The air conditioner is off and the windows are open and I'm no longer walking off the golf course with a case of heat stroke to go with my 115, which can only mean one thing: the Phillies are about to make their annual run to NL East title.
With a 79-60 record and 23 games left to play, they are only one game behind their pace from a year ago, when they were 80-59. And they are actually three games ahead of where they were in 2008, when they were 76-63.
The difference, of course, is that last year they were six games ahead of the Marlins in the NL East. This year, they are a half game behind the Braves. Last year at this time, there were only four National League teams within five games of a playoff spot -- the Dodgers, Cardinals, Rockies and Phillies, all of whom made the playoffs. This year, there are six such teams, five of whom are within 1.5 games of a playoff spot.
So things are a bit more convoluted this season. Personally, the Giants are the team that would scare me most if I were the Phillies. The Phils rarely hit at AT and T Park, and in their last 13 games against the Phils, Giants starters have a 2.14 ERA. Otherwise, the Phillies' pitching staff should give them a decided advantage against teams like the Reds, Padres and Rockies.
As we said, though things are convoluted. They could easily draw the Giants in the first round, and the Braves in the NLCS.
Plus, there is that little matter of getting to the playoffs.
What you are about to read could amount to a huge waste of time since there are so many variables that can affect each team's pitching rotation. But as of right now, these are the pitching match-ups the Phillies will face in their final 23 games.
Games 142-144 at Mets (6-6 against NYM this season)
Sept. 10 - RHP Roy Halladay at RHP Jenrry Mejia
Sept. 11 - RHP Kyle Kendrick at LHP Jon Niese
Sept. 12 - RHP Roy Oswalt at RHP Mike Pelfrey
Notes: These probables could change depending on how the Mets proceed with lefty Johan Santana, who is missing a start tonight after shoulder soreness. The Mets could theoretically bump Niese and Pelfrey up a day and start Santana on Sept. 12 in the series finale. Take away the Phillies' 10-run explosion against Santana on May 2 and Mets starters have posted a 2.08 ERA against them in 11 other starts. . .Niese has held the Phils to two runs on eight hits in 14 innings of two starts. . .In their last two starts against Pelfrey, the Phils have scored three runs in 14 innings. In the other, back on May 1, they scored six runs in four innings.
Games 145-47 at Florida (8-5 against Marlins)
Sept. 13 - RHP Joe Blanton at RHP Chris Volstad
Sept. 14 - LHP Cole Hamels at LHP Andrew Miller
Sept. 15 - RHP Roy Halladay at RHP Josh Johnson
Notes: If the Phillies are to continue this run they've been on, they need to hit pitchers like Volstad and Miller. Volstad starts against Blanton tonight. Miller last faced the Phils on July 19, 2007, allowing four runs in 2.2 innings of a 5-0 loss. But he has the potential to give them trouble. In 2008, he held them to one run on four hits in seven innings. Three other starts against the Phils have been a mixed bag. The Johnson-Halladay match-up speaks for itself.
Games 148-50 vs. Washington (7-5 against Nationals)
Sept. 17 - RHP Roy Oswalt vs. RHP Jason Marquis
Sept. 18 - RHP Kyle Kendrick vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann
Sept. 19 - RHP Joe Blanton vs. RHP Yunesky Maya
Notes: This is the type of series where a hot Phillies offense would help immensely. They'd had good success against Marquis until Aug. 20, when the righty held them to one run in five innings of a 1-0 Nationals win. Zimmermann is a talented young arm, but he has made just three starts since returning from surgery. Still, he struck out nine Marlins and allowed one hit in six scoreless innings on Aug. 31. Maya is a Cuban who signed with the Nats this summer and is scheduled to make his debut tonight.
Games 151-53 vs. Atlanta (5-7 against Braves)
Sept. 20 - LHP Cole Hamels vs. RHP Jair Jurrjens
Sept. 21 - RHP Roy Halladay vs. LHP Mike Minor
Sept. 22 - RHP Roy Oswalt vs. RHP Tim Hudson or RHP Tommy Hanson
Notes: The way I have it figured out, the Braves need to decide whether to pitch Hudson or Hanson against the Phillies. The way it sets up, at least on my spreadsheet, only one of them will be able to pitch in each of the two series between the two teams. The Braves can use an off day on Sept. 16 to pitch Hudson on normal rest and give Hanson an extra day, which would line Hudson up to face the Phillies in the final game of both series. Assuming the Phillies do not make any changes to the order of their rotation, which they shouldn't, all three of their aces will pitch in this series.
Games 154-56 vs. Mets
Sept. 24 - RHP Joe Blanton vs. RHP Mike Pelfrey
Sept. 25 - LHP Cole Hamels vs. LHP Johan Santana
Sept. 26 - RHP Roy Halladay vs. RHP R.A. Dickey
Notes: Again, a lot depends on how the Mets use Santana. This could end up being a tricky series. Dickey has shut them down twice this season, once in six scoreless innings and once in nine scoreless innings. In his other start against the Phils, he allowed six runs in three innings.
Games 157-59 at Nationals
Sept. 27 - RHP Roy Oswalt at RHP Jason Marquis
Sept. 28 - RHP Kyle Kendrick at RHP Jordan Zimmermann
Sept. 29 - RHP Joe Blanton at RHP Yunesky Maya
Notes: See previous series.
Games 160-162 at Braves
Oct. 1 - LHP Cole Hamels at RHP Derek Lowe
Oct. 2 - RHP Roy Halladay at RHP Jair Jurrjens
Oct. 3 - RHP Roy Oswalt at RHP Tim Hudson or Tommy Hanson
Notes: Jurrjens has dominated the Phillies in his career, allowing just 17 earned runs in 59.2 innings over nine starts. He held them to three runs on two hits in six innings back on July 6 when he was just returning from a two-month stay on the DL. Last season, he held them to four earned runs in 26.2 innings. . .Lowe has held them to three earned runs in 15 innings over his last two starts. . .Hudson has faced the Phillies twice this season, allowing two earned runs in six innings both times. Over the last three seasons, he's held the Phils to 8 earned runs in 26.2 innings. . .Hanson has held the Phils to three earned runs in 11.1 innings over two starts this season.