The Phillies’ air-tight rotation, strongly considered the best of the Charlie Manuel regime, and a calm, cool, collected clubhouse give the Phillies a good chance to wrap it up early. Atlanta will try to intervene.
One of my favorite games of the last few seasons was the Sunday after the Phillies’ clinched the division in 2008, making the season’s final game numerically meaningless, yet meaningful and satisfying for fans who, less than 24 hours earlier, were sitting on the edge of their seats. With an eight-game edge in the loss column, the Phils have never looked more like a playoff team, and it’s not because they’ve been playing their very best brand of baseball. Overall, they’ve had a serviceable September, which was all the reigning champions knew they needed. They even squeezed in a four-game vacation in Houston.
There’s no urgency to overexert, yet I suspect this series with the Braves will take on a different tone and would be disappointed if the Phillies came out flat. Atlanta is the hottest team in baseball, winners of seven in a row. Brian McCann says this is the best they’ve played since he’s been there. An incredibly balanced, efficient lineup and starting rotation are two reasons why. Besides Bobby Cox and Chipper Jones, who is less of a factor these days, it’s a completely different regime from the team that won 14-consecutive division titles.
If putting the pennant race out of sight and out of mind wasn’t motivation enough, the Phils could tap their inner sadist, stepping on their rivals’ throats in front of their home crowd, just as they were breathing new life.