Meaningful Series Might Be What Phillies Need

The Phillies snapped an eight-game losing skid on Sunday, but that doesn't guarantee that their "issues" are instantly resolved. Perhaps the best thing that could happen to them is going into Atlanta with the Braves needing wins.

The Phillies seemed to flip some magical switch and looked like the Phillies of old on Sunday when they blasted the Mets 9-4. Roy Halladay was sharp, the offense was literally hitting on all cylinders and all looked well.

The win was the first for the Phillies since they clinched the NL East on September 17 with a win - their only one of the series - against St. Louis. There is some irony to the fact that the Cardinals taking three out of four games in that series helped them to narrow the distance between themselves and the Atlanta Braves in the NL Wild Card race. It's also ironic that the Phillies head into Atlanta for the next three days with the Braves just one game ahead of St. Louis and both teams having three remaining.

How the Phillies perform in this series will do a couple of things. First, it will help to determine who they play in the first round of the National League Playoffs. If the Braves do win the Wild Card, then the Phillies will face the Arizona Diamondbacks. If the Phillies beat up on Atlanta and the Cardinals handle their end of the deal, the Phillies would face the Wild Card-inals in the first round of the playoffs.

Nobody can say for sure that the Phillies are now the Phillies that stormed their way to 98 wins. Perhaps a couple of meaningless series against Washington and the Mets took some air out of their sails. Perhaps, they were taking an extended deep breath after clinching not only the division, but the best record in the National League. There is also no doubt that the make-shift lineups that have run out on the field have had something to do with their extended slide. Those lineups were necessary to give injured and worn out veterans a bit of a break in a bid to get them healthy and rejuvenated prior to hitting the post-season.

Charlie Manuel is likely to run his regular lineup out against Atlanta. He is also likely to do what he did on Sunday - conditions permitting - and pull players like Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins out of the game before the final out is recorded. Howard is still hobbled noticeably by bursitis in his left ankle and having him play every inning of every game against Atlanta simply wouldn't make sense. Instead, he'll likely get a couple of at-bats and find a comfy seat on the bench to rest his ankle.

It's also likely that Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt - two of the three Phillies starters - won't throw 120 pitches like they are accustomed to doing. Instead, they'll be handled much like Halladay was on Sunday and look to give the Phillies maybe six innings or 100 pitches, at most, as a tune-up for the playoffs.

The fact that the Phillies might have somewhat of a say in who they face in the first round is interesting. Nobody is suggesting that the Phillies will "throw" any of these games and help the rival Atlanta Braves into the playoffs. But if they do keep Atlanta out, then the Phillies would get the hottest of the playoff teams in the divisional round of the playoffs.

The Cardinals have been charging and looking to catch either Milwaukee or Atlanta and they're playing good baseball right now. Albert Pujols is back to being Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman, who just signed a healthy one-year extension this past week, could easily be the comeback player of the year.

The Arizona Diamondbacks certainly can't be counted out, or viewed as an easy series. The D'backs weren't even supposed to be sniffing the post-season and here they are winning the NL West by beating down the defending World Champion San Francisco Giants. Manager Kirk Gibson has taken his club and made them into a formidable opponent and they don't figure to go down easily.

As tough as the D'backs are, the Cardinals appear to be much tougher right now and would have great momentum coming into the post-season.

The bottom line is that the Phillies are equipped to work their way through the post-season and are favored to go to the World Series. None of the clubs in the playoffs are push-overs, but some - namely, the Cardinals - come in with more momentum than others. But again, momentum or not, the Phillies should be able to take care of Arizona, St. Louis, Atlanta and Milwaukee. Plus, a meaningful series in Atlanta could provide Philadelphia with adequate momentum of their own as they push toward their third World Series appearance in the last four seasons.

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