Monday, September 20, 2010
The Philadelphia Phillies have made another late-season surge in order to pass the Atlanta Braves in the National League East standings, stretching their own lead to three games.
The Phillies are preparing for another deep playoff run, but first they need to fend off the Braves for the division crown. It’s a big series as Atlanta comes to Citizens Bank Park for three games, hoping to cut into the lead and in a best case scenario make it all even once more.
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel has put his best effort to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Facing the Braves will be Philadelphia’s all-star trio of starting pitchers: Cole Hamels to open the series, Roy Halladay on Tuesday, and Roy Oswalt in the closing game.
If the Phillies can at least win the series, they will pick up an extra game in the standings. A sweep would put the Phillies up by six games with nine remaining.
It’s a tall order in front of the Braves. Not only have they gone on a slide of their own, the Phillies have won seven in a row and 11 of their previous 12. The surprisingly inconsistent offense has finally erupted, scoring 108 runs in 18 games in September.
And at a time when the team has been playing its best baseball, the pitchers taking the mound have been at their absolute best.
Hamels, who hopes to get the Phillies started off on the right foot, has allowed only one run in his previous 31 1/3 innings pitched, and has compiled an ERA of 1.79 in his past 13 starts. This recent stretch has lowered his season ERA to 3.01, just outside the top-10 in the National League.
Halladay, the hurler of a perfect game earlier in the season, has won his past three straight starts. He is the MLB leader in complete games. He owns a 2.49 ERA, his lowest total since 2005 and is good enough for third in the National League. He also has a career high in strikeouts (210), good enough for second in the NL, and has the most wins (19) in the NL and second-most in all of MLB.
Newly acquired Oswalt has been a fantastic pickup for Philadelphia. Since being acquired at the trade deadline, Oswalt has compiled a 7-1 record (the lone loss coming in his first start with the team) and a 1.94 ERA. His ERA over the entirety of the season is 2.90, putting him ninth in the NL.
While getting everyone healthy (starters Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Shane Victorino, Placido Polanco, Jimmy Rollins, and Carlos Ruiz have all seen stints on the DL) and getting the offense right have been big for the Phillies, the amazing pitching from the top of the rotation has been instrumental in Philadelphia’s latest pennant race.
For the upcoming series, not only does aligning the rotation as it is put the team in the best position possible to win its fourth consecutive division title, but it also is the best possible warm-up for October baseball.
Facing a playoff-caliber team (the Braves are currently the Wild Card leaders) the Phillies will line up their three best pitchers in a playoff atmosphere. The importance of the games is huge and the fans in Philadelphia will be loud and behind their team 100 percent.
The Phillies are once again playing their best baseball heading into the postseason, and their most valuable players over that stretch will look to keep the momentum rolling.
Roy Halladay: AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek
Cole Hamels: AP Photo/Lynne Sladky