Friday, September 24, 2010

Phillies separating themselves from rest of National League

By Chris Ruddick

Philadelphia, PA - One of my favorite things to remind people of is that the Major League Baseball season is a marathon and not a sprint.

Nowhere has that been more apparent than in Philadelphia. Back in July if I would have told some fans in Philly that their baseball team would not only be well on their way to a fourth consecutive division title, but also be the favorite to come out of the National League, they probably would have said I was crazy.

And who would have blamed them? Injuries had been a constant thorn in the side of the two-time defending National League champions, the team's offense was atrocious and after losing three of four in St. Louis, the Phillies found themselves seven games back of the Atlanta Braves in the National League East on July 22.

Perhaps it was just one of those years. More likely it was just too early to panic.

After salvaging the finale of that four-game set in St. Louis, the Phillies reeled off seven more wins and, oh by the way, traded for Roy Oswalt and pulled back within 2 1/2 games of first place in the division.

Oswalt's first start with the team actually ended the eight-game winning streak, but that has been the only hiccup on the right-hander's resume in his short time in Philadelphia, as he is 7-1 in his 11 starts with the team and has pitched to a 1.76 ERA following seven more scoreless innings in a no-decision on Wednesday.

He, along with Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels, have formed one of the more dominant pitching groups in recent memory. The trio, affectionately called H20 in the City of Brotherly Love, is lights out at the moment. Halladay has 20 wins and is headed towards a Cy Young Award, Hamels has given up two runs in his last five starts and Oswalt has allowed one run or less in five of his last six outings.

Not to mention they are all undefeated in September. And for those of you who can't figure out H20 ... Hamels, Halladay, Oswalt ... get it?

I have said for years that teams like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox stage 162-game exhibitions to get themselves ready for October. It appears the Phillies have now moved into that class.

By the way, before we pat Ruben Amaro on the back for the Oswalt move, let's remember he is Roy freaking Oswalt. It wasn't like he uncovered some diamond in the rough. Not to mention he never would have had to make a move if he just would have held on to Cliff Lee this past offseason.

Let's not rehash that nonsense now, though.

Anyway, as good as the pitching has been, the biggest reason why the Phillies are starting to resemble the team that has made October its home the last few years is that it has, for the most part, gotten healthy.

I know Bud Black is probably going to win the National League Manager of the Year Award for what the San Diego Padres have done this year, but where is the love for Charlie Manuel?

At different points of the season the team has been without the likes of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Shane Victorino, Placido Polanco, Carlos Ruiz, Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge. Not to mention Jimmy Rollins has served a couple of stints on the disabled list and is currently sidelined with a hamstring injury.

It would have been very easy for this team to roll over, but luckily when you throw Halladay, Hamels and now Oswalt out there every couple of days, you are going to win more often than not.

Bottom line is that even with Rollins out, the Phillies are firing on all cylinders at the moment. They have won 10 in a row and have a magic number of four to clinch the NL East heading into their weekend series with the New York Mets.

Plus, the Phils are going to finish with the best record in the National League, meaning of course, they will have home-field advantage for as long as they play in October. And yes that includes the World Series too thanks to the NL's win in this past July's Mid-Summer Classic.

If you want to be a Negative Ned I guess you can point to the fact that the pitching could blow up in the Phillies' faces in the playoffs. The thinking being that H20 is so out of their minds right now, there is no way they could keep this up for another month. Or you could point to the fact that Halladay's next postseason start will be his first.

I am sorry, though. If Halladay is the Phillies' biggest concern heading into the postseason, you are really reaching to find something wrong with this team.

The New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays have been the two best teams in baseball this season. The Phillies, though, may very well be the best team heading into October.

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