Most teams in baseball are entering one of the toughest times of the season. After the grueling and hot summer months the calendar turns to September but most division races heat up. This is the time of year where most teams both step up and clinch a playoff spot or falter like the 2007 Mets. But luckily for the Phillies, most of their regular season business is almost complete. As of today their magic number to clinch a playoff spot is 2, the magic number to clinch the division is down to 6 and the magic number for home field in the playoffs is just 8. It is never a good thing to take things for granted, especially in the game of baseball but the Phillies are just about as close as you can be without already clinching.
The success of the 2011 Phillies has been staggering. Without a little less than 3 weeks left in the season, the Phillies are sitting at 94 wins! When they won the division in 2007, they won just 89 and last season they had the best record in baseball but had “just” 97 wins. They would need to finish with just an 8-11 record to finish the regular season with the most wins in franchise history. That would put them just one game ahead of the 1976 and 1977 Phillies teams that went 101-61. But both of those teams failed to win the World Series and in the end anything short of a World Series Championships would be seen as a failure.
Right now the Phillies have the tough task of trying to stay focused during the final 19 games. Charlie will have to try to find a nice mix between giving the veteran players some much needed rest and trying to keep their key players sharp. Even after they clinch home field, I would be shocked to see Charlie start giving players multiple games off in a row. I think he will continue to do what he has been doing over the last week. I see him giving some players a game off here and there while still putting a very competitive lineup out there. During the Brewers series he was able to give Ryan Howard a chance to rest his sore heel and I would expect him to see very few at bats against left hander starters for the next few weeks. I think he will start taking a similar approach with the rest of his starters when they finally clinch.
Despite resting Howard for 2 of the 4 games and being without Rollins and Utley in all four games, they were still able to take 3 of the 4 games against one of the better teams in the National League. The Phillies have become the barometer for the rest of the NL, as other teams compare themselves to the Phillies when determining how good they are. If you would have said this to any baseball fan 10 years ago, they would have laughed right in your face.
The Phillies came into Milwaukee treating it like any other series but the Brew Crew entered the series trying to make a statement to the Phillies and the rest of baseball that they are a real threat this season. But they were only able to squeak by with one win that needed a 7th inning rally to overtake the Phils. You would have thought Nyjer Morgan just had the World Series clinching hit as he raised his hands at 2nd after his go ahead double in the 7th. Apparently taking one of 4 games at home is now viewed as a success.
“We realize we can play with them,” Brewers RF Cory Hart. “It’ll prepare us for later on.”
The race for the best record in the National League is basically over and now the Brewers and Diamondbacks are racing to see who doesn’t have to play the Phillies in the division round. The Brewers might try to take something away from this series and try to convince themselves that they can play with this team. While there is a chance they could clinch home field without winning another game, they still have to continue to play good baseball and have some momentum as they enter the postseason. the only team in the National League that can beat the Phillies in a series is the Phillies. If the Phillies play the way they can, they shouldn’t have any trouble reaching the World Series.
Tonight they enter a 3 game series with the worst team in baseball, but even the Astros can win games if you lose your focus. The Phillies will face former teammates in 2 of the 3 games as Houston will send Brett Myers and J.A. Happ to the hill. Now with just 19 games remaining the Charlie Manuel will have to do his best to keep this veteran team focused. While there is a chance they could clinch home field without winning another game, they still have to continue to play good baseball and have some momentum as they enter the postseason.