The mere mention of the word playoffs to manager Charlie Manuel will prompt a lengthy soliloquy on how the Phillies are simply focused on making the playoffs. But after taking three out of four games from the Mets, and with 20 games in 20 days over the next three weeks, there is no reason why we, the general public, cannot think about the playoffs. In fact, as much as the Phillies tell you they aren't thinking about the playoffs, it is a pretty good bet that they will play these last three weeks while trying to set themselves up for an ideal rotation in October.
This begs the question: What is the ideal rotation?
Here are three fearless predictions:
1) Cole Hamels will be the Phillies' Game 1 starter
I'm tempted to say that this has nothing to do with the fact that Cliff Lee has allowed 17 runs and four home runs in his last three starts while allowing opponents to hit .397 against him. But if Lee were still undefeated with a 0.68 ERA and .175 BAA, as he was in his first five starts with the Phillies, Manuel might try to find a way to get him the Game 1 start. As it is, Hamels has allowed just five runs in his last 29 2/3 innings, and despite the age difference, has a lot more postseason experience (six starts) than Lee (0 starts).
2) The Phillies will host the Rockies or travel to L.A.
OK, this one isn't exactly fearless. In fact, it looks like a lock right now. If the Phillies finish with the third-best record among division winners, they will travel to the Dodgers, assuming the Rockies are the Wild Card. If they finish with the second-best record, they will host the Rockies.
Either way, I think the road to the World Series will run through Los Angeles. I know the Cardinals are the story of the second half, and that Matt Holliday has transformed their line-up. Chris Carpenter is pitching like he wants to steal Adam Wainwright's Cy Young.
But last I checked, the Dodgers still had the best record in the National League (by one game over the Cardinals, two over the Phillies). Furthermore, 12 of their last 18 games are against the Pirates, Nationals and Padres. They also host the Giants, from whom they took two out of three last weekend, this weekend.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, are coming off a three-game sweep at the hands of the Braves and have three-game sets remaining against the Marlins, Cubs and Rockies, all of whom have winning records.
Since Aug. 5, when they split a two-game series with the Mets and were tied for the NL Central Lead, the Cardinals are 25-9. But 23 of those wins have come against the Pirates, Reds, Padres, Astros, Nationals and Brewers. So they are 23-5 against six teams who are a combined 323-390 (.453) and 2-4 against everybody else (Braves and Dodgers)
On paper, the Phillies don't have an easy road either. They face the Nationals (12-3), Braves (6-9), Marlins (7-5), Brewers (1-2) and Astros (0-4) to close out the season.
The way I see it, they'll be battling the Cardinals to avoid the Dodgers in the first round.
3) Pedro Martinez will be in the playoff rotation.
Forget his last three starts, when he has allowed four runs in 21 2/3 innings. His stuff has looked excellent. But it is the playoff experience that will convince the Phillies to give him the start in Game 3 or Game 4, particularly if the opponent is the Dodgers. This is a guy with 11 career postseason starts under his belt -- on a sidenote, it is kind of crazy that Hamels is only five starts behind him in career postseason starts -- in which he has posted a 3.40 ERA. Sure, his last appearance came five years ago. But you can't ignore the experience.
One caveat: In four career starts at Coors Field, Martinez is 1-2 with a 4.97 ERA and has allowed seven home runs. Of the 12 runs he has allowed this season, four have come on home runs.
But Happ has never started a game at Coors, nor has Blanton.