SOMEWHERE BETWEEN PHILADELPHIA AND WASHINGTON -- I'm on a train, probably not as nice as the one as the Phillies rode last night when they learned they had qualified for the postseason. As far as clinching moments go, well, it wasn't exactly dramatic.
But the Phillies are hoping for a celebration on Monday night. A few things could complicate that, mainly, the weather forecast for Washington is downright discouraging. The chance for rain showers is 70 percent the entire day and night with significant rainfall predicted.
So, what happens if, say, the Phillies are rained out and the Braves lose to the Marlins, thus clinching the National League East for the Phillies? I'd guess there will probably still be a celebration at Nationals Park. Unless the game is called early in the afternoon, the entire team will be at the ballpark already. The team had its champagne shipped south. They wouldn't tell everyone to go their own ways, would they? We'll see.
On to actual baseball...now that the Phillies have clinched a spot, we'll draft our preliminary division series roster here. A few questions the team will have to answer in the next week:
1. How many pitchers do you take?
Last season, the Phillies carried 12 pitchers in the division series. To do that again would be completely counterintuitive.
Last season, they did it for a few reasons: No. 1, they were playing Colorado, which meant games at Coors Field, and whatever happens at Coors Field stays at Coors Field. It also messes up pitching staffs. No. 2, the quality of the starting pitchers last season was far from the Big Three of this season. So for a five-game series, it would be silly to carry 12 pitchers.
2. OK, so who then is the sixth bench player?
This figures to be the most interesting debate. When the Phillies carried Domonic Brown on their bench in August instead of Greg Dobbs, Ruben Amaro Jr. said it was because that meant the Phillies were fielding a roster of their 25 best players.
Right now, it certainly sounds as if Charlie Manuel has changed his mind there. It didn't help that Brown suffered a strained right quadriceps injury that has sidelined him for much of September. He is finally 100 percent and hoping for some decent playing time in the final week once the Phillies have clinched so he can prove his worth.
While Brown has been out, Manuel has favored Dobbs as a pinch-hitter in certain situations. Dobbs has six at-bats since being recalled in September and is 1 for 6, the one being a pinch-hit home run against Florida. Is that enough for Manuel? He said last week he favors his veteran pinch-hitters over Brown because they have experience doing it.
Dobbs, of course, has struggled terribly this season. He is 3 for his last 31 in the majors, dating back to July 26. He has twice been designated for assignment this season by the Phillies.
Yes, Brown is inexperienced. He has not blown anyone away yet primarily because of his limited playing time. Coming off the bench is something he has never done with the exception of the last month.
One other factor: Brown is faster than Dobbs. He hasn't shown a penchant for stealing bases, but he has speed. Right now, the bench player with the most speed on the 25-man roster would be Wilson Valdez, who is also your only backup middle infielder. You figure the sixth man on a bench will rarely be used. Maybe the speed is what puts Brown over the top. We'll see.
3. Do you take two lefties?
The concerns for J.C. Romero have been well-documented. He is unscored upon in 10 of his last 11 outings, but 12 of the 27 batters he has faced in that span have reached base via a hit, walk or hit batsman.
Antonio Bastardo is the other option and he hasn't pitched since Sept. 11. The young lefty has shown flashes of brilliance, but clearly needs refining.
This decision could ultimately come down to which team the Phillies face in the first round. In terms of lefthanded and switch hitters, San Francisco has Mike Fontenot, Aubrey Huff, Travis Ishikawa, Pablo Sandoval, Nate Schierholtz and Andres Torres. San Diego has Adrian Gonzalez, Tony Gwynn, Matt Stairs and Will Venable. Cincinnati has Joey Votto and Jay Bruce.
So, considering all of that, here is our prediction for what the Phillies will do. (Note: The writer may not agree with all decisions. This is his best attempt at entering Charlie Manuel's and Rich Dubee's minds, a tedious exercise at best.)
Carlos Ruiz (R)
Brian Schneider (L)
Ryan Howard (L)
Chase Utley (L)
Placido Polanco (R)
Jimmy Rollins (S)
Wilson Valdez (R)
Mike Sweeney (R)
Greg Dobbs (L)
Raul Ibanez (L)
Shane Victorino (S)
Jayson Werth (R)
Ben Francisco (R)
Ross Gload (L)
Roy Halladay (RHP)
Cole Hamels (LHP)
Roy Oswalt (RHP)
Joe Blanton (RHP)
Brad Lidge (RHP)
Ryan Madson (RHP)
Jose Contreras (RHP)
Chad Durbin (RHP)
J.C. Romero (LHP)
Antonio Bastardo (LHP)
Danys Baez (RHP) **
** The toughest decision is the 11th pitcher and it could go quite a few ways. Kyle Kendrick is a consideration and I think in a seven-game series, he makes it. But for the first round, we'll say they go with Baez over Kendrick and David Herndon.