The Philadelphia Phillies are a force to be reckoned with this season. With a rotation consisting of four aces in Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt (and arguably Vance Worley) and an All-Star studded lineup that got even better with the July addition of outfielder Hunter Pence, there is little stopping the Phillies from going the distance and winning it all.
However, we have seen in the past that it's not always as easy as it might seem. Last season, the Phillies had the best record in the majors at 97-65, a first for the team. But in the end, they were unable to defeat the San Francisco Giants, who made the playoffs only because the Atlanta Braves defeated the Phillies on the last day of the regular season, in last year's NLCS, and the Giants went on to defeat the Texas Rangers in five games to win the World Series.
Phillies fans' memory of Ryan Howard with his jaw dropped following striking out looking to Giants closer Brian Wilson to give the Giants the NL Pennant is one that we would like not to remember, but also one we can't forget just yet. Fans last season were all anticipating reaching (if not winning) the World Series last year and becoming the first NL team to win the league pennant for three consecutive years since the St. Louis Cardinals did so from 1942-1944.
However, there is little reason to think that the Phillies have lost hope this season. They currently hold baseball's best record at 83-44 and are on pace to win 106 games this season, and they lead their division rivals, the Atlanta Braves, by 6.5 games. Having lost only a couple of series since the month of June, the Phillies have little preventing them from winning their fifth straight NL East division title, aside from a four-game road series against the Milwaukee Brewers and a series or two against the Braves in September, although there isn't a huge reason to think there would be a problem...or is there?
In recent memory, the Phillies have been a fantastic second-half team. But despite their winning ways, could the Phils face a setback sometime from now to the end of the season? They have already lost their shortstop Jimmy Rollins until at least early September, and first baseman Ryan Howard and left fielder Raul Ibanez are currently day to day. In addition, lefty ace Cole Hamels was recently placed on the DL, and while he is still scheduled to start next week on Monday, could he still be at risk of re-injuring himself?
The Phillies have 127 games in the books, but to stay on top for the remaining 35, it's worth wondering whether the Phils can hold on here and beyond. Sure, the Phillies' offense has been red-hot as of late (most likely due to the acquisition of Hunter Pence), but in past years the offense has become anemic in the postseason, which ultimately resulted in their loss to the Giants at the end of last year. There are some teams at this point that the Phillies would like to play more than others, both now and in the postseason, but it's really the postseason that counts. As a virtual lock to make the playoffs, it's worth taking note of who the Phillies hypothetically would prefer to play in October.
But before we can determine who they would like to face off against, we must look at the rest of the league and first determine who is even likely to make the postseason.