Monday, July 25, 2005

Comforts of Home

The Phillies completed a 9-4 homestand, briskly sweeping the NL West-leading Padres. Yes, yes- perhaps a sweep not quite as heady now as say, a month ago? Coupled with series wins against the fading Nats and complex Marlins, this has been a good two weeks for the Phils- crawling back to within three games of the diffident Braves and collapsing Nats- who had more than a little quit in them this weekend.

Why yes, we left for the money. And now, we're up next for the Phillies powerful bats.

Those three games are the key now for the Phillies. As I wrote last week, I cannot see the Phillies winning the 90-plus games required to win this wild card. Houston probably can- their money-loving rotation of Pettitte, Clemens and Oswalt means they can churn a large portion of their rotation at a very high level- while the Phillies, for instance, are wondering frankly just what in hell Lidle and Leiber are going to give them today?

But increasingly, it appears the Braves just simply lack the horses to disappear with this division. They had every chance- but their stretch of hot play has deteriorated of late. They get the limpid Nats at home this week- so we’ll get a little measure of those wounded clubs. Of course, they are still the Braves- the class of the National League. They still have Smoltz- but Atlanta just doesn’t score, the bullpen is full of mysteries that a singular trade cannot fix and they are simply no lock to get to 90 wins either.

That leaves the field somewhat open for the Phillies and the recently rolling Mets. The other lesson of the past two weeks is the Mets, after umpteen years, have sort of gotten their act together. Both these clubs are flawed, but both can conceivably get to sixteen games over .500. A shrewd trade, unless for a real all-star starting pitcher, probably doesn’t help either team much. The Mets offense is probably more than one player away from being fixed- and the Phillies rotation definitely is. Most deadline trades don’t really improve teams much- unless again you acquiring a real top player like Beltran. It is hard for a single player or pitcher to increase a team’s win total, say four games, over just a two-month span. The point being- even if the Mets, Phils or Braves make a semi-major acquisition, it is not going to move any of those teams to a significantly better plateau at this point. So this lot ought to brawl to the wire.

Accordingly, I’m pretty sure the wild card is coming out of the NL Central- so the Phils are going to have to win the East outright. And since the Braves, Mets, Phillies and Marlins are all decent clubs, with flaws you can cover for weeks at a time, it ought to be an entertaining nine-week mess to see who gets to whip the Padres in the first round.

This week is a “hang in there week” for the Phillies. Hard to see them making up ground- three in Houston against their big three starters- followed by four in Colorado. The Rockies are horrible on the road- but decent at home- and that park does not exactly reward being better than the team you’re playing. If the Phils could get three out of seven this week, and lose only a game to Atlanta, I’d sign for it now.