The Braves are a dogged bunch. I’ll give them that. They’d be all of two games out in the competitive AL East. They’ve compiled the 4th best record in the entire league, they’ve won 7 of 10, and have built a monstrous 8.5 game lead in the NL Wild Card race, but they still sit 6.5 games behind the Phillies. With 33 games remaining, it’s hardly an insurmountable number, but it seems unlikely they could run down the Phillies. And, even if the Phillies managed to somehow squander the division, they have that extra 8.5 game pad on the Wild Card. The Giants would have to win out to get to 102 wins. The Phils need just a 20-16 mark to hit that number. The point being, it’s likely the Phils will be looking at a playoff series, or two, or three come October. The team has been under the microscope all season, but it might finally be time to start taking a tiny peek toward October, and see what the obstacles are.
For much of the start of the season the obstacle was the offense. Were the Phils going to score enough runs to compliment what was shaping up to be a historically good pitching staff. At one point in May, after a stretch of nine games without scoring more than three runs that was capped with a shutout loss to Texas, the Phillies were averaging 3.73 runs a game through the first 46. In the 80 contests since then, the Phillies have averaged 4.93 runs, a pace that would put them atop the National League in runs scored if they maintained it all season. So, thanks to some timely additions and some better play, it appears the Phils can score enough runs. They’re no juggernaut, but in 2011 terms, they’re almost dangerous.
Clearly, the biggest concern right now is the health of the team. The day Placido Polanco comes off the DL, Jimmy Rollins goes on. The day after Cole Hamels makes the trip with a shoulder issue. Jose Contreras doesn’t look like he’s coming back. Are the Phillies going to be healthy enough to complete a run?
The Hamels injury is the most troubling. Even though he is already on the schedule to pitch in Cincinnati, you hear it is his shoulder and you get that uncomfortable feeling in the pit of your stomach. It’s better than an elbow, but I’d feel a lot better if he had turned an ankle. Improved offense or not, it’s likely any team that comes out of the NL will pitch their way to the crown. If we consider Roy Oswalt still on his way back, and factor in that Hamels has been at times the team’s most effective pitcher, it’s hard to imagine a successful post-season run without him on form. But, this is also a product of the times. In 2008 it was Hamels, Myers and Blanton. Now, we’re concerned that Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt will leave us shorthanded. Heal up, Cole.
Jimmy Rollins needs to get well also, because he leaves a pretty big hole in the lineup. If Jimmy had pulled up with a noticeable hobble about 20 times this year, I wouldn’t be too concerned with his groin injury, but it kind of feels like this was the nagging thing that finally put him over the top. The good news is Rollins will be motivated to come back, because every day he spends on the bench a little of that free agent treasure waves goodbye.
Assuming the Phillies do get healthy, what is the final concern? It’s got to be bullpen depth. This is where there could be some roster shake ups come October. Will Lidge show enough to stay around? How about Mike Stutes? His ERA has been on a steady climb since June. Is it possible Michael Schwimer could be effective enough in the coming weeks to earn a spot? And, how about Ryan Madson? Are there repercussions from giving up a walk-off grand slam? The Phillies probably won’t need a ton of help in the ‘pen, but they need some people out there Charlie can trust. I just hope that number is closer to five or six than two.
We’ve been spoiled with this Phillies season. Nit-picking all the way, complaining about a first place team. Now, we are finally getting close to seeing exactly how satisfying this year will be. Right now, it looks like a lot will depend on health and some bullpen youth.
Phils get the Mets again tonight, glad we’re getting the tremendous weather (earthquake aside), because really, who wants to go watch the Mets?