You’ll never see a baseball team tank purposely. There is an unwritten rule that says a team must play out their schedule and “try” to win games through the full 162. The Phillies find themselves in a predicament.
Starting Monday night at 7:05, they will close out the season with a critical three-game series against the Atlanta Braves that will shape the structure of the NL Playoffs. Atlanta is currently clinging to a one game lead in the Wild Card chase over the surging St. Louis Cardinals, winners of 14 of their last 18.
Charlie Manuel has made it clear that he intends to put his playoff lineup together to end the year in an attempt to gain a little momentum heading into the NLDS on October 1. By doing so, Manuel may also be screwing himself, in no uncertain terms.
If the Phillies are to go through with their plan of rolling into the playoffs on a high note, they may very well end up playing the one team that has had their number in the National League.
The Cardinals took the season series over the Phils, winning 6 out of 9 meetings. From September 18-21, St. Louis took three of four, sending the Phils into a late-season tailspin – although in fairness, the Phillies had clinched all there was to clinch. Still, it was an ugly enough series that people began to wonder; if the Cardinals were to work their way back into the Wild Card picture, would they be a tough matchup for the Phillies? I think we’re finding the answer to that.
With Atlanta floundering, ready to relinquish what had been an 8 1/2 game lead on September 1, the Phillies can beat up on them and attempt to take them out of the playoffs. St. Louis heads to Houston for the final three, meaning they have a much easier battle ahead.
So, do the Phillies play their hearts out and follow the unwritten rule? Or, do they half-ass it a bit (pretty much par for the course lately) and give Atlanta an opportunity to clinch?
It’s hard to tell players and managers to ease up when they are programmed to do one thing; win. But I feel like the Phillies can accomplish several different things in the next three days. To keep the starters fresh, play them six innings, giving them a few at bats in each game. Insert the bench for the final three innings, as well as the back-end of the bullpen. You’re trying to win the game but you’re also providing your starters plat appearances to stay crisp at the plate, and ample rest to be refreshed heading into Saturday’s game.
My guess is Charlie Manuel will play it out as if it was another regular season meeting with the Braves. But with the Cardinals about to steal a spot in the postseason, how would you play it?