MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — With 87 wins, a team record in clear sight, and the postseason all but assured, Charlie Manuel was asked what he'd like to see his team accomplish in the final month.
"Win some more," Manuel said.
They will probably do that. The magic number is 21 to clinch the division and 12 to clinch a postseason berth. Along the way, there are some (minor) questions to be answered. Here are three of mine:
1. Who is the fourth starter?
Friday night's game could go a decent way in determining that. So long as Roy Oswalt is healthy, he'll be the Phillies' fourth starter in the postseason. (They may not need one until the National League Championship Series.) But if Oswalt cannot locate or throw his fastball with the life he usually has, there will be an element of doubt. Oswalt was spectacular against the Nationals, and then painfully mediocre against the Marlins. He has another shot at Florida.
Vance Worley has shown flaws in the last few weeks, and the Phillies would certainly prefer a healthy Oswalt. September will determine that.
2. Can Brad Lidge be trusted?
In the grand scheme of things, Lidge's spot on this team is not quite important. So long as everything goes to plan, the Phillies will need (at best) three dependable relievers in the postseason. Ryan Madson, Antonio Bastardo and Mike Stutes appear to currently fill those roles for Charlie Manuel. David Herndon has not allowed a run since the middle of July (13 inning scoreless streak) and absent a horrid September, he's on the staff in October.
But it would be difficult to see Manuel leaving Lidge, who is making $11.5 million in 2011, off the roster. He speaks highly of his former closer at every opportunity. The numbers show Lidge has been anything but trustworthy. He's struck out 13 in 10 1/3 innings but walked 10. Each time he shows flashes with his nasty slider, his control fails him.
3. Who are the top pinch-hitters?
Manuel said he wanted to use John Bowker on Thursday but opted for Ross Gload when he needed a pinch-hitter late in the game. Gload delivered with only his second hit in 18 at-bats. Then he was pinch-run for by John Mayberry Jr.
If the Phillies clinch early, according to plan, there will be time for the bench players to sharpen their skills with regular at-bats. Manuel has always employed a pecking order of pinch-hitters. He'll hold back his best guy for the later innings. So if the Phillies need a crucial at-bat in the sixth or seventh inning, who is it?
There are plenty of other issues out there. What are your questions for the final month?
Have a question? Send it to Matt Gelb's Mailbag.
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