Magic Number: 13

How did you spend your second-to-last off day of the Phillies' regular season? I spent it trying to calculate their magic number (numbers aren't my thing, although some of you would argue that words aren't either). With 20 games remaining in 20 days, it's that time. We here at High Cheese have avoided any mention of magic number to this point, mostly because the Phillies entered Sunday's doubleheader with the possibility of seeing their divsion lead slip to 3.5 games, but also because of the aforementioned aversion to math.

But in two days, the Phillies have built their division lead to seven over the Marlins, who lost last night to the Cardinals, which means they enjoy the very real possibility of being able to clinch the division at some point on a 10-game road trip that begins this weekend in Atlanta.

1. Phillies 82-60, 0 GB
2. Marlins 76-68, 7 GB
3. Braves 75-68, 7.5 GB

Magic Number: 13

As you all know, the magic number is the combination of Phillies wins and Braves/Marlins losses it will take to clinch. Thirteen straight wins by the Phils and they have 95 wins, one more than the Marlins or Braves can manage. Thirteen straight losses by the Marlins and Braves, and they have 81 losses, one more than the Phillies can manage. The Braves host a three-game series with the Mets starting tonight before hosting the Phillies this weekend. The Marlins finish their series with the Cardinals tomorrow, then start a four-gamer with the Reds before hosting the Phillies next Tuesday and Wednesday. The Marlins and Braves face each other Sept. 28-30.

The earliest the Phillies can clinch, according to my calculations, is next Tuesday's doubleheader against the Marlins. Of course, that would require them sweeping the Nationals and Braves (six wins), and having the Mets sweep the Braves (six losses) and the Cardinals and Reds sweep the Marlins (six losses).

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I'm interested to see how the Phillies' rotation sets up over the next week or so. They can use yesterday's off day and the off day next Monday to do a variety of things. A lot of it depends on when they project J.A. Happ being ready to return.

Will the Phillies start Jamie Moyer against the Marlins next week?

Happ when his turn in the rotation arrives (Friday at Atlanta). They have a track record of playing it safe with injuries, and Happ has already thrown a lot of innings this season. The question is, assuming Happ does not start against the Braves, how do the Phillies proceed? He threw a bullpen session yesterday, which normally occurs on the second day after pitching. The Phillies could let Jamie Moyer pitch against the Braves Thursday, or they could go with Kyle Kendrick, who has pitched well against Atlanta in his young career and is coming off a superb 7 1/3 inning effort against the Mets. Either way, the Phillies will likely have the option of starting Moyer against his favorite opponent, the Marlins on Monday or Tuesday. Do the Phillies feel Happ is healthy to the point where he only needs a couple of extra days of rest? They could let Moyer or Kendrick face the Braves, and then start Happ a couple of days later. Or, they could let another turn in the rotation pass by, which would allow Moyer/Kendrick, Pedro Martinez and Cliff Lee to face the Braves, followed by Joe Blanton, Cole Hamels and Moyer against the Marlins. Happ could then get back on the mound against the Brewers. If the Phillies project him in their playoff rotation, they could get him another start on the last day of the season, which would give him three after returning from the injury. Or they could use the eight days in between his start in Houston and the start of the NLDS to transition him into a relief role.

As good as Happ has been this season, and as relatively inexperienced as he is in the bullpen, right now the safe money is on Happ entering the postseason in the bullpen. Lefthanders Scott Eyre and J.C. Romero both seem intent on pitching through the pain in their arms, but the Phillies have no idea how effective either one will be. If Eyre and Romero struggle, the Phillies would be left with veteran Jack Taschner, who was ineffective in the first half of the season before being sent to the minors, or rookie Sergio Escalona as their lefty options in the bullpen (the Phillies have not used Jamie Moyer at all as a situational lefty).