Tonight is the first game of a three-game series between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Boston Red Sox. As the Phils and the Sox are the two teams that many folks have been forecasting as potential World Series rivals since spring training, this matchup is a highly anticipated one.
Particularly for the Phillies, is it also a vitally important one. It is no secret that, despite something of an offensive resurgence these past few weeks, the Phillies, as a whole, have been struggling at the plate all season. While their phenomenal starting rotation and, surprisingly, a quite good bullpen have allowed the team to win enough games to lay claim to the best record in the MLB, many commentators and baseball fans alike have questioned the Phillies’ ability to match-up against top-level teams like the Red Sox and the Yankees down the road if they do not start producing more runs.
Sure, with their stacked pitching staff, the Phillies can dominate the National League, where their closest thing to a threat is likely going to be the Braves, who, despite having a solid squad, are not really an elite ball club.
But dominating the National League can no longer be enough for Philadelphia. They have done it for the last three seasons, and it still has not convinced the baseball elitists that they deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as teams like the Yankees and the Sox. In order to put the naysayers to rest, in order to really cement themselves as an eternal baseball dynasty, this Phillies team must take down one of the giants of the AL East.
And no, the Rays do not count.
They came close to reaching this plateau two years ago when they faced the Yankees in the 2009 World Series. Had the Phillies won that matchup, their place in baseball history would have been firmly established. Having lost, they left the door cracked open to criticisms about whether or not their 2008 World Series victory was anything more than a fluke, a lucky break because the American League happened to be going through a relatively weak year where the Yankees were rebuilding and the Red Sox collapsed.
Like it or not, in our time, the Red Sox and the Yankees are indisputably regarded as the top two baseball organizations out there, by wide margins. If Ruben Amaro and his club want to be seen as worthy to stand among them, they must first prove they are able to take them on toe-to-toe and win. To be the best, as they say, you must beat the best.
So this week’s matchup is about more for the Phillies than just keeping their best-in-the-MLB record. It is about showing that they are more that just big fish in the small-pond National League, proving that they can hang in the big-pond AL, too. There can be no excuses—yes, the Phillies are playing without Oswalt and some of their bullpen guys, but the Red Sox are operating minus Daisuke Matsuzaka, Clay Buchholz and Carl Crawford. It is the best pitching staff in the league—the Phillies, with a 3.05 ERA—versus the best offense (the Red Sox lead the majors with a .277 average). It is a clean, fair fight for bragging rights between what are likely the two best teams in baseball.
And for the Phillies, it is also a chance to close that cracked door on the doubters just a little more until they get their chance to slam it shut this October.