Last night, the Phillies clinched their third straight division title. The question now before Charlie Manuel is whether the team should rest their starters and get the rotation set for the playoffs next week, or try to finish with the best record in the National League and get home field advantage for the NLCS?
As of now, they're only a half-game behind the Dodgers for the # 1 seed, and the Cardinals and a game and a half behind the Fightin's. As it stands now, they'll most likely face Colorado in the first round (even if the Dodgers finish with the best record in the league, they can't play the wild-card winner in the Division Series if it's a divisional rival), although they could face the Dodgers if Colorado was to come back and clinch the NL West, leaving the Dodgers as the wild-card team. They could also face the Dodgers if the Cardinals finish with a better record than the Phillies. The worst-case scenario would probably be going to LA for the first 2 games of a 5-game series, and run the risk of coming back home down 2-0, although the Dodgers don't pack the 1-2 punch that the Cardinals do with Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright.
For some teams, this can be a major factor in their postseason success. Since baseball doesn't have standard field dimensions and grouond rules like other sports do, you'll see teams tailored for their home park. While dominating on the road, teams like this tend to struggle, especially once you get into the postseason where you're facing strong opponents. However, this doesn't apply to the Phillies, who have the best road record in baseball (at 15 games over .500), and who were actually struggling at home earlier this season.
Obviously, Charlie's number-one priority at this point will be to get the rotation set for the playoffs, with the bullpen situation a very close second. Bringing Brad Lidge in last night to symbolically close the game was a nice move, but with a 7-run lead, it wasn't exactly a situation where the game was on the line. I haven't heard anything official, but I'm assuming that the first 3 spots in the rotation will be Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Joe Blanton, all of which are no-brainers. The fourth spot gets a little interesting. That spot is now occupied by J.A. Happ, who has without a doubt earned it. But that would leave Pedro Martinez as the odd man out. While Pedro broke into the majors as a reliever with the Dodgers, he was moved to the rotation in his second year, and hasn't pitched a major league game in relief since 1999. Happ started the season in the bullpen (although he should've been the fifth starter coming out of spring training instead of Chan Ho Park), and Charlie said last week that Happ might be sent back to the pen during the playoffs because of the problems they've been having due to injuries and ineffectiveness.
Brad Lidge? I don't think anything else needs to be said. There are people (including myself) who have been saying from Day 1 that his knee injury (his pushoff knee) has been affecting his velocity and location all season long, and that could still be the case. When handed the closer's role when Lidge went on the DL, Ryan Madson didn't live up to the task, although he's been better when called on in save situations during the stretch drive. Maybe he can perform fine in the role when called upon, but he can't handle being tagged as "the guy". Brett Myers, Scott Eyre, J.C. Romero, and Park have all been injured. My guess is that the Phils will wind up going with a bullpen by committee, with Charlie playing the hot hand and using relievers situationally.
And those were nice tributes that the Angels' players paid to Nick Adenhart, who was killed in an accident earlier this season, and the Phillies' players paid to the late, great Harry Kalas. Both teams had placed tributes to their fallen on their outfield walls, and the players went out and sprayed champagne and beer on the walls and paid their respects. Classy.