, where he posted a 1.47 ERA in 10.1 innings, where he struck out 14 while walking only three. Oh, and opponents hit just .194 off him in that span.
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With the National League Division Series on the horizon, the Phillies have got to finish things off with nary a day off between now and their final game of the season. In that time, they'll play 29 games in 27 days, starting with the series in Florida on Friday night. It's not the easiest way to go about ending the season, but it's what must be done before they look to get back to the World Series.
The good news is that they practically have a postseason spot all locked up. While stranger things have happened to teams with a 7.5 game lead (ahem 2007 Mets), it's not a very likely scenario that they miss the playoffs, provided that something catastrophic doesn't happen. So, for all intents and purposes, let's just assume they are in as division winners. As a result, they have the luxury to pace themselves as they get to the finish line. Here is what we can expect.
Rest, Please: It's a long season -- Charlie Manuel knows this. While most everyone is banged up in September, not every team can spell their starters like the Phillies can. Plan to see guys like Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Placido Polanco get some much needed rest over the final few weeks. Oh, and Jimmy Rollins? Let's say that his recent DL trip, which is expected to end next week, should be extended a bit longer -- just to be safe.
Complete Games? Who Needs 'Em? While it's fashionable and while it looks nice in the record books, the Phillies don't need to see their starters go the distance at all over the next month, unless they can do so without needing too many pitches to do it. With Roy Halladay, Lee and Cole Hamels all approaching 200 innings, the Phillies would be wise to pull them early and often over the last few regular season starts so as to save some bullets for the games that really count.
A Year For Records: With only 13 wins in their final 29 games, the Phillies will reach 100 wins for the third time in franchise history, and it's a safe bet that they'll get there. But, they'll need only 15 wins to set the all-time franchise wins record at 102. Both are quite attainable, so 2011 could be historical for more reasons than one.