I write this as the Phillies are trailing the Florida Marlins 3-0 in the seventh inning of the second game of the double-header, having won the first one. Prior to today’s games, Cool Standings gave the Phillies a 99.9% chance of winning the division and the Marlins and Braves were below 0.1%. The PECOTA-adjusted odds at Baseball Prospectus were a bit kinder to the NL East runners-up, giving the Phillies only a 99.75% chance of winning the division.
If you recall last season, the Phillies clinched on September 27 with a sweet game-ending double play that also clinched Brad Lidge’s perfect season. It is September 22 and the Phillies’ magic number after the first win today is down to five. With Cole Hamels, J.A. Happ, and Cliff Lee pitching in the next three days, it’s possible that the Phillies will clinch before this Saturday the 26th.
Even if means the Phillies don’t clinch the division by the end of the month (it won’t), it is a good idea to take it easy by resting the regulars. The Phils have five injured pitchers: Pedro Martinez, J.C. Romero, Scott Eyre, Brett Myers, and Chan Ho Park. J.A. Happ missed nearly three weeks after his start on September 2. It would be a shame to head into the post-season with anymore sore shoulders or stiff necks or strained obliques.
It is true that the Phillies went into the post-season last year on a serious hot streak, winning 13 of their remaining 16 games, and their hot streak continued on through the NLDS, NLCS, and the World Series. But they also finished 2007 on a roll as well, winning 13 of their final 17 games, and then they got swept by the Colorado Rockies in the NLDS. Small sample of course — what else would you expect — but momentum that baseball commentators so often refer to doesn’t seem to play a big role in the Phillies’ post-season success.
That’s why it benefits the Phillies to rest their important pieces as much as possible. The Phillies have played 150 games this season. Ryan Howard has played in 149, Chase Utley 146, Jimmy Rollins 145, Pedro Feliz 147, Shane Victorino 144, and Jayson Werth 147. Cliff Lee has made 32 starts, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton 29. J.A. Happ and Pedro Martinez are less than 100%. Ryan Madson and Chad Durbin have logged 72 and 63 innings in the bullpen respectively. Brad Lidge has appeared in 62 games and has had one hell of a stressful season.
For the next week-plus, rest them all. Let Kyle Kendrick and Andrew Carpenter make a start. Near the end of the season, let Martinez and Happ make one final start — with a strictly-enforced pitch count — to make sure they’re ready. Sergio Escalona and Tyler Walker can shoulder most of the bullpen work. Greg Dobbs, Matt Stairs, Ben Francisco, Eric Bruntlett, John Mayberry, Paul Bako, Miguel Cairo, and Andy Tracy can get some regular at-bats, which would benefit the former four as they would be on the post-season roster.
The Phillies were fortunate last year that they did not have to deal with many injuries. While they are also fortunate this year they are not dealing with the Mets’ infirmary, they do have to be careful with several pitchers. It would be a shame that the Phillies would lose a post-season game, or even a post-season series, if Jamie Moyer has to throw four-plus innings because J.A. Happ never quite healed from his oblique problem. Or because Ryan Madson ran out of gas because Charlie Manuel used him to pitch seven innings over the final twelve games.
It isn’t official yet; the Phillies haven’t won the division. But even if they play at a Washington Nationals level of baseball — that is to say, .333-ish — the Marlins would still need to go 12-0 down the stretch to surpass the Phillies. I’d sooner bet on getting struck by lightning. Do the right thing and take it easy for the final week and a half.