After clinching their fourth straight division title, the Philadelphia Phillies have established themselves as the team to beat in the National League.
Despite sitting in second place when September began, the Phillies continued to chop away at Atlanta's lead in the NL East and overtook them on the 7th of the month. Once they stood atop the division, Philly wasted no time in putting away the fading Braves, pushing their lead to seven games within 15 days of taking control of first place.
Even though they had six of their eight starters on offense hit the disabled list at some point this year, Charlie Manuel's group relied on starting pitching to bide their time until their lineup could get healthy.
With Cy Young candidate Roy Halladay (21-7, 2.44 ERA) on the mound, the Phillies clinched the NL East title in Washington last night with an 8-0 victory. A fitting end to a roller coaster season, which has seen the rotation dominate opponents since the All-Star break. In September, the starters were especially instrumental in helping Philly finish out the season on a 19-5 tun that included an 8-1 road record.
When you include fellow ace Roy Oswalt, who has gone 7-1 with a 1.76 ERA in his 11 starts since being traded for on July 29th, Philadelphia remains almost unbeatable in a five-game series.
Along with Oswalt and Halladay, Cole Hamels has rediscovered the success that saw him win the 2008 World Series MVP. Leaving out his latest four-inning, five-earned run outing against the Mets two days ago, Hamels had been a perfect 5-0 in his last five starts, having given up only two runs in 36.2 innings over that span. If the lefty can carry over his stellar performance into October, then Philadelphia may walk into the World Series.
Although their rotation has been outstanding in recent weeks, the offense, too, broke out of its slump in September, as players continue to return to pre-injury form.
Philadelphia's hot streak coincided with the return of Chase Utley, who missed July and a portion of August rehabbing from a thumb injury. In September, the Gold Glove second baseman has hit .326 to go along with five home runs and 22 RBIs. Had it not been for the historic month that Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki is having, Utley's September would be getting far more attention than it has.
With Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez also revitalized for the stretch run, the Phillies' offense has finally surrounded behemoth Ryan Howard (.276, 31 HRs, 106 RBIs) with ample protection for the playoffs.
The biggest surprise of the Phillies' run, however, has been the quiet bat of Jimmy Rollins. When in the lineup, the shortstop usually plays the role of catalyst for the Phillies late in the season, as seen by his .292 batting average in September and October, up from his otherwise regular .273 stat line. This year, though, he has sported a batting average as low as .236 and looks altogether lost at the plate.
While Rollins has been given the past two weeks off because of a "hamstring" injury, the Phillies have continued to push the pace and have posted four games in which they scored at least eight runs during his time on the disabled list. Philadelphia management hopes that his hiatus, which, according to coach Charlie Manuel, is set to end early this week, will help breath life into the 32-year-old's bat.
As the Phillies begin to rest their regulars for the playoffs, very few question marks stand in the way of a third straight World Series appearance. Set to be in his first playoff series, ace Roy Halladay knows that Philadelphia knows how to win.
“That’s the reason you want to come to a team like this. They know how to do it,” Halladay said. “It’s the coolest thing I’ve been a part of. It’s just the start, I think.”
Hopefully Doc's words do come true and his division-clinching victory is only the beginning for the Philadelphia Phillies.
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