As the calendar has flipped form September to October the Phillies find themselves in a situation most are not used to right now. Sitting on the outside of postseason play for the first time since 2006, the Phillies now are fighting just to finish the season ith a winning record, needing two out fo three games to guarantee a season above the .500 mark. Despite how this season has turned out for the Phillies, the team still plays a significant role in how the National League playoffs will be set-up.
It all begins with the Phillies' final three-game series in Washington, against the Nationals, starting Monday night. The Nationals enter the final regular season series with a three-game lead over the Atlanta Braves for the NL East crown, making the magic number to clinch just one. For the Nationals to clinch the division at home by beating the Phillies, given all of the story-lines over the past couple of years with Jayson Werth and Take Back The Park and more, this would seem to add a few ingredients to the symbolism of clinching the division in front of the team that has won it the past five years. The odds are pretty good that the Nationals will indeed clinch the division against the Phillies, but we also saw last season that the Phillies have the ability to spoil the party plans on the road in the final games of the season.
Last year the Phillies eliminated the Braves from postseason play by sweeping three games in Atlanta. Had the Braves won just one game against the Phillies, a one-game playoff with the St. Louis Cardinals would have decided which team received the wild card spot in the National League. The stakes may not be quite that high in this series between Philadelphia and Washington, but there is an interesting scenario at hand in D.C. If the Phillies can manage to sweep the Nationals and the Braves can go in to Pittsburgh and sweep the Pirates, the NL East crown will come down to a one-game playoff to determine who wins the division and who moves on to play in the one-game National League Wild Card Game before the NLDS starts up.
Again, the odds the Phillies and Braves both sweep the next three games is not great, but there is still importance riding on the games. Washington also enters the final series tied with the Cincinnati Reds for the best record in the National League. Whichever team has the best record, or owns the tiebreaker edge, will receive homefield advantage throughout the National League playoffs. The Reds will be battling the St. Louis Cardinals, currently trying to lock down the second NL wild card spot.
The final games become even more interesting because National manager Davey Johnson wants to give his star players a rest before the postseason begins. If the Nationals cannot wrap up the division, let alone home-field advantage, quickly, his players may have to play longer and thus risk injury.
Can you just imagine what would happen if the Phillies sweep the Nationals and the Braves sweep the Pirates, to force the one-game playoff, the Braves win and the Nationals have to play a one-game playoff for the final National League wild card spot? To think, the Nationals shut down Stephen Strasburg earlier in the month. Wouldn't he then be a valuable asset to have available?
The good news for the Nats is they get a chance to take care of business Monday night against Kyle Kendrick. Kendrick lasted just two innings last week against the Nationals. Can Kendrick give Washington fans a reason to sweat just a little more, or will the Nats bring their big-boy bats to the park tonight and put this one away early on?
The Phillies may not be involved in the postseason this October, but they could be getting a taste of the postseason atmosphere. At least there is a reason to watch for the casual baseball fan.
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