Careful what you wish for

Below are the overall National League standings heading into play today:

Team Record GB Opponents remaining on schedule
PHI 92-48 -  
MIL 85-60 9.5

Home: 2 PHI, 3 FLA, 3 PIT, 2 COL

Road: 3 CHC, 3 CIN

ATL 84-60 10  
ARI 83-61 11

Home: 3 PIT, 3 LAD, 2 SDP

Road: 3 SFG, 3 LAD, 3 SDP

STL 76-67 17.5  
SFG 75-68 18.5  

Notice anything curious? How about the Diamondbacks lurking just a game and a half behind the Brewers for the second-best record in the National League? Last week, we might have looked at this four-game series between the Phillies and Milwaukee as a potential National League Championship Series preview. But if the Phillies end up winning the next three, or even two of the next three, we could be talking about having just witnessed a potential National League Division Series preview.

Unless the Cardinals pull off a miracle and catch the Braves for the Wild Card, the Phillies will be facing the division winner with the worst record in a five-game series for the right to go to the NLCS. The last three years, that has meant the following starting pitchers in Games 1 and 2: Yovani Gallardo/C.C. Sabathia in 2008, Ubaldo Jimenez/Aaron Cook in 2009 and Edinson Volquez/Bronson Arroyo in 2010.

A match-up with the Brewers would likely mean facing Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum in Games 1 and 2 with either Gallardo or Randy Wolf following in Game 3. The Phillies would definitely have the on-paper edge in each of the match-ups. But pitchers do not pitch against each other: they pitch against the opposing offense. And when you look at it that way, the Brewers would present a far more dangerous challenge than any of the three teams the Phillies have defeated in the first round over the last three seasons.

Marcum, who pitches against Halladay tonight, held the Phillies to one run in six innings in one start this season and one start last season. Halladay allowed 6 runs in 6 2/3 innings against the Brewers this season and 4 runs in 7 innings last season. Nobody is suggesting you would rather have Marcum than Halladay. But the match-up is much more even than the one the Phillies enjoyed against Arroyo and Cook in their last two Game 2's.

Greinke, on the other hand, is a Wild Card. In 2009 and 2010, he was one of the most dominant pitchers in the game. This season, he has been mostly dominant, but has also blown up several times, allowing seven runs in 6 1/3 innings against the Pirates on Aug. 12 five runs in six innings against the Twins on July 3, seven runs in two innings against the Yankees on June 28, eight runs in 5 1/3 innings against the Cubs on June 16, and five runs in four innings against the Braves on May 4. All of those games came on the road.

This year, Greinke is 10-0 with a 2.96 ERA at Miller Park and 4-6 with a 5.04 ERA away from it.

The Phillies would be hosting Games 1 and 2, and Greinke has never pitched in the playoffs before, all of which would seem to favor the Phillies.

That said, the Phillies would be facing a Cy Young-caliber pitcher who they have faced only once since 2004, and that one appearance came in 2007, when Greinke struck out five in two scoreless innings of relief. 

The Phillies big advantage in the postseason is the depth of their rotation, which allows them to throw a Cy Young contender in Cole Hamels against another team's No. 3, and a veteran in Roy oswalt against another team's No. 4.

Thanks to a slimmed-down schedule this year, all teams will need four starters unless they intend on pitching somebody on short rest, which means the Phillies will still have that advantage in a five-game series. But in a short series, the pressure and complexion changes much quicker than in a seven-game series.

Either way, the Brewers will be a tough test if they end up facing the Phillies. Beating Marcum tonight would be a good sign. But it would also bring the Phillies a game closer to facing the Brewers in the first round.



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